Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern backs a law that is deliberately silent on the fate of babies who survive an abortion

On Wednesday night, while 90 percent of the world was coming to grips with the impact of the coronavirus on their lives, a majority in the New Zealand Parliament voted into law one of the most extreme abortion regimes on the planet.

That’s right. Just when emergency measures are being rolled out by the day to keep everyone alive and healthy, 68 of 120 legislators – led by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden herself and Justice Minister Andrew Little – voted to remove the last speed bumps on the path to the medical killing an unborn child.

The Abortion Legislation Act comes into effect just as soon as the Governor General signs it.

Abortion is no longer covered by the Crimes Act but has been sanctified as “healthcare”. There is no legal test before 20 weeks, and after that the only official requirement is for the doctor who proposes to do the abortion to get a second opinion from another “health practitioner” – a term left undefined.

Shockingly, 80 MPs voted down an amendment requiring health professionals to give a baby born alive after a botched abortion the same care as any other child born alive. Ms Ardern, who likes to think of her administration as one of “kindness”, was among those who opposed this change.

All efforts to moderate a ‘disgraceful’ Bill thrown out

Efforts by pro-life MPs to limit late-term abortions to extreme cases of fetal disability or risk to the mother; to address the probability of fetal pain in post-20-weeks abortions; and to explicitly ban abortions that discriminate on the grounds of sex and disabilities such as Down syndrome, were all defeated by large majorities.

The legislation weakens conscience protections, something that came in for particular criticism during submissions from former prime minister Sir Bill English and his wife Lady Mary English who is a doctor. Sir Bill called the legislation “disgraceful”.

A person with a conscientious objection to abortion now has to tell the woman how to access a list of abortion providers maintained by the Ministry of Health. Hiring and firing and terms of employment can also be affected if the employer considers someone’s conscientious objection would “unreasonably disrupt the employer’s activities”.

Parental notification of minors was thrown out, as was an amendment requiring ongoing collection of accurate abortion statistics. (We love the Nordics but we are not going to follow them on this point, thank you!)

Putting the bill to a referendum – a policy of the minority New Zealand First Party – was rejected by almost all other MPs.

The only successful amendment went through by accident, to the great annoyance of the Bill’s leading supporters. The legislation provided for “safe zones” around abortion facilities to prevent pro-life advocates trying to communicate with or witness to women entering the clinics. A libertarian (and pro-choice) MP objected to the limitation on free speech, and owing to a lapse of attention by abortion proponents the crucial part of his amendment was carried on voices.

Pro-lifers insist, the unborn child is human

The vote after the final reading looked much better from a pro-life point of view than at the first reading last year, when 94 voted for its introduction and 23 against. But not all of those who finally voted against the Bill oppose abortion in principle.

The principled case against was put in, at times, impassioned speeches by a handful of MPs who focused on the human dignity of the unborn child and its human rights, based on the scientific fact of its existence as an individual human being.

Samoan National MP Agnes Loheni (see video below), echoing the Prime Minister’s “They [the Muslim community] are us” at the time of the Christchurch Mosque shootings a year ago, attacked the dehumanization of the fetus that the Bill represents. “The unborn child is one of us,” she insisted.

Abortion Legislation Bill – Third Reading – Video 2 from New Zealand Parliament on Vimeo.

Simon O’Connor, an Auckland National MP, denounced the pro-abortion MPs position as “weak” and “anti-science”, based on their “fear” of the facts, their refusal to talk about when life begins and what abortion involves. “You can smell the fear,” he said. “Euphemisms abound.” But he was “optimistic” because science was on the pro-life side, and because the radical nature of the Bill had brought “a great awakening in the country” that promised a day of reckoning on the issue of human life.

An indication of that awakening was seen in the 25,776 written submissions received by the Parliamentary committee studying the Bill, 92 per cent of which opposed the legislation.. 

Shroud-waving, autonomy and progressivism

Turning abortion from a de facto crime (for practitioners, not women) into healthcare has been on the agenda of the Ardern government from the beginning. The case for it is part sentiment, part feminist ideology, part plain old progressivism.

Tracey Martin, a New Zealand First MP who worked with Mr Little on the Bill, made a big impression with a personal story involving backstreet abortions that led to her grandmother’s death, followed not long after by the grandmother’s sister’s death from the same cause, and the effects on Ms Martin’s own mother.

Kieran McAnulty, a Labour Member, managed to turn his story about not being aborted – as he probably would have been today – but adopted by a loving Catholic family, into an argument for supporting the Bill “with a completely clear conscience”. Something to do with not imposing his views on anyone.

Jan Logie, a Green MP, took a hard-headed ideological approach, saying it was time for New Zealand, which was considered by many around the world to be “a feminist Mecca”, to catch up with other countries.

Bodily autonomy was the main theme of the feminists, reports Wellington pro-lifer Monica Devine, who was in the gallery with some of her family on Wednesday. “It reached a fever pitch when [National MP] Amy Adams used the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ countless times during her feminist tirade about a women’s right to abortion for any reason.”

Mr Little, who introduced the legislation, championed it as bringing New Zealand’s laws “into the 21st century” to reflect modern views. It ensured a woman didn’t have to lie about her mental health in order to have an abortion.

And yet, as Ms Loheni pointed out, she must lie to herself about the new life inside her and in many cases suffer ongoing distress.

“What we need to make sure is that the support services are there for them, the treatment services, the best professional medical advice they can get, and that is an obligation I think we owe in this day and age,” Little said.

It remains to be seen what the best abortion services the country can afford (and remember, this is all on the public purse) does for the health and wellbeing of New Zealand women.

After all, Little himself admitted in relation to later abortions: “I think we have to respect the fact that when women are in a position to have to make that decision at that point in the pregnancy, it is a very distressing time indeed.”

Why encourage women to make such distressing decisions? Why not support them and their families to let nature take its course and embrace a new child, or take the adoption route? Can it really be worse than knowing that you ended a unique human life?

Pro-lifers may have science on their side, but if they are religious it doesn’t count. 

Many speeches in favour of the bill, says Mrs Devine, “started out by defending the right to free speech and honest opinions and then went on to basically label all Christians as bigoted and narrow minded. In Agnes Loheni’s words, ‘Is it because underlying this call is the perverse idea that religious views can be automatically discounted, excluded–mocked, even–in relation to the debate on broadened abortion laws?’”

“After the Speaker announced the final vote result there was clapping and whoops of delight from some in the public gallery,” Mrs Devine concludes. “Others left somberly, vowing to continue the fight and in the meantime work harder to support families and women facing difficult or crisis pregnancies and ensure that New Zealand will become a nation where abortion is unthinkable.”

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet