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New Zealand decriminalises abortion, prompting calls to do the same in UK

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for abortion to be decriminalised. Photo: New Zealand Herald

The New Zealand Parliament has passed a new law decriminalising abortion, and reclassified it specifically as a healthcare issue. Humanists UK, which has campaigned for decades to decriminalise abortion across the UK, has welcomed New Zealand’s new law.

Previously, abortion in New Zealand was regulated by the Crimes Act, which only allowed abortion in cases where the pregnancy presented a danger to the woman’s physical or mental health. This caused unnecessary delays and increased health risks for women. With the removal of these criminal sanctions, abortion will now be treated by Government as a medical matter, like all other medical procedures. Women will be able to access abortion up to 20 weeks, and after 20 weeks they will need the approval of a health practitioner.

Similarly, in the UK, abortion law is governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which specifies that abortion is a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The 1967 Abortion Act creates exceptional circumstances in which safe and legal abortions can be obtained in England, Scotland, and Wales. However, it remains the case that if a woman has an abortion outside of these circumstances, she will be committing a crime and could face prison. This legislation was repealed in Northern Ireland last year.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘New Zealand’s move to decriminalise abortion and treat it specifically as a health matter is an excellent step in protecting women’s rights and ensuring that they can make choices about their own bodies. When it has capacity, our Government must consider the implications this has upon our own abortion laws, which until now were very similar to those in New Zealand.

‘Abortion and reproductive healthcare has no place in criminal law and it should be governed by the same robust regulatory and ethical frameworks which govern all other medical procedures in the UK. In the 21st century we should be trusting women to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on abortion: 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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