Govt’s abortion bill lifts time limit on abortions for babies with disabilities from 20-weeks up to birth, breaking Jacinda Ardern’s promise to the disability community
Media Release Saving Downs 5 August 2019
Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs have condemned the New Zealand Government’s new abortion bill which, if it becomes law, will introduce abortion for abortion right through to birth for babies with disabilities.
Under section 187A of the Crimes Act there is currently a gestational time limit of 20-weeks for abortion for disability, providing two doctors sign off on the abortion.
The Government’s new abortion bill, if it becomes law, will remove the current 20-week gestational time limit for disability. Instead, abortion will be available for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth, providing one registered health practitioner signs off on the abortion under the new well-being grounds outlined in section 11 of the Bill, that will allow for abortion up to birth. In the handful of jurisdictions that have a similar clause allowing for abortion up to birth, this has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome right through to birth. The proposed New Zealand legislation in fact only requires one registered health practitioner, which could include a single nurse, rather than the higher threshold of two doctors for example in Victoria, Australia which has a similar abortion up to birth clause.
In 2017 Saving Down’s highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws and that this would introduce abortion through to birth for babies with disabilities. In response, Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion.
In response to the concern raised by Saving Downs, Jacinda Ardern said:
“They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”
The Government’s proposed change to the law could also see New Zealand fall foul of international disability rights obligations, as the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries that provide for abortion in a way which discriminates on the basis of disability.
Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
Today Saving Down’s have launched an open letter to Jacinda Ardern from people with Down syndrome and their families asking the Prime Minister to make a commitment to ensure that she does not break her promise, and that the Government either withdraws the Bill or urgently introduces a specific provision to the Bill that will ensure that abortion for disabilities will not be allowed from 20-weeks through to birth.
Mike Sullivan, head of Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs and father of Rebecca who has Down syndrome said:
“Thinking of my daughter, I can’t believe that in 2019 in Aotearoa, New Zealand we would see the coalition introducing a Government Bill which will introduce abortion through to birth for babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Jacinda Ardern made a promise to our community ahead of the 2017 election that she would not increase the time limit for disabilities from 20-weeks. She has broken this promise, not only lifting the limit, but increasing it right through to birth.
This sends a strong discriminatory message and a progressive New Zealand can do better for people with disabilities like my daughter than introducing abortion up to birth.
Today we have launched an open letter to Jacinda Ardern from people with Down syndrome and their families asking Jacinda Ardern to make a commitment to ensure that she does not break her promise, and either withdraws the Government’s bill or introduces a specific provision to the Bill that will ensure that abortion for disabilities will not be allowed from 20-week through to birth.
“It is vital that she follows through on her promise and ensures that abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome are not allowed after 20 weeks. Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down syndrome are screened out by termination and if this proposed policy became law it could put us on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.”
- For more information on the Saving Downs campaign, see our website www.savingdowns.org or email [email protected]
- For interviews, contact Saving Downs spokesperson: Mike Sullivan – [email protected] or 021 406 266.
- The full text of the open letter to Jacinda Ardern is available here: http://savingdowns.org/openletterjacinda/
- UN criticism
- The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion in a way which distinguishes between fetuses on the basis of disability, most notably Austria, Hungary and Spain, citing Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (equality and non-discrimination provision).
- The CBS report on Iceland and their near 100% abortion rate from Down’s syndrome that has lead to controversy globally over the last couple of week is available here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/down-syndrome-iceland/
- Saving Downs spokesperson Mike Sullivan has written on this topic of disability-selective abortion and the New Zeland law in the past here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/90738344/mike-sullivan-a-fathers-plea-on-behalf-of-his-disabled-child