By Jonathon Van Maren
Plans for a public referendum on the decriminalization of abortion in New Zealand were scrapped by lawmakers today in favor of a parliamentary vote, and legislators voted 68 to 51 to remove abortion from the 1961 Crimes Act. Abortion already had been essentially legal, with women being required to obtain the approval of two physicians who determined that the pregnancy was a danger to the physical or mental health of the mother. The Crimes Act was never enforced in the case of abortion, and no women actually went to prison for having one (technically speaking, the law permitted prison terms of up to 14 years for aborting a child).
According to justice minister Andrew Little, removing this last bit of stigma against abortion was a necessary move that gives women more control over their bodies (and the bodies of their pre-born children, which he did not mention). Little said the status quo had resulted in women lying in order to obtain abortions and caused delays that he felt were unnecessary. “From now [on] abortions will be rightly treated as a health issue,” he stated on Wednesday. “The previous law required a woman seeking an abortion to go through many hoops.”