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Is Abortion a Health Issue?

Is Abortion a Health Issue?

Is an unborn child a human being or is it the property of the mother?

An editorial in the Christchurch Press on 19th January proposed that “a start towards a more honest assessment would be to treat the matter as a health issue rather than as a moral or political one.” This is a serious proposal that should be addressed. It is a proposal that has implications for the legal recognition of the personhood and human rights of every citizen in New Zealand.

It is not widely known that abortion is a serious crime in New Zealand. The Crimes Act 1961, section 182, Killing Unborn Child, states that a person who unlawfully kills an unborn child may on conviction be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 14 years. In 1977 the law was amended to provide for permission to be given for an abortion in rare and exceptional circumstances. The person performing the act is required to have honest belief that the abortion is necessary to prevent a serious danger to the physical or mental health of the woman. This is the ground that 98% of abortions are authorised on.

It should be remembered that the current legislation was passed by Parliament in 1977 to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion. It is important to recall that the Commission in its report to Parliament in 1977, stated, “that the unborn child as one of the weakest, the most defenceless forms of humanity; should receive protection,” It accepted the biological evidence establishing that life begins at conception. It said that from implantation to birth changes in the unborn child are of a developmental nature only. The Commission stated that “there is no point between implantation and birth of a biological kind which enables a particular point of time between implantation and birth to be accepted as one at which the status of the unborn child is changed.

The Commission said that the right to life is a sacred principle of civilization. “It is an indispensable guarantee of the individual worth of the persons within it. Its universal denial would threaten civilization and would fail to recognise the dignity of man.” The Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 [CS&A Act] and amendments to the Crimes Act were enacted by Parliament to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. These recommendations sought to protect the human rights of New Zealand’s unborn children. Parliament’s intention to protect the human rights of unborn children is enshrined in the long title of the CS & A Act. It reads, “….and to provide for the circumstances and procedures under which abortions may be authorised after having full regards to the rights of the unborn child.

The great American statesman, Thomas Jefferson defined government`s role, “The care of human happiness and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” It is thus the duty of the state to protect the right to life of all its citizens.

The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that our human rights are universal and inalienable. They are universal because every human being is endowed by its creator with human rights at conception. They are inalienable because they cannot be taken away. Abortion entails the destruction of a defenceless and helpless human being; it is thus a human rights issue and not just a moral or political issue.

Dr Christine Forster, previous chairperson of the Abortion Supervisory Committee stated in the media on 5th November 2000 that,”We do essentially have abortion on demand or request however you like to put it.” In New Zealand 98% of abortions are authorised on the grounds that the continuance of the pregnancy would be a serious threat to the mental health of the mother. Dr Forster stated that she did not believe all these women were in serious danger. Right to Life believes that these abortions are authorised for socio-economic reasons masquerading as psychiatric. It is unlawful in New Zealand to perform an abortion for socio-economic reasons.

Dr Forster proposed that abortion be decriminalised and made solely a health issue based on informed consent. It would then be a matter for a woman and her general practitioner or a doctor who agreed with the woman’s request. It would then not be subject to any restrictions in legislation and would be treated like any other medical procedure. An abortion is unlike any other medical procedure as it entails the termination of the life of another human being. This recommendation was made by the Abortion Supervisory Committee in a submission to the Minister of Justice in February 2000 to be considered by the Labour government in its review of the abortion laws. Why has this review not been completed? It is believed that the Committees option to decriminalise abortion has the support of the current government.

The decriminalising of abortion would be a denial of the humanity of the unborn child and a denial that it was endowed with human rights. It would entail the withdrawal of the state from providing legal protection for its unborn children. It would then no longer be a crime to kill an unborn child. An unborn child would then become the property of the mother. Such a legislative step would have serious implications for every citizen. If we allow the state to withdraw recognition and legal protection for the human rights of unborn children, who is to say that in the future a government will seek to withdraw legal protection for the right to life of other members of our community such as the aged and the disabled?

We should not forget that it was the United States Supreme Court in 1857 in the infamous Dred V Scott decision that decreed that Negro slaves were not human beings and were the property of their owners. A just society is one that respects and provides legal protection for the human rights of all its people especially the weakest and most defenceless members. New Zealand urgently needs legislation that recognises the legal status of unborn children as human beings endowed with an inalienable right to life.

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