Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Complaint filed over New Zealand laws limiting abortions

The Guardian, DUNEDIN, New Zealand

An abortion advocacy group in New Zealand has laid a discrimination complaint alleging New Zealand’s strict abortion laws breach the human rights of pregnant people, and subject them to “ritual humiliation.”

As experts prepare to hand down a major review into the controversial abortion laws later this month, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa has teamed up with five women who have experienced difficulties and emotional pain in accessing abortions in bringing their complaint to the country’s Human Rights Commission.

In New Zealand, abortion is a crime and legal only in cases of incest, “mental subnormality” or fetal abnormality, or where the physical or mental health of the mother would be seriously impacted by having a child.

Other factors that might be taken into consideration, but are not grounds in themselves include “sexual violation” and “extremes of age.”

The complaint alleges that pregnant women suffer “demonstrably worse treatment than other people seeking health care” when accessing abortions, and experience “hurt feelings, loss of dignity, and cruel, degrading, and disproportionately severe treatment.”

ALRANZ national president Terry Bellamak said she is awaiting the findings of a Law Commission review of the laws, and if its recommendations do not go far enough her team would consider taking their complaint to the UN.

“The experience of the women who have joined us in this complaint are very similar stories of being refused an abortion by your GP. Of consciously lying to access an abortion, because there is no way around it. Of undergoing a ritual humiliation in order to get your abortion,” Bellamak said. “It is an arbitrary and unpredictable process, because in New Zealand you don’t have a right to abortion, it is an act of discretion on the part of the certifying consultant.”

New Zealand Minister of Justice Andrew Little wrote to the law review in February seeking advice on how to amend the laws to ensure abortions are treated “as a health issue” rather than a criminal issue.

Anyone seeking an abortion must obtain approval from two doctors, who must attest that the woman’s health is in “serious danger” either physically or mentally. The process takes an average of 25 days.

Bellamak said 98 to 99 percent of the abortions that are granted are done so on mental health grounds, but because abortion remains under the Crimes Act, it increases the stigma.

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