If you want to understand the legislation controlling abortion in New Zealand, you have to go to the Crimes Act 1961. It is a much amended act: that date of 1961 is a little misleading in that regard. Once you are at the Crimes Act, because abortion is a crime in New Zealand, head for Part 8, Crimes Against the Person, and from there, to section 183: procuring abortion by any means. Under that section you will find that:
Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether she is pregnant or not,—
(a) unlawfully administers to or causes to be taken by her any poison or any drug or any noxious thing; or
(b) unlawfully uses on her any instrument; or
(c) unlawfully uses on her any means other than any means referred to in paragraph (a) or paragraph (b).
(2) The woman or girl shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section.
In other words, performing unlawful abortions is illegal.
So what then is an unlawful abortion? You need to head to section 187A: Meaning of Unlawfully. In that section, you find out that performing an abortion is unlawful, unless you meet certain criteria. The criteria are set out in subsections 1(a) to 1(d), and 2(a) and (b). They are familiar – danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, pregnancy following rape or incest, serious physical or mental deformity of the fetus.
The specific clauses and subclauses are of course important, but what I want to focus on here is the placement of the rules about abortion in the Crimes Act. It seems that it’s a crime for women to have authority over their own bodies.
That is all that I want to say about that, because really, there is nothing else to be said. Just reflect on it for a moment. In New Zealand, in the 21st century, it’s a crime for women to have authority over their own bodies.
There are two other matters I want to raise.
First, go take a look at the language of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977. In particular, look at section 32: Procedure where woman seeks abortion. Here’s an extract:
If, after considering the case, the woman’s own doctor considers that it may be one to which any of paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (1), or (as the case may require) subsection (3), of section 187A of the Crimes Act 1961 applies, HE shall comply with whichever of the following provisions is applicable, namely:
(a) Where HE does not propose to perform the abortion HIMSELF, HE shall refer the case to another medical practitioner (in this section referred to as the operating surgeon) who may be willing to perform an abortion (in the event of it being authorised in accordance with this Act); or
(b) Where HE proposes to perform the abortion HIMSELF (in the event of it being authorised in accordance with this Act), HE shall—
– (i) If HE is HIMSELF a certifying consultant, refer the case to one other certifying consultant (who shall be a practising obstetrician or gynaecologist if the woman’s own doctor is not) with a request that HE, together with the woman’s own doctor, determine, in accordance with section 33 of this Act, whether or not to authorise the performance of an abortion; or
– (ii) If HE is not HIMSELF a certifying consultant, refer the case to 2 certifying consultants (of whom at least one shall be a practising obstetrician or gynaecologist) with a request that they determine, in accordance with section 33 of this Act, whether or not to authorise the performance of an abortion.
Caps and bolds mine.
New Zealand legislation drafters have long since abandoned the practice of assuming that “he” includes “she”. They adopt gender neutral or inclusive language, even using phrases such as “himself or herself”, and “he or she” where necessary. The very language of the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, with its implication that doctors are necessarily male, tells us that it is old law, law that is very much in need of being updated. Of course, I would far rather that attention was paid to the content of the law: this is not a call to fix the form but not the substance of the law. Nevertheless, the language of the Act tells us something disturbing, namely, that the law has long been due for revision, and none of our lily-livered politicians will do anything about it, because women’s rights can always be deferred, put off, relegated to the back of the queue in pursuit of some grander goal.
And second, this is what happens when abortion is treated as a crime: Repairing the damage: Before Roe.
Banning abortion doesn’t make it stop; it just drives abortion underground, with terrible consequences.