The Battle for Life in New Zealand
Issues regarding the economy, tax and spending tend to dominate most national election campaigns. However, in New Zealand’s general election both beginning and end of life issues have sprung to prominence in recent days. This is due to the fact that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has promised if elected she intends to completely decriminalise abortion and has pledged her support for legalising euthanasia.
Many Australians view New Zealand as a socially progressive country because it has same sex marriage and the prominence of Maori culture in its institutions. However New Zealand has one of strictest abortion laws in the western world. Abortion can only be performed on pregnancies under 20 weeks old (except to save the mother’s life) to preserve the physical or mental health of the mother or if there is fetal impairment. All abortions must be certified by two doctors.
These requirements were set out in the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 and abortion is listed in Section 187A of the Crimes Act 1961. Despite governments in the modern era being from both the left and the right there has been no mainstream push to change the abortion laws, laws which were aimed appeasing both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints. That is until Ardern’s proclamation in one of the leader’s debates where she said “It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision”.
The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand is the main lobby ground pushing for this reform. They want laws modeled on those in the Australian states of Victoria and Tasmania which allow abortion for any reason up until birth and exclusion zones outside abortion clinics.
Ardern is obviously trying to appeal to her progressive base which has catapulted her into lead in the polls, but she has obviously not been expecting the backlash that has followed her announcement. Down Syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs which has seen abortion rates for babies with down syndrome in countries with liberal abortion laws at alarmingly high levels were particularly displeased to say the least, they made headlines with blunt mock Labour poster.
This was labelled fake news by Labour New Zealand HQ but the lived experience in other jurisdictions suggests it isn’t.
This is fake news. Jacinda doesn’t support abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities. We’ve asked the organisation to take it down.
— New Zealand Labour (@nzlabour) September 6, 2017
Saving Downs were forced to take the image down however they have not backed away from their strident criticism of Ardern’s proposal.
Ardern has so far refused to discuss what any proposed abortion law change would look like. Family First New Zealand’s National Director Bob McCoskrie stated “any changes would potentially pave the way for late term abortions, aborting children on the basis of their gender, aborting those with disabilities”. If Victoria and Tasmania are the models for any law that it is serious cause for concern.
The Make New Zealand Great Again Party also took a black comedy approach to Ardern’s proclamation highlighting that if you wanted to end child poverty then make sure those living in poverty abort their children is a good way to go.
Current National Party Prime Minister Bill English is a conservative Catholic with six children and will not support any change to abortion law believing it’s a “law that’s stood the test of time”. Although abortion is a conscience issue for MPs of both major parties, the elected leader’s position still weighs heavily on the agenda of the parliament. The Greens as you would expect support liberal abortion laws while New Zealand First has a policy of putting any contentious social policy issue up to a binding referendum of the people.
Jacinda Ardern also supports euthanasia which will come before the parliament after the election as a bill to legalise it drafted by libertarian ACT Party Leader David Seymour was randomly picked from the private members’ bill ballot draw.
Ardern has been accused of hypocrisy by Nationals MP Simon O’Connor who highlighted it was strange she wanted to stop youth suicide but wanted to “encourage the suicide of the elderly, disabled and sick”. Ardern claimed they are separate issues but again the overseas experience has shown that many people simply suffering from mental health problems receive euthanasia.
It would appear under Ardern the Labour Party this election is the party of death and taxes and that the election of a Labour government could quite literally be a killer for some New Zealanders. While there are many issues at play this election certainly the sanctity of life at both the beginning and end of life should weigh heavily on voters’ mind.