Abor­tion as an elec­tion is­sue?

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/ NEWS -

Put a mi­cro­phone in front of politi­cians and it is usu­ally dif­fi­cult to shut them up. How­ever, there’s one so­cially di­vi­sive sub­ject vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed to send most po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates run­ning for cover: Abor­tion law re­form.

It has been nearly 40 years since Par­lia­ment last con­cerned it­self in any sub­stan­tive way with abor­tion, and that re­luc­tance makes ef­forts by the Greens to turn abor­tion law re­form into an elec­tion is­sue note­wor­thy.

The Greens are propos­ing to de­crim­i­nalise abor­tion and make ac­cess to abor­tion solely a de­ci­sion be­tween the woman and her doc­tor dur­ing the first 20 weeks of preg­nancy.

Ac­cess to coun­selling would be main­tained, and abor­tion be­yond 20 weeks would re­quire se­ri­ous and per­ma­nent health im­pacts on the mother, or se­ri­ous ab­nor­mal­i­ties in the foe­tus.

Abor­tion is cur­rently an of­fence un­der the 1961 Crimes Act.

It be­comes a le­gal pro­ce­dure only if two con­sul­tants agree that the con­tin­u­a­tion of the preg­nancy would se­ri­ously af­fect the men­tal or phys­i­cal health of the woman, or that the foe­tus has a se­ri­ous ab­nor­mal­ity.

Green Party women’s spokes­woman Jan Lo­gie has called for a more hon­est ap­proach.

‘‘The fact that 99 per cent of abor­tions are ap­proved on men­tal health grounds and that rape is not grounds for an abor­tion re­veals the dis­hon­esty of the cur­rent le­gal sit­u­a­tion,’’ she says.

‘‘By keep­ing abor­tion a crime, New Zealand has cre­ated an un­nec­es­sary stigma around abor­tion that has led to de­lays, er­ratic ac­cess to ter­mi­na­tions depend­ing on where you are in the coun­try, and un­nec­es­sar­ily late ter­mi­na­tions.’’ Per­haps. De- crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion, how­ever, would seem un­likely to re­solve all the is­sues con­cern­ing avail­abil­ity.

In parts of New Zealand, limited ac­cess to con­sul­tants and ter­mi­na­tion pro­ce­dures also re­flects the short­age of re­sources, and of health pro­fes­sion­als will­ing to do this work.

In ef­fect, New Zealand has a 1977 law writ­ten quite con­ser­va­tively, but in­ter­preted rather lib­er­ally.

Even so, as Lo­gie says, a preg­nancy re­sult­ing from rape – or from in­cest – is not au­to­matic grounds for abor­tion.

If, in fu­ture, a so­cially con­ser­va­tive govern­ment in­sisted that the law should be in­ter­preted strictly as writ­ten, that would change the abor­tion land­scape.

In re­cent years, the courts have ba­si­cally main­tained the sta­tus quo, no­tably in the land­mark 2012 Right to Life vs Abor­tion Su­per­vi­sory Com­mit­tee case.

By a nar­row 3-2 mar­gin, the Supreme Court ruled the courts should not re­quire the com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate whether the cer­ti­fy­ing de­ci­sions by in­di­vid­ual doc­tors were valid.

To that ex­tent, the cur­rent ac­cess to abor­tion is bal­anced on a quite nar­row plat­form of le­gal­ity and po­lit­i­cal will.

In the case of the Con­ser­va­tive Party – a prospec­tive Na­tional coali­tion part­ner – Colin Craig in­di­cated to me in an in­ter­view last year his po­si­tion was that parental con­sent should be re­quired up to 16 – and pos­si­bly 18 – and that in­de­pen­dent abor­tion coun­selling should be manda­tory.

Pos­si­bly, the Greens’ ini­tia­tive will be only a foot­note to the elec­tion cam­paign.

If so, the di­vi­sive is­sue of ac­cess to abor­tion will sim­mer away un­ad­dressed and un­re­solved.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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