Hundreds of Kiwi women told their abortions were 'not justified'

In 2016, 252 "not justified abortion" certificates were issued to pregnant women.
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In 2016, 252 "not justified abortion" certificates were issued to pregnant women.

Hundreds of "not justified abortion" certificates were handed out to pregnant Kiwi women in 2016.

Even as the overall abortion rate has trended down since 2010, the number of women told their abortion would not be "justified" has remained steady.

Abortion is technically a crime in New Zealand. Two certified medical practitioners must deem the abortion medically necessary or justified for it to be legal, but in practice the law is routinely subverted by both doctors and patients.

Last year, 252 "not justified abortion" certificates were issued. Close to 1500 have been handed out this decade.

READ MORE: Prime Minister Bill English won't 'liberalise' abortion law

The Abortion Supervisory Committee, who released the numbers to Stuff under the Official Information Act, noted that a "not justified" certificate did not necessarily indicate a denied abortion, as a third consultant could declare that the abortion was justified.

Figures on actual "denied" abortions are not collected.

Pro-choice group Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) president Terry Bellamak said nobody knew why these rejections were given.

"We don't know what the grounds were on which these women were refused an abortion. And that's kind of characteristic of our abortion scheme - it's not designed to protect the patient...it's designed for people to tick boxes so they can stay within the letter of the law," Bellamak said.

She had spoken to one woman who was denied an abortion without any reason given.

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Legal grounds to justify abortion include danger to physical or mental health of the mother and the possibility of having a mentally disabled child. Rape is not legally grounds for an abortion.

In 2014 97 per cent of medical abortions were performed on mental health grounds.

"I think people have become quite comfortable with the idea that our system is a bit weird but at the end of the day it kind of evens out to abortion on demand, but that is not the case," Bellamak said.

"It's definitely not the case for people who are denied abortions and frankly it's not the case for people who are trying to access abortion who are not located in an main centre or urban area."

Around 13,000 abortions were performed in total in 2015, down from over 16,000 in 2010. One in four Kiwi women are estimated to have had an abortion.

Abortion is largely governed by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.

ABORTION BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT

The controversial issue has returned to the political spotlight this week after the staunchly pro-life Prime Minister Bill English was asked whether the laws needed a review or an update.

He told TVNZ's Q+A on Sunday that suggested modernisation would mean a liberalisation – something he wouldn't support.

Labour leader Andrew Little and deputy leader Jacinda Ardern supported modernisation.

"[English] is deeply conservative on an issue like abortion. I happen to differ from him on that," Little told Q+A.

"The legislation has been around for the best part of 40 years. It does need to be reviewed and upgraded, and I agree with Jacinda – we should not have it in the Crimes Act; it is not a crime."

Abortion legislation is generally decided by a conscience vote, with each MP deciding their position independently of their party.

A January poll by ALRANZ found that the majority of Kiwis believe abortion should be legal if a woman doesn't want to be a mother.

Green Party voters were the most supportive of increasing the legality of abortion, following by Labour voters, then National voters.

 - Stuff

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