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Politicians back abortion reform

Opinion Piece

The parliamentary vote on the first reading of the Abortion law reform bill on Thursday night, which saw a large majority in favour, marks a major swing in New Zealand society and could see this divisive issue put to rest.

The problem with abortion reform is that there are two groups, religious conservatives and feminists, who are totally opposed to each other’s views and simply won’t budge from their opinion.

It has left in limbo people who are not happy to see so many potential human lives ended, but at the same time do not support draconian legislation that can make a woman feel like a criminal for deciding not to go through with a pregnancy.

This is where Justice Minister Andrew Little has laid out the basis for reform — to make this a health issue rather than a criminal one.

There was still drama when, virtually at the last minute, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters blindsided not only Little but his own party negotiator on the reform effort Tracey Martin, by calling for a referendum on the issue.

While that has been the party’s position on conscience matters, there had been no indication it would do so in this instance.

In any case, the 94-23 margin looks likely to give Little all the wriggle room he needs to get this bill all the way to the third reading, albeit with some possible amendments.

The margin for the bill is higher than the one for gay marriage and that got through eventually.

Little is now behind what must be two of the most controversial pieces of legislation seen in this country for decades, abortion and the End of Life Choice legislation.

His handling of the two has helped see him transform from being an unpopular leader of the opposition, to a Minister that Jacinda Ardern can rely on.

The other major development of the week was the decision of Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr to bring the official cash rate down to a record low 1 percent. Some commentators doubt that this will actually revitalise an economy seen to be flatlining — and while it is good news for home buyers, it is a blow for many people hoping that their savings will get them through their retirement.