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UN recommends abortion law changes

Agencies welcome UN review recommendations

Friday, January 25, 2019

Media Release

The United Nations Human Rights Council has added its voice to the growing groundswell of support for New Zealand removing abortion from the Crimes Act and adopting the Law Commission’s proposed model A.

Earlier this week, New Zealand had its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), where our country’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council and judged against international human rights treaties and standards. During the review, a number of UN member states (countries) recommended that New Zealand remove abortion from the Crimes Act and address abortion as a health issue. Recommendations went further by asking the New Zealand government to “take a human rights-based approach by implementing Model ‘A’” as proposed by the recent Law Commission’s report on new approaches to abortion. This is the first time that New Zealand has received recommendations related to abortion through the UPR process.

The recommendations are a timely reminder, as the New Zealand Government considers the Law Commission proposals, that our current abortion law is inconsistent with human rights treaties and international standards.

Te Whāriki Takapou Chief Executive Dr. Alison Green says, “These new UPR recommendations should give further confidence to our MPs as they consider abortion legislation for New Zealand. Abortion is not a crime, it is a human right. For Māori, the right to an abortion also comes from Treaty of Waitangi guarantees for self- determination and equitable health outcomes.”

“The abortion recommendations from the Human Rights Council are a first for New Zealand and come at the right time,” says Family Planning Chief Executive Jackie Edmond. ”The UN confirms that this is the right time for law reform. By adopting model A, which trusts pregnant women, in consultation with their health providers, to make their own health decisions, we’d move from having an abortion law which is out-of-date and out-of-step with other countries that have modernised their abortion laws, like Australia, to one which puts us as leaders in women’s rights and women’s reproductive health care.”

There were additional recommendations related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example, Australia made a recommendation for New Zealand to initiate multi-sector actions to address barriers to women and girls’ access to equitable sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

There were also numerous recommendations urging New Zealand to work harder to address our high rates of gender-based violence. These recommendations were from a diverse range of countries – from Belgium to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A draft report of the UPR review of New Zealand, which includes the actual recommendations made by UN member states, and the New Zealand Government’s responses will be adopted at the end of the week. Between now and the adoption of the final reports of the UPR in June 2019, the New Zealand Government will have to indicate their final decisions on the recommendations they have received.

A recorded video of the UPR review of New Zealand can be found here.

Background

In November last year, the UN Human Rights Committee published a statement which supported the removal of existing policy and structural barriers that prevent women and girls’ effective access to abortion, including abortion being considered a crime.

Also last year, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), reiterated its recommendation that New Zealand remove abortion from the Crimes Act.

Recommendations to New Zealand from the Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review* Specific to sexual and reproductive health:

6.95      Remove abortion from the Crimes Act of 1961 and amend the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act of 1977 so abortion is decriminalized and implement recommendation “Model A” from the Law Commission’s report on “alternative approaches to abortion law” (Iceland);

6.96      Remove abortion from the Crimes Act 1961 and review the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 to ensure that abortion is decriminalized in all circumstances, and all women and girls can access safe and legal abortion as an integrated component of sexual and reproductive health services, in reference also to the adoption of SDG target 3.7 and 5.6 (Netherlands);

6.97      Eliminate, in accordance with the recommendation by CEDAW, abortion from the Crimes Act 1961 and amend the Law on Contraception, Sterilization and Abortion of 1977 in order to completely decriminalize abortion by amending legislation through the implementation of Recommendation A of the Legal Committee on “alternative approaches to the Law on Abortion” (Uruguay);

6.98      Reform the law on abortion and take a human rights-based approach by implementing Model ‘A’ from the Law Commission report of October 2018 on ‘alternative approaches to abortion law’ (Canada);

6.93      Initiate multi-sector, systems-level actions to address barriers to women and girls’ access to equitable sexual and reproductive health outcomes (Australia);

*    The annex is being circulated without formal editing, in the language of submission only.

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