New Zealand lawmakers voted in favor of treating abortion as a health issue, instead of a crime. The passage of the bill was a win for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had pledged in 2017 to decriminalize abortion.
New Zealand's parliament decriminalized abortion on Wednesday, with members voting 68 to 51 in favor of reforming the country's 1977 abortion legislation. The new law is expected to be signed by the nation’s governor general.
"For over 40 years abortion has been the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand," Justice Minister Andrew Little said in statement. "But from now abortions will be rightly treated as a health issue."
Under the 1977 law, an abortion was considered a crime, except when two doctors certified that continuing a woman's pregnancy would result in danger to her mental or physical health.
If found guilty of unlawfully terminating a pregnancy, a woman could face a jail term of up to 14 years.
'Today a change has come'
"The previous law required women seeking an abortion to go through many hoops," Little explained. "That resulted in delays to access a procedure, and that was less safe."
"Today change has finally come," Little continued, "and safe abortion is legal in New Zealand."
Jackie Edmond, the chief executive of Family Planning, the country's largest referrer of women to abortion services, hailed the vote and the fact that women were finally being trusted to make their own health decisions.
''It's fantastic Parliament has addressed something that they should have addressed 40 years ago,'' Edmond said.
Conservative lawmaker Simeon Brown, who opposed the new bill, said an unborn child should be considered a person, treated with dignity and respect.
The decriminalization of abortion was a win for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her center-left coalition party. The reform was an issue she had campaigned on when she was elected in 2017.
New Zealand is the latest nation in the world to loosen abortion restrictions, following South Korea's high court decision to overturn the country's abortion ban and Ireland's legalization via referendum.
jcg/stb (Reuters, dpa, AFP)