Confronting New Zealand's 'Workable' Abortion Laws

55 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2018 Last revised: 5 Jul 2018

See all articles by Olivia Lewis

Olivia Lewis

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni

Date Written: April 3, 2018


Abortion is illegal in New Zealand except in limited circumstances. In spite of this, it has been claimed that our abortion laws are “workable”. This paper confronts this claim and looks at whether it is justifiable from four different perspectives including the legal, pro- and anti- abortion, and political perspectives. This discussion sheds light on important issues that arise when it comes to law reform in the context of the contentious and polarising issue that is abortion law in New Zealand. The subjectivity that surrounds the concept “workable” has material implications on the conclusions under each perspective. Nevertheless, it is found that overall, the claim that New Zealand’s abortion laws are workable is misconceived. Therefore, this paper goes on to consider whether the abortion system could be made better through law reform. Again subjectivity permeates this issue as we are confronted with the question “better for whom?”

It is acknowledged that Parliament is never going to be able to please everyone when it comes to New Zealand’s abortion laws. However, this paper argues that Parliament should attempt to make the laws better for the majority of the population and ensure that they uphold fundamental legal principles such as the rule of law. Three options are proposed but based on the favoured perspectives, it is found that law reform involving the decriminalisation of abortion would be the most effective solution. This seems like a constructive conclusion, but the next question that arises is “is it going to be politically feasible?”

Keywords: Abortion, Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, Crimes Act 1961, Decriminalisation, Law Reform

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Olivia, Confronting New Zealand's 'Workable' Abortion Laws (April 3, 2018). Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper, Student/Alumni Paper No. 24/2018, Available at SSRN: or

Olivia Lewis (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, Victoria 6140
New Zealand

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