New Zealand’s bishops have sharply criticized a new abortion bill passed by the country’s legislature on Wednesday.
New Zealand’s House of Representatives passed the Abortion Legislation Bill on March 18, legalizing abortion throughout the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“There is no longer any recognition of the rights of the unborn child in this new law,” Cynthia Piper said on behalf of the Catholic bishops of New Zealand's six dioceses.
“That is a travesty of human rights. To hold that the fetus is not a legal person ignores the reality that a genetically unique human life has begun which is neither that of the mother or the father,” Piper said.
“That the law fails to recognise this does not change what is a biological and human fact.”
The bill passed the legislature on its third reading by a vote of 68 to 51, and now only needs royal assent—the approval of the governor-general—to officially become law.
Abortion had previously been illegal in New Zealand except in cases where two doctors decided that a woman’s physical or mental health would be in “serious danger.” After 20 weeks in pregnancy, abortions were only allowed in cases where the mother’s life was at stake, or to prevent serious injury, according to Radio New Zealand.
The new bill removes legal restrictions on abortion before 20 weeks of pregnancy, decriminalizing it and treating it as a health issue.
The legislation also allows for abortions after 20 weeks, under certain circumstances. The bishops’ conference had previously argued these circumstances would “significantly widen” cases of abortion on basis of the child’s disability.
For cases later than 20 weeks in pregnancy, a “qualified health practitioner” must consult another practitioner, and deem an abortion to be “clinically appropriate” given the physical and mental health of the woman.
The bishops’ conference also said that “a host of sensible amendments” were rejected by members of the legislature, including protections for babies who survive abortion attempts and bans on sex-selection and disability discrimination abortions.