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Why 24 Weeks?
There has been a lot of discussion about allowing abortion on request up to 24 weeks and making special conditions apply after that stage of pregnancy.
Termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks
Because in NZ less than one in a thousand exceptional cases are terminated after 24 weeks it could be argued that there is no need for special legislation to cover these. In 2009 there were 12 cases or 0.07% after 24 weeks. (Figures obtained from Abortion Supervisory Committee under Official Information Act.)
Abortions at this late stage will always be rare because women do not usually request them and for reasons of safety doctors are reluctant to carry out procedures at this late stage.
Also there are few doctors with the expertise to provide this highly specialised service so there are institutional and professional barriers which are operating and given the low numbers of cases these are demonstrably effective and do not require a superimposed law.
The only reason for having legislation is a lack of trust in women and doctors.
Do we really need a law to cover these rare and exceptional cases? ALRANZ says no but having a law will hardly make any difference. They will still be rare and exceptional whether there is a law or not.
Termination of pregnancy on request before 24 weeks
So that leaves us with the bigger question of allowing women to have abortion on request up to 24 weeks gestational age? Once again we need to be aware of the numbers involved.
• In 2009 92% of abortions were carried out at or before 12 weeks gestation (16,144 of a total of 17,550). In 2009 87 or 0.5% of abortions were carried out between 20-24 weeks gestation. So most women go early.
Why do women seek abortion later? Many cases are due to fetal abnormality. Other reasons include serious medical conditions, poor access, slow services, late recognition of pregnancy especially in young girls with denial of pregnancy.
In 2008 the Victorian Law Commission provided a comprehensive report outlining three options for decriminalisation (the report is recommended reading and can be downloaded here):
(A) on request to one doctor
(B) on request, up to 24 weeks and thereafter one or two doctors
(C) on request at all stages
The Victorian government passed legislation in 2008 adopting option B with two doctors after 24 weeks. This was used by drafters for the NZ draft Bill.
Why did the Victorian government choose the middle position?
Some explanations are:
• A staged approach affirms the belief that there is significant difference between early and late termination of pregnancy. This is true for women, for health professionals and for the general public.
• A staged approach recognises that viability (around 23-24 weeks) and experience of pain (after 24 weeks) are factors which are important to some people.
• A staged approach reinforces the benefit of carrying out terminations as early as possible. For safety reasons the earlier a termination is carried out the safer it is for the woman.
Can we trust women and doctors to make the right decision? ALRANZ says yes.
Women must be given the autonomous right to make decisions that will affect their own lives profoundly. If it is good enough for politicians to exercise a conscience vote on abortion it is even more important that women have this right and this responsibility. At present the decision is made by two state-funded certifying consultants and 98% are authorised on the spurious ground of serious risk to mental health. Most women are mentally healthy and perfectly capable of making such a personal decision. Women will always take into consideration their own particular circumstances and make a decision that is best for them and their family at that time. Research shows that regrets are few.
Abortion on request is now available in many countries. New Zealand women deserve no less.
Also, read our “Why 24 Weeks? Discussion Document” under “Research and Articles” at www.issues.co.nz/abortion