A bill that would remove abortion from the Crimes Act and scrap the legal test for the procedure in pregnancies earlier than 20 weeks is one step closer to becoming law.

The Abortion Legislation Bill passed its second reading in Parliament in a conscience vote late tonight, with 81 votes in favour and 39 votes opposing, narrower than the 94 to 23 margin at the first reading last year.

It was an emotional and mostly respectful night in the House, but a man was ejected from the public gallery for shouting "shame on you" when Green MP Jan Logie was speaking in support of the bill.

All NZ First MPs supported the bill in order to try to have an amendment passed at a future stage of the bill that would put the issue to a referendum.

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But the vote tonight indicates that the bill might have enough support to become law, even if NZ First MPs decide to oppose it if their referendum amendment fails.

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The issue is a polarising one, as evidenced in the small demonstration against the bill at Parliament tonight that featured graphic images, while 35 organisations have signed an open letter to MPs urging them to support it.

The bill would drop the current legal test for two doctors to approve an abortion only if there was "serious danger" to the woman's physical or mental health.

It would also drop the current test for an abortion after 20 weeks, which can only be approved if deemed necessary to save the woman's life or prevent serious injury.

Instead there would be no legal test for earlier than 20 weeks, leaving the decision up to the woman and her doctor.

For later than 20 weeks, a medical practitioner - after consulting at least one other qualified health practitioner - would have to agree that an abortion is appropriate, having regard to the woman's physical and mental health and "overall wellbeing".

Introducing the second reading, Justice Minister Andrew Little said the current law was 40 years old and no longer fit for purpose.

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"A woman seeking an abortion should not have her actions stigmatised as if she is committing a criminal act. She is not.

"Woman can and should be trusted to make an important health decision in consultation with her doctor."

National MP Agnes Loheni, who became emotional during her speech, said the bill would dehumanise the unborn baby "to the point that we no longer call them babies".

"Then we have lost our own humanity ... because they are the smallest versions of us."

She said "overall wellbeing" was so vague as to be meaningless, and doctors would find it difficult to turn down a request for an abortion under the proposed criteria.

There had never been any women criminalised for having an abortion, she added.

"This has always been a solution looking for a problem."

Her speech prompted applause from some in the public gallery, which caused Speaker Trevor Mallard to warn them not to "intervene".

Loheni called the bill "abortion on demand" because it would drop the legal test for pregnancies earlier than 20 weeks, but fellow National MP Amy Adams said a doctor would never be compelled to carry out an abortion that they considered inappropriate.

Adams rejected the idea that this was a solution looking for a problem, citing the inequities in the current system that have seen women travel extensively, at their own expense, and required them to lie about their mental health to get treatment.

She said the bill was about the principles that she came to the House to stand for, namely "freedom", "individual choice", and for less state involvement in areas where it was not warranted.

Labour MP Greg O'Connor supported the bill at its first reading, but said he could no longer support it as the post-20 weeks' criteria did not have enough safeguards.

National MP Nicola Willis, who supported the bill, said that giving birth to her four children gave her "the joy and miracle" of their births.

"I cherish it. Do not tell me I am anti-life."

Her comment was met with a response from someone in the public gallery: "You are."

National MP Chris Penk opposed the bill and said that the post-20 week regime in the bill applied all the way to a full term of pregnancy.

But Labour MP Ruth Dyson said it was "as offensive as can be" to suggest that a woman who was 30 weeks' pregnant could wake up one day and suddenly want an abortion.

"Who do you know that would do that? Nobody. It's just a lie."

Act leader David Seymour supported the bill, but said the proposed safety zones of 150m in the vicinity of abortion clinics was against the principle of freedom of expression - and he would try to change that aspect of the bill.

National MP Nikki Kaye said the bill was about a woman's right to control her body.

"We are one of the most archaic countries in the world ... Even Catholic Ireland has more liberal abortion laws than New Zealand."

She said it was wrong to have a outdated law that meant that almost all women - 98 per cent - had to effectively lie by claiming a mental health issue to have an abortion approved.

She said hardly any abortions occurred after 20 weeks because it was "the hardest process that anyone could go through", which made it farcical to suggest that the bill would open the door to a flood of post-20 week abortions.

Kaye said she accepted religious freedom and ideological opposition to the bill.

"But what I will not accept in this House is what I consider is a lack of factual analysis about what happens in New Zealand, the number of abortions, the process that most women go through, the horrific experiences that they have had, [and] the delays that they are experiencing."

Earlier today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who did not speak at the second reading, said she would vote for the bill for all of its remaining stages in Parliament.

What the bill would change

Currently, women need clearance from two doctors on grounds of mental or physical risk from day one to get an abortion. After 20 weeks an abortion currently needs to save the life of the woman.

The new law would mean there would be no legal test for earlier than 20 weeks. Any later and the medical practitioner performing the procedure would have to believe the abortion is clinically appropriate, having consulted at least one more qualified health practitioner.

Medical practitioners who didn't comply would face consequences from their medical bodies, rather than under the Crimes Act.

It would still be illegal for an unqualified person to try to perform an abortion and causing the death of an unborn child by harming a pregnant woman would remain an offence.

The next stage

Amendments have been lodged to try to change the bill at the committee stage, likely to be next week, which it must pass before a third and final reading.

One amendment in the name of NZ First MP Darroch Ball would make passage of the bill dependent on the result of a referendum.

The ongoing support of NZ First MPs is unclear if the attempt to add a referendum is unsuccessful.

Other proposed amendments, in Green MP Jan Logie's name, would scrap the 20-week legal test altogether or replace "woman" in the bill with "pregnant woman or other pregnant person".

How MPs voted:

Yes

Amy Adams (N)

Kiri Allan (L)

Ginny Andersen (L)

Jacinda Ardern (L)

Darroch Ball (NZF)

Andrew Bayly (N)

David Bennett (N)

Paula Bennett (N)

Dan Bidois (N)

Chris Bishop (N)

David Carter (N)

David Clark (L)

Tamati Coffey (L)

Judith Collins (N)

Liz Craig (L)

Clare Curran (L)

Marama Davidson (G)

Kelvin Davis (L)

Matt Doocey (N)

Ruth Dyson (L)

Paul Eagle (L)

Kris Faafoi (L)

Andrew Falloon (N)

Julie Anne Genter (G)

Golriz Ghahraman (G)

Peeni Henare (L)

Chris Hipkins (L)

Brett Hudson (N)

Gareth Hughes (G)

Raymond Huo (L)

Willie Jackson (L)

Shane Jones (NZF)

Nikki Kaye (N)

Matt King (N)

Barbara Kuriger (N)

Iain Lees-Galloway (L)

Andrew Little (L)

Jan Logie (Green)

Marja Lubeck (L)

Jo Luxton (L)

Trevor Mallard (L)

Jenny Marcroft (NZF)

Ron Mark (NZF)

Tracey Martin (NZF)

Kieran McAnulty (L)

Ian McKelvie (N)

Clayton Mitchell (NZF)

Mark Mitchell (N)

Stuart Nash (L)

David Parker (L)

Mark Patterson (NZF)

Winston Peters (NZF)

Willow-Jean Prime (L)

Priyanca Radhakrishnan (L)

Grant Robertson (L)

Jami-Lee Ross (Ind)

Deborah Russell (L)

Eugenie Sage (G)

Carmel Sepuloni (L)

David Seymour (Act)

James Shaw (G)

Scott Simpson (N)

Aupito William Sio (L)

Stuart Smith (N)

Erica Stanford (N)

Chloe Swarbrick (G)

Fletcher Tabuteau (NZF)

Jan Tinetti (L)

Anne Tolley (N)

Phil Twyford (L)

Tim van de Molen (N)

Nicky Wagner (N)

Hamish Walker (N)

Louisa Wall (L)

Angie Warren-Clark (L)

Duncan Webb (L)

Poto Williams (L)

Nicola Willis (N)

Michael Wood (L)

Megan Woods (L)

Jian Yang (N)

No
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (N)
Maggie Barry (N)
Simon Bridges (N)
Simeon Brown (N)
Gerry Brownlee (N)
Jacqui Dean (N)
Sarah Dowie (N)
Paulo Garcia (N)
Paul Goldsmith (N)
Nathan Guy (N)
Jo Hayes (N)
Harete Hipango (N)
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (L)
Denise Lee (N)
Melissa Lee (N)
Agnes Loheni (N)
Tim Machindoe (N)
Nanaia Mahuta (L)
Todd McClay (N)
Todd Muller (N)
Alfred Ngaro (N)
Damien O'Connor (L)
Greg O'Connor (L)
Simon O'Connor (N)
Parmjeet Parmar (N)
Chris Penk (N)
Maureen Pugh (N)
Shane Reti (N)
Adrian Rurawhe (L)
Jenny Salesa (L)
Alastair Scott (N)
Nick Smith (N)
Jamie Strange (L)
Rino Tirikatene (L)
Louise Upston (N)
Meka Whaitiri (L)
Michael Woodhouse (N)
Jonathan Young (N)
Lawrence Yule (N)