New Zealand's government on Monday unveiled a draft bill that would decriminalize abortion and treat it as a health issue.
The proposed legislation aims to modernize laws that have been in place since 1977. Although abortions are available in New Zealand, the procedure is an offense under the Crimes Act and can only be carried out if two doctors can certify that the pregnancy endangers the mother's physical or mental health.
The proposed changes would remove this requirement for women who are less than 20 weeks pregnant, but women who are further along in their pregnancies will still need a health practitioner's approval.
Safe abortion a 'health issue'
Justice Minister Andrew Little (pictured above) said removing abortion from the Crimes Act would bring New Zealand in line with many other developed countries.
"Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It's time for this to change," Little said in a statement.
"Safe abortion should be treated and regulated as a health issue — a woman has the right to choose what happens to her body."
The proposed bill would also ban anti-abortion activists from campaigning near abortion clinics.
Jackie Edmond, the chief executive of Family Planning New Zealand, said the proposed law was a huge step forward.
"This has been a long time coming," she said, but added that it was a shame the reform didn't remove restrictions for women seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Terry Bellamak, president of the abortion rights group ALRANZ, also questioned the 20-week limit.
"There are scans that happen around 20 weeks and this gives people little time to consider those results," he said. "(The proposal is) not as good as it could have been, but it's so much better than the status quo. We have to give the government props for that."
Christian lobby group Family First said it was "shocked and dismayed" with the proposed changes.
"The focus of this proposed abortion policy shift is entirely on women having a right to an abortion, but completely ignores both the status of the unborn child, and the wellbeing of the mother," spokeswoman Gina Sunderland said in a statement.
The reform will undergo a six month period of public consultation before being put to a conscience vote in parliament.
New Zealand's plans to expand abortion rights follow similar moves in South Korea and Ireland. Meanwhile in the United States, some conservative states have recently tightened abortion laws.
nm/aw (AP, Reuters, dpa)