The evidence from overseas
What does the data from similar laws overseas show?
There are only a few regions globally that have abortion laws that are as extreme as the proposed in the Abortion Legislation Bill. Below we have looked at the data from these regions overseas to examine how particular provisions had an impact in those regions.
Abortion up to birth
The only region that has a similar abortion up-to-birth provision and reliable, long term data collection on abortions between 20-weeks and birth is Victoria, Australia.
The law in Victoria allows for abortion right through to birth on physical, psychological and social grounds when approved by two doctors; this can be the abortion operating surgeon and anaesthetist.
The provision in Victoria is very similar to the provision outlined in the New Zealand Bill, except the New Zealand provision has even fewer safeguards.
The proposed legislation in New Zealand law would allow abortions between 20-weeks gestation and birth, with the go-ahead from just two health practitioners (this could include nurses and midwives) rather than the higher threshold of two doctors that are required in Victoria. The Abortion Legislation Committee have now widened the already loose criteria to include “overall well-being” – making it even easier for abortions to happen between 20-weeks and birth in New Zealand. These terms are undefined in the Bill and it would be up to the health practitioner involved as to how they interpret them.
Ahead of the legislation being introduced in Victoria in 2008, abortion activists claimed that, although abortion would, in practice, be allowed for any reason, doctors would ensure that the vast majority of abortions would only occur in rare circumstances, such as when a baby had a condition where they would either die in the womb or shortly after birth (a fatal fetal abnormality or life-limiting disability) – similar claims are currently now being made about the proposed New Zealand abortion law by abortion campaigners and MPs in New Zealand.
Data from the 12 years of the law being in operation in Victoria outlined in reports from The Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality shows this has not been the case.
This data shows that since the law changed in 2008, 1,418 late-term abortions (between 20-weeks’ gestation and birth) have been allowed by doctors for ‘psychosocial’ reasons – these were terminations where the baby did not have a disability and the abortion was performed on social grounds. In 2011, one of these abortions on social grounds occured at 37 weeks.
This strict law has meant that abortions post 20-weeks are rare – for example, 72 abortions occurred after 20-weeks in New Zealand in 2017.
Victoria has a population that is only 32% larger than New Zealand’s, but the number of abortions that occurred in the same year post 20-weeks were much higher, 323 or 348.61% higher than the number that occurred in New Zealand that same year (published data for Victoria has not been released for 2018 yet).
A Channel 7 news report, broadcast on April 17 2010, reported that “midwives and doctors feel traumatized” by having to perform so many late-term abortions at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.
New Zealand’s current 20-week time limit is already far higher than many other countries. For example, the most common time limit for most abortions across EU countries is 12-weeks, this includes the new law in the Republic of Ireland where abortion is also restricted in most cases to 12-weeks gestation.
To introduce de-facto abortion for any reason between 20-weeks and birth would take us even further away from time limits present in many countries overseas.
Sex-selective abortion usually targets baby girls due to a preference among certain parents and some cultures for having sons.
There is evidence that sex-selective abortion has been a problem in other jurisdictions where abortion has been decriminalised and abortion is available on request without an explicit ban sex-selective abortion.
Canada’s abortion law was struck down in 1998, introducing abortion on demand, through to birth.
Sex-selective abortion has been identified as a major issue with an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal outling that ‘easy access to abortion and advances in prenatal sex determination have combined to make Canada a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons…’.
A recent study from La Trobe University analysing more than one million births suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies in order to have a son.
Dr Mark Hobart was investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for failing to refer a woman for a sex-selective abortion.
An investigation by Australian broadcaster SBS found a higher number of boys than girls being born in some communities in Australia.
Abortion up-to-birth for disabilities including cleft lip, club foot and Down syndrome.
Under the proposed law the 20-week limit for disability abortions would be removed and abortion for disabilities including Down syndrome, cleft lip and club foot would be legal through to birth, under the new criteria under which an abortion can take place between 20-weeks and birth.
A similar provision to that proposed in New Zealand was introduced in 2008 to the law in Victoria, Australia. This provision, allowing abortion up to birth, has in practice allowed abortion for disabilities.
Published abortion data on late-term abortions in Victoria from The Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality, shows that since the law changed in 2008, 1,685 late-term abortions (between 20-weeks’ gestation and birth) have been performed on babies with disabilities.
On a Channel 7 news report, broadcast on April 17 2010, Journalist Louise Milligan reported that there had been some ‘alarming requests’ for late-term abortions, including a request for a termination at 32 weeks because the baby had a cleft lip.
While unlike the proposed New Zealand law, the UK has strict laws limiting late-term abortions for any other reason, the UK does allow for abortion up to birth for any disability.
There abortions are provided for disabilities including Down syndrome, cleft lip and club foot. Earlier this year a BBC report outlined that a woman had been offered an abortion for her baby who had Down syndrome at 38-weeks, three days before she gave birth.
In England and Wales, the number of abortions performed on unborn babies with cleft lip and palate has increased 150% since 2011, in England & Wales. The data also shows that there had been a total of 223 abortions on unborn babies with cleft lip over the last 10 years.
However, the figures are likely to be even higher as abortions for cleft lip are routinely under-reported. In 2013, findings from a European register revealed that abortions for cleft lip and palate can be over ten times more common than what is being reported. Eurocat, which was set up to register congenital abnormalities across 23 countries, found that 157 unborn babies with the condition, were aborted in England and Wales between 2006 and 2010. The UK Department of Health only recorded 14 such abortions during that time, but admitted in a 2014 report that some disability abortions had been wrongly recorded.
Joan Morris, national coordinator for Eurocat and professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London, said the group also found the number of babies aborted in 2010 for Down syndrome was double that recorded officially – 886 compared to 482.
There is very strong pressure from the disability community in the UK to have the law changed there.
Babies being born alive after abortions
Data from the few other countries where there are similar extreme abortion laws to the one proposed in New Zealand shows that it is likely that many more babies will be born alive following abortions, as it will in practice allow abortion for any reason between 20-weeks and birth – when unborn children are much more likely to survive a ‘failed’ abortion.
A similar law in Victoria, Australia allows for abortion right through to birth on physical, psychological and social grounds when approved by two doctors; this can be the abortion operating surgeon and anaesthetist.
The Victorian Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity reported that in 2012 there were 53 ‘terminations of pregnancy’ after 20 weeks ‘resulting in live birth’.
By contrast, a 2008 report for England and Wales, where abortions are highly restricted later in pregnancy, found that 66 infants were born alive after NHS terminations in one year. While these figures are comparable in number, Victoria’s population of 6.36 million is just a tenth of the size of the population in England and Wales.
This demonstrates the scale of ‘failed’ abortions that could take place under the proposed law in New Zealand, resulting in an unborn child surviving the abortion.