Updated: Jan 12
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand leaves the world awe-struck as she becomes the first female Prime Minister, and politician to outright and blatantly oppose the injustice within women’s rights in New Zealand.
Who would have thought---- the first country to permit woman’s rights, and acquire not one, but three, female Prime Minister would also be the same country to deem abortion a crime.
To tell this story, about our knightess in shining armour, let's start from the beginning.
In 1840, New Zealand fell under British rule (as a colony) and thus subject to its laws; one including the criminalization of abortion. However, this tie was severed after New Zealand became a self-governing country in the early 1930s. At this time, doctors were able to perform abortions only when a woman’s physical or mental health was at stake. Still, under this premise, few agreed to play a part in the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. A $200 fine would be incurred to someone who received an abortion, and whoever performed this “unlawful” procedure would risk facing jail time up to 14 years.
In 1977, many New Zealanders began to riot under pro-choice organizations to protest these outdated laws. Terry Bellamak, the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) was the face of this coup. Subsequently, a total of 319,000 people (10% of New Zealand’s population), signed a petition to repeal this law, removing it from the New Zealand Crimes Act.
At the time, section 182A to 187A in the New Zealand Crimes Act stated that receiving an abortion was a criminal offence, and thus could result in incarceration through this attempt.
When Jacinda Ardern was elected in 2017, she made reforming this law one of her goals.
“How long a journey it would have felt for many inside and outside the House for this day,” she said. “The time is right for us to put women’s dignity and rights at the center of this discussion” she stated while justifying her disapproval to abortion laws.
In early 2019, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council requested the removal of this medical procedure from the Crimes Act. This was the result of an ISOS poll that showed 77% of New Zealanders believe that the law should be reformed, and women should be allowed the necessary right of abortion and choice. This was compared to the looming 84% in the United Kingdom and the 68% percent in the United States. After a “conscious vote”, meaning legislatures can vote based on personal beliefs as opposed to siding with a decision akin to their party’s values, the law was reformed: 94 for the decriminalization of abortion to 23 against.
Since Prime Minister Ardern’s law for the decriminalization passed, health practitioners were no longer obligated to verify the endangerment of a woman’s life as the reason for ---- nor dictate whether she could get an abortion, on or before 20 weeks. Women could now refer themselves to various abortion service providers to follow through with termination.
Ardern’s push for the bill was not met without resistance from Justice Minister Andrew Little, former Labour Party leader. Little stated that Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s attempt to diminish this bill was brave for a politician and especially brave for a woman in politics. In addition, Ardern had already faced a multitude of backlash after being the first woman Prime Minister to have a child while holding a place in office. She was seen as unfocused, and unmotivated. Many felt her ability to govern was contingent on the fact that she was solely less “feminine” and did not aspire to bear a child or pursue any other tasks that deviated from societal male standards. Despite these claims, Ardern rose above the inferior title that was entrenched upon her and made an actionable approach on behalf of all women. She stood her ground in the war of patriarchal politics, and unjust laws. Despite questioning Ardern’s ability to make decisions as a female politician, Justice Little further stated that he stood for the bill simply because “the purpose [was] to modernize [the] law and ensure that abortion is treated as a health issue”.
As a woman, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern single-handedly paved the path of social liberty, and ethical gender laws with an iron-fist in 21st century New Zealand. She made it her goal to liberate tens of thousands of women from the legislative restraints and antiquated laws of abortion.
In socially liberalizing this law, Ardern exemplified a step in the right direction for all 21st-century women - where choice is practical, and laws do not dictate, but rather serve to protect its own.