History - NZ

NZ history

Few other issues arouse such strong emotions and passions as abortion. This feature covers the campaign to legalise abortion in New Zealand and the ensuing opposition.

Overseas influence
The "sexual revolution" of the 1960's changed attitudes to abortion. After a successful PR strategy in Britain culminated in the passing of the British Abortion Act in 1967, 'pro-abortion' groups were inspired to press for change in their own countries, including New Zealand.

SPUC Pro-Life Group
Two Auckland-based specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr Pat Dunn and Professor Sir William Liley, were alarmed by developments in Britain. Together they launched the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) and encouraged thousands of New Zealander to join the 'anti-abortion' movement.

Legal immunity
In 1981, a doctor laid a complaint against an abortion he felt was unjustified. The Court declared that the unborn child had no legal statutory rights, it also ruled that the decisions of certifying consultants were immune from the law.

Parliamentary wranglings
The issue then went to Parliament where Bills and Amendments were proposed and voted on. The Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion bill, embracing nine separate acts, went to a third reading and passed by 40 votes to 26. It was the first legislation in the western world to re-introduce legal protection for the unborn child.

Media attitudes
The general media reaction was negative. Early in 1978 the Minister of Justice complained: "I am angry at the carefully contrived campaign of misrepresentation that has been conducted throughout the country since Parliament, not the Government, passed the new law."

The Repeal movement campaigned, and eventually presented Parliament, with the third largest petition in New Zealand's history. A McNair Survey, commissioned by SPUC, however, revealed that the public had little understanding of the meaning of the law they were asking Parliament to repeal.

Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) reports
The Abortion Supervisory Committee held their first meeting on 12 January 1978 and experienced difficulties from the start. It has limited powers to do much except report to Parliament and advise changes to the existing Law. The Committee noted in its 2000 Report that "the law is being liberally interpreted and is not working as originally intended."

Snippets from the past

The Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion said the child from implantation has a status which entitles it to preservation and protection.

Dr A.MacFarlane, former New Zealand President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, speaking at a 1971 FPA Seminar, said that abortion should only be a last resort and that it's use "is a confession of failure of family planning itself."

1936 Special Committee, appointed by the House of Representatives, was "satisfied that the present interpretation of the law is such that, where the reasons for the operation are valid, the doctor runs no risk of prosecution. The risks of an alteration in the law are great."

A paper by Wayne Facer, of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, -which was distributed by ALRANZ calling for abortion to be removed from the realm of criminal law.

Dr Alice Bush, an early member of FPANZ, wrote her 'Personal View' regarding abortion, which was distributed by ALRANZ in the early 1970s.

Marilyn Pryor, a former member of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) wrote a book The Right to Live detailing the abortion fight in New Zealand from a 'pro-life' perspective. Reprinted here with permission

The New Zealand High Court ruled that Certifying Consultants have immunity from prosecution under New Zealand Law.

Dr. Laurie Guy, a lecturer at Carey Theological College, covers Abortion in New Zealand in depth, including the position of the major churches in the 1970's.

Isabel Annie Aves- one of New Zealand's early illegal abortionists. Despite four trials, Annie was never prosecuted but was killed in 1938 by the partner of one of her clients.