Abortion law: ministers to consider draft bill

Justice Minister Andrew Little planned to have draft legislation on abortions ready to go early this year but progress stalled during talks with NZ First. - Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey.

A bill that would remove abortion from the Crimes Act will go before Cabinet ministers today.

Now Justice Minister Andrew Little has reached consensus with NZ First, it's expected the legislative Cabinet committee will today okay the draft bill.

The full Cabinet is then expected to rubber stamp it - possibly as soon as next Monday, before it's debated in the House.

Andrew planned to have draft legislation ready to go early this year but progress stalled during talks with NZ First.

The Law Commission reported back its advice to Andrew last October, which recommended three options for reform - all of which decriminalised it.

One option is that the decision is for a woman and her doctor to decide, another is that a mental health assessment is carried out for all abortions, and the third - Andrew's preference - would only require a woman's mental health being examined after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

NZ First MPs agreed that Tracey Martin would work with Andrew to get the bill as close to the party's principles as possible, but MPs would ultimately be voting with their conscience, not as a party bloc.

Children's Minister Tracey Martin says there are still hurdles ahead before the Bill is voted in. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas.

"New Zealand First is looking for what it's always looked for in regards to this particular topic, and that's that it's safe and legal and rare. That's been the overriding set of principles that I've taken on behalf of New Zealand First into the conversations with Andrew Little,'' says Tracey.

Both Andrew and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been vocal advocates for reform, but Tracey warns there are still hurdles ahead.

"I think it is important to point out that it still has to get through the legislative Cabinet committee and then it still has to get through Cabinet and then it will become a conscience issue in the House.''

Andrew says he would have an announcement to make in a matter of weeks, and in the meantime had recruited a senior National MP to help get it across the line once the Bill was ready to be voted on in the House.

Amy Adams, who will retire from politics at the next election, was broadly supportive of what she had seen of the proposed legislation after meeting with Andrew and speaking with the prime minister.

"I think when the Bill comes to the House it's going to be a good basis for discussion about how abortion law can be improved in New Zealand,'' says Amy.

National MP Amy Adams says helping remove abortion from the Crimes Act will be a fitting way to leave. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas.

Amy says she has been open about wanting abortion law reform, which led to Andrew approaching her for help.

"I'm one of the more liberal members and I've been open in the fact I'm supportive of abortion law reform. And what tends to happen is that as the Bill comes to Parliament and the details are a bit more clear cut then I think by default I'll end up being one of the people who talks to colleagues and sees where the support is across the House,'' says Amy.

Andrew says it's quite common for MPs from across the House to work together when conscience votes came up because it was not about political party allegiance.

"[Amy Adams] is a senior member of the National Party and a former minister of justice. I value her opinion and it's encouraging to see there are others on the other side of the House who are keen to support change in this area of the law,'' he said.

Amy says helping remove abortion from the Crimes Act would be a fitting way to leave after 12 years.

"There's always things that you want to see done before you leave but I do think this is a piece of law that it's time to be updated, I think the Law Commission's done a good piece of work and if this reform is completed in a good way before I finish up then it's something I'll be very happy to be a part of."

Andrew says it's hard to gauge how much support and opposition there was to the reforms, but that would become clearer when MPs saw the Bill in a few weeks.

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