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Timaru Hospital

by Greta Yeoman

Access to abortion services may become easier if proposed changes become law, but it is likely South Canterbury residents will still have to travel to Christchurch for the procedure, the South Canterbury District Health Board says.

The Abortion Legislation Bill – which had its first reading in Parliament earlier this month – proposes the decriminalisation of abortion and requiring women to undertake a medical test only if they are more than 20 weeks’ pregnant.

However, Timaru Hospital does not routinely offer abortion services, meaning South Canterbury residents will still have to travel to Christchurch for the procedure.

SCDHB obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatric services clinical director Catherine Parker said at present termination of pregnancy was only undertaken at Timaru Hospital in certain clinical situations.

Labour List MP Jo Luxton

“At this time, there is no immediate plan to change the current process. This situation is reviewed frequently,” Dr Parker said.

At present, women in New Zealand can only get an abortion if their life or physical or mental health is in danger – plus the procedure has to be approved by two doctors or consultants.

The proposed legislation would enable a practitioner to provide abortion services without multiple medical approvals, and would require a medical decision only for those more than 20 weeks’ pregnant.

The Bill is now before a select committee, meaning the public and other groups can make submissions.

Dr Parker said the Obstetric and Gynaecology Clinical Directors Network of New Zealand supported the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act, and would be making a submission.

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon

However, there was acknowledgement that not all specialists supported the Bill, and they were able to put in their own submissions if they wanted, she said.

There were also mixed responses from South Canterbury politicians regarding the Bill.

As it is a conscience vote, all MPs can cast their votes independently (rather than as a party) at each stage of the Bill’s progress through the House.

Rangitata Labour list MP Jo Luxton voted for the Bill and said she was “horrified” abortion was still a crime in the present day.

“This is about women having stronger rights, greater support and more control over their own bodies, without being made to feel like a criminal.”

However, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, who chaired a justice and electoral select committee inquiry into abortion services when National was in government, said she had made “an informed vote” against the Bill.

Waitaki National MPJacqui Dean

She said the current system “works well” but potential amendments could be made regarding providing adequate advice and professional support to those considering abortion, as well as improving the quality of counselling after abortions.

“Provided these things are put into place, I would be happy to remain with the status quo.”

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said his “starting point” on abortion was that it was not his right to dictate what an individual, couple or family chose to decide regarding having a child.

He voted for the Bill at its first reading and said his door was open to anyone who wanted to discuss their views.