17 September 2019

Submission to the Abortion Legislation Committee consultation of the Abortion Legislation Bill on behalf of the Humanist Society of New Zealand (Humanist NZ)

About Us

Humanist NZ

Humanist NZ is a national charity working to promote humanism by supporting and representing the non-religious in New Zealand. We promote a secular state and equal treatment of everyone, regardless of their religion or belief.

Humanist NZ works on behalf of the 42% (over 1.6 million) of people in New Zealand who declare themselves to be non-religious, and who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.


Humanists are non-religious people who live by moral principles based on reason and respect for others. One of the aims of humanist organisations around the world is to promote humanist views on public policy, especially where others are actively promoting views opposed to humanist values, or where non-religious perspectives are excluded or weak.

Humanists use reason, evidence and compassion to form our views on public policy. 

The humanist position on Abortion law reform.

Humanist NZ campaigns in favour of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Our position on abortion is ‘pro-choice’, the right of a woman alone to chose to have an abortion. We believe that contraception and high-quality, comprehensive sex and relationships education should be widely and freely available. We support families, including the right of parents to plan their families, and want every child to be a planned and wanted child. 

Access to free, safe, legal, and timely abortion on request when needed is a humanist position supported by hundreds of Humanist organisations around the world. 

Humanist NZ has long campaigned for reform of our abortion law. For example, one of our former presidents, a medical doctor, set up the original abortion clinic in Auckland which carried out abortions back when the legality of doing so was still unclear. The clinic was raided by the police and our president was arrested three times and charged with performing illegal abortions. Each time he was found not guilty by a jury, and released to continue his work.

Some members of our organisation were also involved in creating the Abortion Law Reform Association.


Our submission has been informed by a consultation process with our members.

We would like to comment broadly on the importance of the Abortion Legislation Bill, and then make recommendations on a number of key points. 

We support the decriminalisation of abortion, the repeal of the current legal grounds for authorising an abortion, the repeal of the role of, and requirement for, certifying consultants, and commend the Bill for establishing safe areas, making provisions for counselling, and clearly outlining a process for conscientious objectors.

20 week criteria (s10 & s11)

We believe that the 20 week criteria for accessing an abortion on request is too low. This is out of step with the Law Commission’s recommendation of 24 weeks. 

An anatomy scan is offered to pregnant women at around 18-20 weeks. By establishing in law additional requirements for qualified health practitioners to access the woman’s physical health; mental health; and well-being, women may: 

  1. request an abortion in haste to avoid the uncertainty of being able to access an abortion after passing 20 weeks, or 
  2. not be able to access an abortion following an anatomy scan at 20 weeks.


  1. We recommend that in s10 and s11 that 20 weeks is replaced with 24 weeks.
  2. We recommend that the Ministry of Health issues guidelines to qualified health practitioners on the assessment of a woman’s physical health; mental health; and well-being under this legislation.

Provision of counselling (s12 & s13)

We support the requirement for the Minister of Health to provide counselling services, and for health practitioners to advise a woman of the availability of counselling services.

However, we are concerned that counselling services could be delivered by religious or other organisations that object to abortions on principle. Already in New Zealand, we have seen organisations with an anti-abortion position  set up counselling services to persuade women that they should not have abortions. It was reported in September this year that these counselling organisations have been receiving government funding (see Morning Report, 4 & 5 September 2019, Anti-abortion counselling services received $330k taxpayer money), and that the funding of these organisations was probably illegal – in contravention of the government’s own regulations.


  1. We strongly recommend that abortion counselling is only provided by secular organisations that meet required standards and do not have a religious or philsophical anti-abortion bias. 
  2. Funding for abortion counselling should only be awarded to secular organisations without an anti-abortion bias. This is in line with government regulations to not provide grants that promote religious activities.
  3. Abortion counselling service providers that either have staff that have a conscientious objection to abortion, have ties with religious organisations, or are philisophically apposed to abortion should be compelled to declare these publicly, for example, on websites and in publications, and shall be excluded from the list of abortion counselling providers under section 18 and 19 as suggested below.

Duties of Director-General of Health (s18)

Recommendation, add paragraph (d) as follows:

      (d) make and maintain a list of approved approved counselling service providers.

Conscientious objection (s19)

We support the measured approach to managing contentious objections as an employment issue. However, we think this could be further strengthened to protect women from undue pressure, and to reduce the likelihood of wasted visits to health practitioners. We believe that, for women seeking an abortion, merely providing a list may not be enough, and that more concrete actions should be taken.


  1. We recommend that abortion counselling services are included in the list in section 19 (1)
  2. In section 19 (2) ‘at the earliest opportunity’ should include ‘and declared on the medical practitioners’ and counselling providers’ websites’.
  3. Ensure that women using medical services know their rights, and establish an 0800 number for making complaints anonymously.
  4. Append ‘tell B how to access the list of abortion service providers’ with ‘refer B to an abortion service provider on request’.

Self-referral to abortion services (s14)

We strongly support women being able to self-refer to an abortion provider. 

Safe areas (s15)

We strongly support the creation of safe areas around places where abortions are being performed. 

Recommendation that ‘and’ s15(3)b(i) is replaced with ‘or’ as follows:

(i) is intended to cause the person emotional distress; or

(ii) would cause emotional distress to an ordinary reasonable person in the position of the person.

Ngā mihi,

Jolene Phipps


Humanist Society of New Zealand