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MPs tread cautiously around abortion legislation

Jo Moir, Political Reporter

The Law Commission has reported back on ways to modernise abortion legislation - all of which would decriminalise it - but MPs are taking their time to make up their minds.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In February, Justice Minister Andrew Little asked for advice on how to take abortion out of the Crimes Act and make it a health matter.

There are three alternative approaches on the table for MPs to consider - one is that the decision is for a woman and her doctor to decide, another is that a mental health assessment is carried out for all abortions, and the third would only require a woman's mental health being examined after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion law reform has long been a vexed and polarising debate and most MPs aren't rushing to say where they sit on the issue.

Unlike Mr Little, who says his personal preference is for an assessment after 22 weeks of pregnancy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't be drawn on which of the new proposals she prefers.

"I really want to reserve falling down on an individual option until we really work alongside other parliamentarians to work through how we'll make sure this debate is had,'' she said.

In May, National Party leader Simon Bridges said he did not see a case for change but now he was taking his time with the report and would not speak on his personal position.

"I'd make the point there's not a lot of urgency about this because Andrew Little is going to take his time before we get to a bill in Parliament that each member of Parliament will consider.''

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage said abortion was a women's health issue and not a crime.

"The caucus will be discussing the option of having a medical practitioner report if the pregnany is after 22 weeks.''

As for Labour MP Aupito William Sio, he was planning to support any legislation to the first reading but wanted to hear from his constituents, in particular women, as to what reform they wanted.

NZ First was taking the view that it wanted to hear all the submissions before it made a decision.

The party's leader Winston Peters would not even say whether he thought it should be a health or a criminal matter.

"Everybody's known my personal view for a long long time - that it should be safe, it should be legal and it should be rare.''

The co-chair of the Labour Māori caucus, Willie Jackson, said Māori world views were quite diverse and he and his colleagues would all be making their own minds up.

"There seems to be a view that it should come out of the Crimes Act, there's a general consensus in regards to that,'' he said.

The government already has a full agenda through to the end of the year so Mr Little said it would be next year before he takes a paper to Cabinet, which would form the basis of any new legislation.

That means MPs have the summer break to think long and hard about which way they will vote when the time comes.


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