There’s a common myth that New Zealand women have the right to abortion. However, although the law is usually interpreted extremely liberally, the Crimes Act and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act severely limit the circumstances under which women can have abortions. This misapprehension helps to prevent real abortion on demand from being made accessible to all women in the country. As well as the law creating legal loopholes that women have to jump through, it puts significant barriers for access for some women.
Of the 21 District Health Boards in the country, 7 do not offer abortions, meaning woman in the Mid Central, Whanganui, Lakes and Bay of Plenty areas in the North Island, and the South Canterbury, West Coast and Southland areas in the South Island who want an abortion have to travel for the procedure. Some have to travel very long distances – for instance, if you live in Bluff, you’ll be forced to drive 8 & 1/2 hours to Christchurch, despite Dunedin hospital being a comparatively close 3 & 1/4 hours drive. As the process often takes multiple appointments, women seeking abortions may even have to make these long trips more than once, which means taking yet more time off work, education, or any other commitments they may have. First trimester abortion is a relatively simple procedure, and there is no medical reason why it can’t be offered in every hospital in the country.
For women who aren’t eligible for publicly funded health services, the situation becomes even harder. This includes women in New Zealand on shorter work, student or visitors visas, undocumented immigrants, failed refugees and asylum seekers awaiting deportation and more. These women face a cost of around $1000 (sometimes upwards of $2500), and many clinics and hospitals do not provide abortions for non-eligible woman at all, again potentially meaning extra cost and difficulty associated with long-distance travel.
A woman’s ability to decide what happens to her body is a crucial aspect of the fight for women’s freedom. Abortion on demand must be legal, but it must also be easily accessible to all those who choose to use it. New Zealand’s abortion laws fall far, far short of that at present.