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Abortion legalised in New Zealand

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Jacinda Ardern (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Jacinda Ardern (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Jacinda Ardern (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

MPs in New Zealand have passed a landmark bill that treats abortion as a health issue rather than a crime.

Until the vote, the procedure was still regulated under the Crimes Act, requiring women to prove to a doctor that their pregnancy presented a danger to their physical or mental health before they could get an abortion.

Justice minister Andrew Little said that requirement forced most women to lie about their mental health and caused unnecessary delays which added health risks.

The new law removes those obstacles, allowing women who are up to 20 weeks pregnant to get an abortion and those over 20 weeks to get one with approval from a health practitioner.

MPs voted 68 to 51 in favour of the bill.

Conservative member Simeon Brown, who opposed the move, said an unborn child had a heartbeat and felt pain, and should be considered a person who is treated with dignity and respect.

Jackie Edmond, the chief executive of Family Planning, New Zealand's largest referrer of women to abortion services, said she was thrilled with the vote and that women are finally being trusted to make their own health decisions.

She said: "It's fantastic Parliament has addressed something that they should have addressed 40 years ago."

Doctor and campaigner Margaret Sparrow, 84, said the law stayed on the books for so long because people found a work-around, and MPs were worried about the political consequences of opening up a debate about it.

That changed when Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister in 2017 and followed up on a campaign promise to bring the issue to a vote.

Ms Sparrow said it was not so much her own experience of having an illegal abortion that motivated her work over the decades but more recognising that there was an unfilled need for women.

She began her career helping students get access to contraception and for several years helped send people to Australia to get abortions before the first New Zealand clinic opened.

She said the landmark 1973 US supreme court decision Roe v Wade gave people hope for change in New Zealand.

Ms Sparrow, who has received one of New Zealand's top honors for her work, said the new law is a step forward but her work is not done yet.

"It will be safer for women and better for access," she said. "The next stage is making sure it's implemented."

PA Media