When Stuff investigative journalist Paula Penfold decided to look into New Zealand’s abortion laws things got personal.

After the Irish referendum on abortion, she’d been reading personal stories from women who’d had abortions and started thinking about her own experience.

“I thought, there are similarities actually. I was denied approval for an abortion by a certifying consultant,” she says.

Her own story became the basis for a Stuff Circuit documentary about New Zealand’s abortion laws and why the Justice Minister, Andrew Little, asked the Law Commission to review them late last year.

New Zealand’s abortion laws have not changed for more than four decades. It was a crime back in 1977 to get an abortion and it still is. A woman still has to have two certifying consultants agree that having her baby would endanger her physical or mental health.

The Law Commission has come up with three options that Parliament will consider and it will be a conscience vote.

Under option A abortion would be treated the same as other health issues – the woman would just have a conversation with her health practitioner and make the decision herself. With the second option a doctor would have to approve the abortion and would have to take into account the woman’s physical and mental wellbeing. Option C is a mixture of the first two options – it would be the woman’s decision until 22 weeks. After that time the decision would be in consultation with and approved by her physician.

Penfold told The Detail how it felt to go public about her abortion, what it was like to go back nearly 30 years to the 21-year-old getting the news that she was “unexpectedly, unwantedly pregnant”.

“It wasn’t a pleasant time and it wasn’t particularly nice going back there,” she said.

The arguments in the long-running heated debate are well documented but making the documentary was full of surprises for Penfold, from the difficulties in trying to get qualified people to talk about the science of a pregnancy and when a life begins, to the reaction from the wide ranging pro and anti abortionists – or the pro choice and pro life camps.

Penfold also opened up to The Detail about her meeting with the doctor who denied her an abortion nearly 30 years ago and the discussion they had over that “significant encounter”.

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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