David Cormack in his article, "Why Simon Bridges is wrong about changing abortion law", refers to Prime Minister Jacinda Arden as saying she wants abortion taken out of the Crimes Act.

Cormack's article fails to provide coherent reasons why abortion should be taken out of the Crimes Act, other than it "… causes people to lie to get an abortion".

The reason s182 of the Crimes Act provides that killing an unborn child is a serious crime and why s183 provides that procuring an abortion is also a crime is that both offences involve the taking of human life. That is why both offences are in the Crimes Act in the first place.

S187A of the Crimes Act provides however that procuring an abortion (s183) can be lawful in certain medical circumstances if the pregnancy is less than 20 weeks and in for stricter medical circumstances if the pregnancy is more than 20 weeks. Two medical consultants are necessary to certify whether such medical circumstances exist before an abortion can be rendered lawful.


The Minister of Justice Andrew Little has stated that the Government wants the abortion law to be treated "as a health issue". Various recent media articles repeat the theme that "abortion should be taken out of the Crimes Act", without attempting to address the critical question for society, which is if and when and why the taking of human life should be permitted.

The English common law, on which New Zealand law is based, has for nearly 1000 years protected human life in all its forms, with only limited exceptions such as for self-defence. In 1977 an exception was made in New Zealand to permit abortions if certified by two medical consultants. Is that protection to be swept away in the present context without any reasoned debate?

Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can legislate if it chooses to remove the statutory protections of human life in a particular context.

Lord Hoffman in the England's highest court, the House of Lords, in 2000 in R v Secretary of State Ex parte Simms famously stated however: "…the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost. Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process".

There needs to be a reasoned debate about Prime Minister Arden's proposal, failing which the gravity of the proposed law change may pass unnoticed in the democratic process.

Proponents of the proposed law change ought to provide coherent reasons and justify why they say the statutory protections of human life should be removed in this context.

* Ian Bassett is a barrister of Auckland.