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Abortion out of the Crimes Act


As the first full week of the “new norm” for New Zealand gets under way it is interesting to reflect that the focus on the coronavirus pandemic and the dramatic announcements on Saturday afternoon by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have overshadowed some significant news.

The most obvious example of this would be the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act, which takes away the only medical procedure ever included in that legislation.

Abortion has now been made legal up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and there is provision for procedures even after that time, although these require medical approval.

The final bill passed by 68 votes to 51 which was a higher majority than seemed likely in the earlier weeks of the debate, which produced some fiery exchanges and a rearguard action that included removing the sections of the Act that would leave a safe space around clinics where protests could not take place.

Abortion has been one of the most divisive subjects in the country's social history, in a battle which could be oversimplified perhaps (initially at least) as fervent feminists up against religious traditionalists, with neither side prepared to yield any ground.

Polling has shown for some time that a majority support abortion for medical reasons and despite things like the protest at Parliament, the opposition does seem to have softened. None of this is to say that the issue will go away; anti-abortionists will try to undermine the legislation and continue to campaign against the termination of pregnancies.

The other most interesting development last week was the escalation in cost of the Pike River recovery, which had already risen from $23 million to $36m and has now had $15m more set aside.

The statement by Cabinet Minister Andrew Little that there will not now be an assessment of whether to go into the mine workings is significant. Work so far has been in the mine entrance and will continue to a rockfall blocking the workings area.

It is the latter area which is believed to contain the bodies of the 29 men who died, raising the fear that this costly exercise will be fruitless. Against that, a majority of New Zealanders have strong sympathy for the miners' families and would probably do the same as they have.

In the meantime it is back to a dystopian world for the rest of us in which the motto must be stay calm and look out for each other.