A guide to making submissions on the Abortion Legislation Bill
Submissions closed Midnight Thursday 19 September 2019
While it is easy to agree and disagree with other people’s opinions, it’s actually rare for someone to take a stand and speak up either in support or against an issue in a way that counts. Why? Sometimes, it’s because they think their voice doesn’t really matter. Sometimes they are scared to let others know what they really think because it might not agree with the overruling sentiment. And sometimes, they really just don’t know how to go about it.
When it comes to issues that affect society, often the best way to be heard is to add weight to the voices of others.
At the beginning of our submission, we acknowledge this is a painful issue.
For many people, abortion is a very painful and divisive issue. Convictions and feelings run deep. Many find abortion tragic. Others, finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant, have been thrown into a life crisis. In anguish and fear, they have agonised over whether or not to seek an abortion and have had to live with that decision ever since. Some grieve for family members who were never born. Many people alive today are aware that they could have been aborted but are pleased they were not. We acknowledge that all those who proceed with unwelcome pregnancies need strong support from others, and those who have undergone an abortion need compassionate understanding.
A few weeks ago, we shared a post by Alex Penk of MAXIM Institute called “Removing rage from our public debates” in which he highlights the tendency for people to “Rage against the machine. Stick it to the man. If you’re not for us, you’re against us.” He points out that theses familiar sayings are sometimes comforting, especially when our nation is in the thick of debate about issues that really fire people up—euthanasia, cannabis, and most recently, abortion. We recommend reading this article before you sit down to write your submission.
CURRENT LAW vs PROPOSED LAW
What is the current abortion law in New Zealand?
Under the Crimes Act 1961, it is a crime to perform an abortion unlawfully, or to supply the means of providing an abortion (such as drugs or instruments) unlawfully (ss. 183 and 186). Women are explicitly exempt from liability, meaning a woman cannot be criminally charged for having an abortion under the Crimes Act 1961. However, under s.44 of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, it is a crime for a woman to receive an abortion unlawfully. Thus, performing, receiving or supplying the means of providing an abortion is a crime only when it is not carried out in accordance with the proper procedure and legal criteria for lawful abortions.
What are the criteria for a lawful abortion?
In the case of a pregnancy of not more than 20 weeks’ gestation, a lawful abortion may be performed if one of the following criteria are met:
- Serious danger to the woman’s life, physical or mental health (factors which may also be taken into account: the woman’s age, and whether the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation); or
- Foetal abnormality (a substantial risk that the baby will be “seriously handicapped”); or
- The pregnancy resulted from incest or sexual intercourse with a dependent family member; or
- The woman is “severely subnormal” (has a mental, physical or intellectual impairment that significantly impairs her ability to understand and make decisions about sexual conduct).
(Crimes Act 1961, s.187A(1))
In the case of a pregnancy of more than 20 weeks’ gestation, a lawful abortion may be performed only when it is necessary to save the woman’s life, or prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.
(Crimes Act 1961, s.187A(3))
Are women currently ‘criminalised’ for having abortions in New Zealand?
No. Under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, it is a crime for a woman to receive an unlawful [i] abortion in New Zealand (for example, a ‘backstreet’ abortion). This offence creates some individual responsibility for women who attempt to bypass the proper criteria and procedure for lawful abortions (albeit with a relatively low penalty of a maximum fine of $200). Importantly, since 1977 when the current law was enacted, the Ministry of Justice has no record of any woman ever being convicted for receiving an unlawful abortion. It is therefore wrong to say that women are ‘criminalised’ for receiving abortions under the current law.
Who then is ‘criminalised’ under New Zealand’s current abortion laws?
According to the Law Commission, there is no record of any case in which a person has been convicted for performing an unlawful abortion. There has been a small number of convictions under s. 183 for procuring (i.e., performing) an unlawful abortion. However, Ministry of Justice records show that these related to physical assaults on pregnant women that caused (or were intended to cause) a miscarriage – not medical or surgical abortions. There has been one conviction for providing the means of procuring an unlawful abortion (for supplying pills illegally).
Does New Zealand have ‘abortion on demand’?
Not officially. By law, there is no automatic ‘right’ to have an abortion. However, in practice, there is evidence to suggest that abortion is more accessible than the law would appear to allow, because certifying Consultants adopt a very wide interpretation of the ‘mental health’ ground for abortion. Most abortions are provided on this ground. New Zealand’s annual abortion rate is comparable to jurisdictions with ‘health’-oriented abortion laws, which may suggest that a high percentage of requests for abortion are granted.
Former Chair of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, Dr Christine Forster, said, “We do essentially have abortion on demand or request, however you like to put it. […] Certainly in the main centres, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, if a woman wants an abortion I think she’ll get one.” [ii] The Hon Judith Collins has stated in Parliament, “To be absolutely frank, we have abortion on demand in New Zealand, in everything except name.” [iii]
PROPOSED ABORTION LAW
What changes are proposed to abortion law?
The Government has proposed a policy shift to treat abortion as a ‘health’ issue rather than a criminal issue. This would involve removing the criminal offences regarding abortion and treating abortion like other health services, which are governed by general health laws and professional guidance.
Why does the Government want to reform abortion law?
The focus of this policy shift is entirely on the ‘wellbeing’ of women seeking abortion. The Government seeks to remove the element of censure that the criminal law entails, and to make abortion more accessible, with fewer delays. The Government does not appear to have considered the status of a foetus, nor any State interests in preserving life. Under the current law (Crimes Act 1961), an unborn child is afforded some recognition and (minimal) legal protection. In contrast, treating abortion as a health issue and removing it from the Crimes Act 1961 gives the unborn child the same status as an appendix, tonsils or gall bladder – simply tissue removed as part of a ‘health procedure’.
What would a new abortion law permit?
Does this mean late-term abortions will become legal?
‘Late-term abortion’ is a term used to describe abortions from the second trimester of pregnancy onward. Some use this term for abortions performed from 16 weeks (including the Law Commission), and others use it for abortions performed after 23 weeks (related to viability). Late-term abortions are already legal in some circumstances (see para 3 on previous page), and data provided by Statistics NZ shows that that more than 850 late term abortions have been performed over the last 10 years where there was no >danger to the physical health or life of the mother.
The Abortion Legislation Bill would make late term abortions considerably more accessible than they are under the current law. After 20 weeks’ gestation, a baby could be aborted as long as the health practitioner who intends to perform the abortion considered that the abortion was ‘appropriate in the circumstances’.
What do the proposed models for abortion law reform leave out?
The Abortion Legislation Bill leaves serious gaps. No provisions are proposed to protect women from being coerced into an abortion. No provisions are proposed for ensuring women have the mental-health support they need before and after abortion, or that women are made fully aware of the risks of abortion, and of all of their options. There’s no proposal to prevent schools from taking young women for an abortion without parental knowledge, or to prevent sex-selective abortion. The Bill also waters down the freedom of conscience rights for health practitioners, who would be required to provide information to women about abortion service providers. It is proposed that employers could terminate a health practitioner’s employment, refuse to employ a new job applicant, or offer health practitioners less favourable terms of employment, conditions of work, or opportunities for training if the employee’s or job applicant’s conscientious objection to abortion would “unreasonably disrupt the employer’s activities”.
The bill would also remove the current 20-week gestational time limit for disability. Instead, abortion will be available for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth, providing one registered health practitioner signs off on the abortion under the new ‘well-being’ grounds. In the handful of jurisdictions that have similar laws, this has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth. In 2017, the organisation Saving Down’s highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws, saying that this would introduce abortion through to birth for babies with disabilities. In response, Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.
DOWNLOAD a more detailed examination of the bill
How to make a submission on the Abortion Legislation Bill
The Government appointed Select Committee needs to hear from thinking members of the public. The reality is, if people do not make a submission, silence is interpreted as assent.
Parliament’s page on the Abortion Legislation Bill
This is the official government portal to the Abortion Legislation Bill, where you can check the progress and make a submission on the bill
Abortion Legislation Committee
NOTE: Submissions made by post must contain TWO copies
Phone: 04 817 9520
It is very important that all submitters write in their own words, rather than cut and paste from other sources. Form letters carry little very weight.
It is also crucial that submissions be respectful, reasoned, and to the point.
Check each bill for the correct information to address the Committee Secretariat and include:
- Your name
“SUBMISSION – Name of Bill”
- Your own details:
Name of Individual / Family / Organisation
- Your signature
- Whether or not you wish to make a verbal submission, appearing before the committee (YES / NO)
Writing to your MP does not count as a submission but does let them know where you stand on this issue.
Please note that submissions are made public unless you specifically request anonymity at the time of putting in your submission
Issues to consider
Remember, there are people on both sides of any debate. Be respectful. Even opposition can be constructive.
Pray before you write. If you get stuck, pray. When you finish, pray. Sit on it until you feel you have expressed yourself well and pray for the recipients to be open to hearing your heart when they read your message.
Double-check your evidence and provide sources. Ambiguous arguments are easily dismissed and can be detrimental to the overall message other people send.
Give encouragement and support when MPs make a stand or go against the majority or party line – especially on conscious votes. Theirs is often a thankless task. Pray for them to be strong under the pressure they face.
A guide on what to write on the blank side of your submission form
Suggested openings FOR
I support the…
I want Parliament to legalise…
I am totally for…
… should be legalised because…
I want the ________ because…
I agree with what this Bill stands for because…
I agree with making ________ legal because…
I am for________ because…
I support any sort of…
I support the passing of this Bill because…
Suggested openings AGAINST
I oppose the…
I don’t want Parliament to legalise…
I am totally against…
… should remain illegal because…
I don’t want the ________ because…
I am against what this Bill stands for because…
I oppose making ________ legal because…
I am against ________ because…
I oppose any sort of…
I oppose the passing of this Bill because…
Add 2-3 reasons and evidence, if available, to support your view. Ensure your evidence is reliable and provide the source. Personal experience also carries weight.
Instructions to help leaders organise submissions
Before the Submission-writing Session
- Print one form template for every person.
- Gather a small team of helpers who can assist your congregation.
- Announce in the Notices that there will be an opportunity to make a brief submission at the end of the service. If anyone is able to speak briefly about the Bill, that would be excellent.
- Please provide a good supply of ballpoint pens.
- Each person needs to write their name and other contact details on the front.
- If a person wishes to speak to the Committee to explain their viewpoint further (ie making an ‘oral submission’), they should make sure they tick the appropriate box.
- At the back of the form, people should write their message (see the guide for ideas).
Office or Supervisor Role
- Photocopy the back of the form (the side with the handwritten message).
- Staple each of the photocopies and their respective forms together.
- Put all the forms into an A4 envelope. Put $3 postage on the envelope.
- Write the address on the envelope:
Abortion Legislation Committee
- Please mail the envelopes and allow a week for post
If you live in Wellington, you can take the envelopes to Parliament in Molesworth Street and give them to the reception desk. You don’t need stamps on if you drop them off, but you do need to write the address on the envelope. Parliament should take envelopes until the closing day.
Dr Norman MacLean NZOM qualified in medicine at the Otago Medical School 50 years ago. He practiced within obstetrics & gynecology for nearly 40 years, working for a number of years at the Southland hospital as a junior doctor, then National Women’s Hospital in Auckland, followed by two years as a junior specialist or registrar in obstetrics & gynecology at the National Specialist Service in Dundee, Scotland.
Following his time in Dundee, he returned to Southland & practiced 38 years as a specialist gynecologist and obstetrician in Southland. During that time, he has done in the area of 8000 births, including 2000 caesarian sections. He performed up to 200 abortions early in his career, but after a year of performing the abortions & being somewhat uneasy but cooperating with the system, he realised that this is not what he should be doing. It was not the medicine or the life giving, healing medicine that he wanted to practice & from that day he stopped.
In 2015, Dr Norman MacLean was named a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queens Birthday Honours for services to obstetrics and gynaecology.
Hear the truth about the reality of abortion including late term abortions, the risks and harms of abortion to the mother, the importance of the heartbeat, foetal pain, the age of viability, and NZ’s close connection to operative procedures performed on the unborn child during pregnancy.
“With the proposed new law, it would seem that the mother has all the rights & no recognition of the existence of the baby, the life of the baby, or the value of the baby is considered. It’s shocking beyond belief.” – Dr Norman MacLean NZOM
We are writing to you as mothers – and as women who have experienced abortion.
We identify with the joy your baby has brought you and Clarke this past year. Hearing her heartbeat for the first time. Deciding on a name. And now enjoying her smiles and the softness of her skin. The whole nation truly shares in your happiness.
We also have a question for you, Prime Minister. And as the debate begins on abortion law reform, it is a question which becomes crucial: when does humanity begin?
THE RED LINE
The red line on this page represents the seamless stream of time from conception to birth. Where on that timeline would you mark the moment human life begins? What happened in that moment to turn growing human tissue into a growing human being?
Many have attempted to define this point: for example, when the heart beats(4 weeks), the moment of brain activity (6 weeks), or at the point of viability – when, if born prematurely, the baby has a chance of survival (22-27 weeks).
There are biological problems with almost all beginningof-humanity markers. At every point on this line, even at conception, the 23 chromosomes from each parent are already in place, as is all the genetic information required for a lifetime. Staggering amounts of development will take place, but on what grounds do we decide that a change inside the womb is the becoming of a child rather than simply the growing of a child?
A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO DECIDE
Arguably the most defining argument for abortion is the right of a woman to determine what happens to her body. “My body, my choice” is the abbreviated argument. There is truth in those four words, and legal protection is already given to women.
But while there is truth, we believe it is not the whole truth. My body, is not the only body, which means my rights are not the only rights.
The moment an unborn child’s humanity is recognised, the rights of a woman are reframed – and not simply by law.
All good mothers, who have the right to eat, drink, and do as they please, willingly curb their rights for the wellbeing of their unborn children.
But a mother’s love does not give her unborn child humanity and human rights. We believe love is an acknowledgment that inside the womb is a who, not a what; a child, not a thing. And in a progressive society, that instinct is supported by the full weight of law, ensuring that the rights of its most vulnerable citizens are given the same legal protection as all others.
THE IMPACT ON THE WOMAN
The acknowledgement that abortion ends a life is one of the reasons we – and thousands of others – live with regret and sadness. We did what we thought was best at the time, encouraged or in some cases pressured by those around us. But we have suffered. We acknowledge all women are different, and their experiences of abortion are different, but New Zealand scientists have found women who have abortions are 30% more likely to experience mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, suicide ideation and substance abuse.
None of this is easy. When there are two bodies involved, and two people with human rights, it can be a complex legal dance to protect them both. What is clear to us is that giving human rights solely to the mother at the expense of the life of a child is not something any good society would do. Nor is disregarding the health impacts of abortion. It is clear to us that abortion is both a health issue and a legal issue.
WHERE WILL YOU PLACE YOUR MARK?
Prime Minister, so much hangs on where you place your mark on the timeline.
A failure to locate the mark – or a failure to be cautious in doing so – may find us inadvertently killing human beings rather than merely ‘removing human tissue.’ And a failure to acknowledge that many suffer after abortion is a failure to care for women’s health.
For you, the task is harder because your stance will be public; you will be acutely aware of the political implications.
Jacinda, as our Prime Minister, and as a mother, err on the side of caution. Do everything in your power to shape our laws to reflect the caution that this life-and-death issue surely warrants.
Barbara Hill, Mother of 4 (incl.1 aborted)
Linda C., Mother of 2 (1 aborted)
Erena Lagas, Mother of 3 (2 aborted)
Marina Young, Mother of 4 (1 aborted)
Karmenne Prebble, Mother of 7 (1 aborted, 1 adopted)
Sylvia Bowden, Mother of 3 (1 aborted)
Dawn Green, Mother of 4 (1 aborted)
Angela Hughes, Mother of 4 (1 aborted)
Dear Jacinda – About the letter
A group of women who have all experienced abortion have today published an open letter to the Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern.
It is thought to be the first time in New Zealand history a group of post-abortive women have spoken publicly about the issue – and follows the release of the Law Commission’s report on abortion law reform.
Spokesperson Barbara Hill says they wanted to highlight the fact many women suffer psychologically after abortion.
“Abortion is so much more than having your appendix out. It is a loss – albeit self-inflicted – and the grief and pain is very real,” she says.
Tauranga-based Hill says the eight signatories to the letter were happy to sign their full names, along with the total number of children to which each woman is a mother – including those who were aborted or adopted.
“There is such silence and self-condemnation around abortion, so we are happy the country is going to have a discussion about it. It is time to talk about the impact of what is presented as ‘just another minor surgery’ – and to be honest about what abortion is and does.”
As a mental health educator, Hill has worked with many post-abortive women struggling with the emotional fallout. She says a common theme is that there is insufficient information given at the time of the abortion.
“There is next to no counselling. We’re told it’s just a bunch of cells. Instinctively we know this isn’t true – that’s why women agonise over ‘whether to keep the baby.’ Then later, when we have ultrasound scans for subsequent pregnancies, we see the truth for ourselves.
“Personally, I did not make an informed choice. I just stepped onto an expedient conveyor-belt of medical practice, and later paid a heavy price. After my abortion, I was sad, depressed, angry, and lacking trust in myself and others. For decades.”
Published in three nationwide newspapers on Sunday and Monday – the Sunday Star Times, Herald on Sundayand Dominion Post– the full-page letter asks Jacinda Ardern to take into account the life-and-death nature of abortion, along with the health effects for women, and to err on the side of caution if making legislative changes. The letter asks the Prime Minister an important ethical question about humanity in the womb – at what point does it begin?
“The acknowledgement that abortion ends a life is one of the reasons we – and thousands of other women – live with regret and sadness,” the letter reads. “And a failure to acknowledge that many suffer after an abortion is a failure to care for women’s health.”
“When there are two bodies involved, and two people with human rights, it can be a complex legal dance to protect them both. What is clear, is that giving human rights solely to the mother at the expense of the life of a child is not something any good society would do. Nor is disregarding the health impacts of abortion. It is clear to us that abortion is both a health issue and a legal issue.”
In 2008 New Zealand scientist Professor Ron Fergusson and his team of researchers found rates of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance abuse were about 30 per cent higher in women who had experienced abortion, compared to those who had not.