Forty-year abortion law, described as 'offensive', in fact still good, says Government

Justice Minister Amy Adams has acknowledged the language used in legislation governing the approval of abortions, would ...
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Justice Minister Amy Adams has acknowledged the language used in legislation governing the approval of abortions, would likely not be used today. But it's still workable.

A 40-year abortion law that still refers to people with impaired mental capacity as "subnormal", does not need changing, says the Government. 

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the law might be outdated, but it was workable and the Government had higher priorities. 

"The Government has a busy legislative programme focused on issues that affect large numbers of New Zealanders, such as family and sexual violence, money laundering and vulnerable children to name just a few.

"We are not currently looking at reforming or re-drafting the abortion law on the basis that it is working broadly as intended," she said.

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Adams comments came after the chair of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, Dame Linda Holloway, requested MPs on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee redraft aspects of the law.

The statute, which sits under the Crimes Act, was outdated and "offensive" in parts - opening up the committee to lengthy legal challenges by anti-abortion groups using semantics to chip away at its authority. 

"In fact, some parts of the language is actually quite offensive, referring to people [with limited mental capacity] as subnormal, for example. And really, it's an indictment that we've got a statute like that on the books that's not been corrected," Holloway said on Thursday. 

Medical practise had also changed over 40 years.

"And we have legislation that refers repeatedly to the operating doctor. Well now, one of the ways of performing abortions are medically-induced abortions - there is no operating doctor. Again that can cause lots of challenges and hassle," Holloway said. 

Legal counsel to the supervisory committee Wendy Aldred said the committee had been involved in litigation steadily - save for an 18-month gap - since 2004.

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"The door has been opened to some extent, to those kinds of challenges, which have tied the committee's time and resource," Aldred said. 

Adams acknowledged that language used could be considered offensive, but said the legislation was still workable within the present day medical and social settings.

"Although some of the language and medical terms in the legislation might be considered offensive or outdated, there is no indication that that in itself should be inhibiting women from being able to access abortion appropriately.

"Where there is gendered language, the Interpretation Act applies and words denoting males are deemed to include females."

It was unclear to what extent the Government felt that any draft changes could progress into a more fundamental change over how a woman's abortion is signed off. 

Staunchly Catholic Prime Minister Bill English has stated his strong opposition to any changes, saying he had not seen any proposal that wouldn't end in the "liberalisation" of abortions. 

A woman requiring an abortion must have it authorised by two certified medical practitioners, who deemed it medically necessary or justified for it to be legal. 

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has said he "strongly supported a woman's right to choose", but said the law did not need changing. 

English has said if an MP introduced a member's bill to Parliament proposing more fundamental changes to New Zealand's abortion law, it would be a conscience vote, so MPs could vote individually. 

 - Stuff

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