Spotlight back on abortion in New Zealand after US Roe v Wade ruling

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

As the repeal of Roe v Wade rolls back women’s abortion rights in the US, New Zealand politicians are facing fresh scrutiny of their own anti-abortion stances.

New Zealanders broadly support abortion rights, with Ipsos polling indicating 77% of the population supports a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy in some or any circumstances. In 2020, the country formally decriminalised abortion, allowing terminations at up to 20 weeks.

Some local activists, however, are concerned that with high-profile anti-abortion politicians in parliament, the overturn of Roe v Wade could galvanise similar movements closer to home.

Related: World leaders condemn US abortion ruling as ‘backwards step’

After the US supreme court decision on Sunday, National MP Simon O’Connor stoked controversy by posting “this is a good day” on social media. O’Connor, who describes himself as “strongly pro-life”, had spoken against New Zealand’s previous law reform – and acknowledged the bill’s passing by quoting the book of Romans: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

This forced opposition leader Christopher Luxon into an awkward position in trying to reconcile his own personal views – the evangelical Christian has previously agreed abortion is tantamount to murder – and those of his party.

Luxon requested O’Connor remove the post, saying it did not reflect the party’s position, and issued a statement that Roe v Wade was “not an NZ issue”. He said the overturn of the law was “distressing for many women everywhere and I empathise with them”. Luxon said would not re-litigate New Zealand’s abortion laws and that abortion services would keep funding under a National government.

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson accused Luxon on Monday of using “political spin” to disguise his stance. “I think New Zealanders need to ask themselves what Christopher Luxon’s stance on abortion actually is,” Robertson said in a radio interview. “While Mr Luxon might be saying convenient political things now, I think people know where he really stands.”

Luxon, in turn, has called Robertson’s comments “a distraction”. “If anyone is spinning, it is Grant Robertson, who would rather not be talking about the economy or the cost of living.”

Debate over MPs’ views have not been restricted to New Zealand’s right wing. Foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said on social media on Monday that “the US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade is draconian”. But Mahuta faced blowback of her own for voting against the most recent liberalisation of abortion laws.

Advocacy group ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa said in a statement it was “concerned about global repercussions [of Roe v Wade], as anti-choice groups elsewhere are emboldened to reverse hard-won gains”. The group pointed to “worrying remarks made by members of the opposition party” and said it “urges Kiwis to remain vigilant regarding our new-won freedoms”.

ALRANZ executive committee member Terry Bellamak said Roe v Wade “has implications for countries everywhere” and she was concerned that Luxon “is on record as saying he believes that abortion is tantamount to murder.”

“He’s also on record as saying things like … abortion law reform is settled law. Unfortunately, for Mr Luxon, we’ve heard that before – fairly recently, from supreme court justices,” Bellamak said. “It’s hard to have confidence in Mr Luxon’s assurances when that example stands before us front and centre.”

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