Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand is working to make her country a place where abortion can finally be legal. Her administration has recently written a bill that has been passed through a preliminary vote on Thursday, August 8th, that would forever change New Zealand’s strict laws on reproductive freedoms once it completes the next two rounds of legislation.
In New Zealand, abortion is illegal except in incredibly rare cases of potential harm to the mental or physical health of the mother; and even then, the procedure needs to be approved by two medical professionals. However, this new proposed legislation would allow women and those with female reproductive systems to have more choice on the matter. It allows them to choose termination up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy without being evaluated by a health practitioner for mental and physical well-being and allows them to receive abortion resources from new centers, which would be completely safe from anti-abortion protesters.
The likelihood of New Zealand’s legislation being passed is unlikely. Disagreements within the coalition of the Labour Party and Nationalist Party have held up the bill being passed, thus placing it in parliament to be addressed further. The First and Labour Party is a center-left party focused on helping Kiwis, the people of New Zealand, while the New Zealand Nationalist party is more center-right and focuses on family. The disagreements began when both New Zealand parties had speeches over abortion being decriminalized- the Labour Party has moved to decriminalize the stance on abortion, while the Nationalist party believes in life and family. These differences have caused the bill to have a harder time passing through the legislation system than most other bills.
— Bryce Edwards (@bryce_edwards) August 9, 2019
Above: A political cartoon on the difficulties women in New Zealand go through to obtain an abortion, specifically on how New Zealand First is quick to add obstacles such as a referendum instead of moving towards legalization.
Yet, despite the government’s internal disagreements, legalization is one of the steps forward to making accessible abortion more acceptable globally. In early July, the small country island of Malta saw protests for the first time in front of the prime minister’s office in support of abortion rights. A heavily Catholic community, abortion had yet to be discussed or even legally addressed in a positive manner in some time. The small protest, like the New Zealand legislation, may not amount to groundbreaking change instantly, but it will at least change some minds and spark a discussion that may lead to future acts for change.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, while abortion laws have been making more headlines and been less stringent, the actual use of the abortion procedure has dropped. Due to the legalization of abortions, the act of using unsafe abortions in an environment with people who are untrained has plummeted. This has led to better quality and safety of abortions along with the mother’s survival afterward. Surprisingly enough, abortion rates from countries that have relaxed their laws and those that haven’t are around the same. However, the abortions conducted in countries where it is criminalized have a significantly higher mortality rate.
The next step they have taken is working towards legalization with lawyers such as ACLU. Although abortion may not be completely legal in the sense of complete body autonomy, having it decriminalized in the first place opens up doorways. Then, it could be worked up to basic rights, such as being referred to abortion centers, being allowed abortions without multiple doctors’ approval and given access to resources and material on the matter.
The United States and most Western countries have a history with abortions and their acceptance. As Oceanic countries and other non-Western civilizations like New Zealand break headlines, it is important to be educated on what is occurring there too. The movement on abortion appears to become less on who is allowed to have one and what the regulations are, and more on how to better make it safe, comfortable, and an event not to be ashamed about. While the vote is still being reviewed, there is hope that New Zealand will take one step in the direction towards acceptance of abortion, creating a safer environment for women all over the country.
Picture Credit: Pexels