New Zealand Law on Abortion

New Zealand Law on Abortion

In 2000, a member of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, admitted that, despite the legal restrictions,  in reality abortion was available "on demand or request."

  • In 1982, certifying consultants had their immunity from the law confirmed by the Court of Appeal.
  • Health professionals may face civil or criminal liability for breaching the NZ abortion law.
  • The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights provides for the woman to be fully informed, the right to make an informed choice and give informed consent.
  • Medical professionals could face complaint proceedings for breaches to the Code.
  • Women in Australia have successfully sued abortion providers for medical malpractice and for not fully informing them of possible risks.
The law governing the provision of abortion is covered by the Crimes Act and the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (CS&A) Act.

The Guardianship Act also contains a provision on abortion. It provides that a girl of any age may consent to an abortion performed by a professionally qualified person, or may refuse to consent.

The law in New Zealand currently says that abortion is illegal unless the woman meets with certain conditions that entitles her to a certificate of exemption.

For details about how the law evolved, go to History of Abortion in New Zealand.

Essentially, through the mid-1970s, politicians were grappling with the challenge of how to reconcile the emerging divisions within New Zealand society over abortion, the ethical dilemmas and changing medical attitudes.

The politicians struggled to produce a law that weighed the situation of a woman seeking an abortion and the rights of the unborn child. Another consideration, was that doctors performing abortions at the new clinics admitted that they were interpreting the law as they saw fit.

Most politicians accepted that de facto abortion on demand could not be allowed to continue.

Parliament itself was divided between factions that sought abortion on demand and those who opposed abortion except to save the mother's life, and the middle ground.

Here is a summary of Justice Speight's decision and the later judgement from Justice Woodhouse, President of the Court of Appeal:
  • They ruled that Dr Melvyn Wall and the baby had no standing. The CS&A Act prescribes the procedure for an abortion to be undertaken. The abortion is then appropriate unless it can be approved that the doctor acted in "bad faith."

  • The doctor's decision is absolute. Only the woman on whom the abortion has been carried out, is in a position to give evidence, and deemed to have standing.

  • Justices Speight and Woodhouse's declared that the law must trust and rely on the good ethics of the medical profession. Certifying consultants now possess the privilege of sanctuary, their immunity from the law confirmed by the Court of Appeal. Read the Full Story
Criminal Liability
In 2001, the Journal of Law and Medicine, published a commentary by a New Zealand barrister entitled: "Liability of Health Professionals for a Breach of the Abortion Law of New Zealand."

Informed consent
In Australia, barrister Charles Francis QC, successfully negotiated an out of court settlement with the Royal Women's Hospital (Herald Sun, 29/9/98). His client also received an undisclosed sum from a Melbourne gynaecologist who performed the abortion in 1990, allegedly triggering severe depression.

In her statement "Ellen" alleged that she was never adequately warned that her abortion could damage her mental health. A trainee social worker at the hospital gave her a standard Pregnancy Advisory Service pamphlet, which claimed there was not "any evidence to suggest that women who have had a termination suffer from any long-term psychological effects."

In 2001, the same barrister secured the world's first abortion-breast cancer settlement. An Australian woman who had obtained an abortion sued her doctor for medical malpractice. She claimed he failed to inform her of the research linking abortion with breast cancer, and the possibility of the emotional damage which she might suffer as a result of the abortion (CNS News, 4th January, 2002).