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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 17. 19th July 1972

The Present New Zealand Law

The Present New Zealand Law

The New Zealand law, embodied in the 1961 Crimes Act, permits abortion if done in 'good faith for the preservation of the life of the mother'. In practice, however, most abortions are done on the basis of the bourne decision (risk to physical or mental health of the mother) and many New Zealand doctors favour even more liberal abortion laws (3). It has been claimed with justification that, due to advances in medical science, indications to safeguard the life or physical health of the mother are now few in number and that most legal abortions in New Zealand are on 'psychiatric grounds'. As a psychiatrist I must point out that psychiatric grounds' are determined mostly by obstetricians not by psychiatrists, many of whom feel that the prediction of future psychiatric illness in the mother as a result of pregnancy is at best an inexact business and that the risk is low. There is little doubt that most therapeutic abortions in New Zealand are, in fact, done on compassionate grounds masquerading as psychiatric. The law assumes an exactitude in medical science which it does not possess and hence is open to variable interpretations dependent on the doctors own views and, undoubtedly, the social and financial status of the patient as well. The present law is what might be termed a 'cop out' by society which, while theoretically forbidding abortion, says to the medical profession, 'It's okay as long as you can pass it off as a medical rather than a moral question.'