Abortion is not an issue in New Zealand

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Protests have been widespread in the US over the Abortion Case (Image from NPR)

Indian Newslink Leader, July 1, 2022 Digital Edition
Venkat Raman, Auckland, June 28, 2022

America is fighting a war that was waiting to happen for 50 years.

Protesters across the country say that the decision of the Supreme Court on June 22, 2022, to take away women’s right to abortion was hypocritical, to say the least.

The landmark decision set aside the ruling given on January 22, 1973, in the Roe v Wade case.

The Justices at that time said that the Constitution of the United States generally protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion. The decision struck down many federal and state abortion laws and fuelled an ongoing abortion debate about whether, or to what extent, abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion and what should be the role of moral and religious views in the political sphere. It also shaped debate concerning the methods to be used by the Supreme Court in constitutional adjudication.

The Roe v Wade Case

The case was brought by Norma McCorvey, known by the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, who, in 1969, became pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted an abortion but lived in Texas, where abortion was illegal except when necessary to save the mother’s life. Her attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee filed a lawsuit on her behalf in the US Federal Court against her local district attorney, Henry Wade, alleging that Texas’s abortion laws were unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in her favour and declared the relevant Texas abortion statutes unconstitutional.

The parties appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, which (in 1973) issued a 7-2 decision, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution provides a fundamental right to privacy, which protects a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion.

The Court also held that the right to abortion is not absolute and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life. The Court resolved these competing interests by announcing a pregnancy trimester timetable to govern all abortion regulations in the United States.

Anti-abortion politicians and activists sought for decades to overrule the decision.

Polls consistently show that a plurality and a majority, especially into the 21st century, opposed overruling Roe. Despite criticism of Roe, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its central holding in its decision (1992) on Planned Parenthood v Casey, although Casey overruled Roe’s trimester framework and abandoned Roe’s strict scrutiny standard in favour of a more malleable undue burden test.

The law in New Zealand

The National Party of New Zealand, which is making headway in opinion polls mainly because of its charismatic Leader Christopher Luxon got into a controversy with Simon O’Connor, one of its MPs speaking in favour of the US Court decision. Mr Luxon quickly ordered that the O’Connor social media post be taken down and assured New Zealanders that a government under his leadership will not meddle with the existing laws.

Abortion in New Zealand is legal within the framework of the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, which permits the termination of pregnancy for up to birth and removed abortion from the Crimes Act 1961. Abortion is permitted after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if a health practitioner deems it clinically appropriate and consults at least one other health practitioner. Abortion is illegal only if a person who is not a licences health practitioner procurers or performs it.

In March this year, New Zealand implemented explicit ‘safe access zones’ by legislation around abortion clinics and hospitals.

While the Labour Party is strongly in favour of abortion and with strong sentiments expressed by formal National Party MPs, abortion will not be an issue.

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