Parliament will this week hear how abortion law has been managed amidst growing political debate about the need to overhaul New Zealand's 40-year-old abortion law.

Labour leader Andrew Little has called Prime Minister Bill English "deeply conservative" on abortion law, and says he believes the legislation needs to be reviewed and upgraded.

However before taking the controversial step of committing to legislation he wants a full review of the law undertaken first, conducted by the Law Commission.

Abortion is currently only legal if two consultants agree that the pregnancy would seriously harm the woman's mental or physical health or that the fetus would have a serious disability.


On Thursday Parliament's justice and electoral committee will carry out its annual review of the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

The committee, made up of three members appointed by the Governor-General, reports to Parliament each year with statistics on abortions carried out in New Zealand, and how abortion law has been managed.

It has repeatedly urged Parliament to review the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, passed in 1977 and which states the legal grounds for abortion.

On the weekend, English, a practising Catholic, told TVNZ's Q+A programme he did not think the law needed to be modernised, saying it had "stood the test of time".

Little told the same programme that he differed from English's "deeply conservative" stance, and the committee was right to call for the legislation to be reviewed and upgraded.

"We should not have it in the Crimes Act - it is not a crime," Little said.

The issue won't be examined by Parliament under a National Government unless a private member's bill is introduced to the ballot and then drawn.

Little was unavailable for interview yesterday, but said in a statement the issue shouldn't be a matter for a member's bill.


"The Abortion Supervisory Committee has recommended there be a full review and that should happen."

The Green Party has already made abortion reform a party issue, rather than a conscience issue.

The Greens' policy would decriminalise abortion. Terminations after 20 weeks would be allowed only when the woman would otherwise face serious permanent injury to her health or in the case of severe fetal abnormalities.

The party's women's spokeswoman Jan Logie said in an election year it was unlikely abortion reform would be any party's top priority.

"I don't get to decide what the Greens' political priorities will be. We haven't actually finalised our election platform but I think it's unlikely, in the face of the level of child poverty and the state of our waterways and climate change, that it is going to be a top-line thing for us.

"However, we have been clear for a long time that we do see this as a pretty fundamental issue in terms of human rights. And the law is horribly outdated. It really is based on a fundamental mistrust of people with uteruses."

Logie said, despite not expecting abortion reform to be front of queue, she was encouraged by the current debate.

"We have a health system that is under incredible financial pressure and we are wasting money on these certifiying consultants that are signing off 97 or 99 per cent of abortions on the grounds of mental and physical risk, but we know that is not exactly real."

Abortions have dropped from 18,382 in 2007 to 13,155 in 2015.