Māori MPs give their take on abortion law reforms

By Talisa Kupenga

The Law Commission's recommendation that government decriminalise abortion and treat it as a health issue is expected to result in a conscience vote for MPs, but it’s not clear whether it would get enough support for a law change.

Holding her baby daughter, Labour’s Kiri Allan says it’s time for a law change.

"I've been an advocate for abortion law reform and decriminalising in this area."

National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett was not so forthcoming.  

"I'm going to wait until I see legislation I'm not going to voice an opinion on it right now."

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft says “rare, safe and legal” is her party’s preferred option.

Labour’s Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri is pro-life but understands some pregnancies could be complicated.

“There's no greater gift than the gift of life and that's about whakapapa and it's about tikanga and that's why it's really important that I get soundings."

New Zealand's first Gender Attitudes Survey shows 70 percent of kiwis agree that women should have the right to choose whether they have an abortion, compared with 14 percent who disagree.

Of the 13,285 abortions last year Māori women accounted for 3,111, an increase of 200 on the previous year.

But statistics show a downwards trend in the average Māori abortion rate over the past decade from 28 per 1,000 to 19 per 1,000 for women aged 15-44-years.

Labour’s Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson says he supports decriminalising abortion but acknowledged traditionally it was not a preferred option for Māori.

“There is a traditional view that we are working through as a Māori caucus so we have to take that into consideration."

Allan says, “the influence of Christianity on our tikanga has probably put forward a particular type of view when it comes to kaupapa about abortion."

The Law Commission recommends three options:

  • No statutory test and the woman can self-refer to a practitioner where they decide together.
  • A statutory test and the practitioner rules the abortion is appropriate.
  • No requirement for a statutory until 22-weeks of pregnancy.

Labour’s Louisa Wall says, "It's in the Crimes Act because historically this was a moral issue, it was a religious issue, it wasn't about women's rights but from my perspective it is about women's rights."

The law reform will be taken to cabinet by Justice Minister Andrew Little early next year.