March 18 (UPI) -- New Zealand legalized abortion on Wednesday when lawmakers voted to remove the procedure from its Crimes Act.
By removing it from the Crimes Act, abortion will now be treated as a health issue, said Andrew Little, New Zealand's minister of justice.
"The previous law required a woman seeking an abortion to go through many hoops that resulted in delays to access a procedure and that was less safe," he said in a statement. "The changes agreed to by parliament will better ensure women get advice and treatment in a more timely way."
Under the new law, abortion will be available from a health practitioner to those in their first 20 weeks of pregnancy, after which abortions can be performed if a qualified health practitioner regards it to be in the best interest of a woman's physical and mental health. The law also provides counseling if needed before and after an abortion is performed and requires the minister of health to ensure the availability of abortion, counseling, contraception and other reproductive health services.
Jan Logie, a member of parliament, said the new law gives women "the freedom to make the right decisions for themselves about having a child."
"Our previous abortion law was 40 years old and didn't reflect current medical science or best practice," she said. "It treated pregnant people in our communities as untrustworthy and unable to make their own decisions and created serious barriers to healthcare. Now, if they do decide to seek an abortion, it will be able to be timely and compassionate."
Parliament voted earlier Wednesday against holding a public referendum on the change to the Crimes Act.