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Maxim Institute Real Issues No. 160, 9 June 2005

Maxim Institute

real issues.
this week: No. 160, 9 JUNE 2005

* Legal status of abortion questioned
* I am woman hear me roar?
* Council considers racial quotas
* Coming to a town near you

Legal status of abortion questioned

Lobby group Right to Life is taking the New Zealand Government and the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) to the High Court for failing to ensure that the rights of unborn children are given full regard. Right to Life claims that abortions are occuring on grounds not justified by the Crimes Act 1961. They also claim that the Minister of Justice, responsible for the enforcement of the Crimes Act, is also to blame.

The killing of an unborn child (abortion) is condemned under Section 182 of the Crimes Act 1961, which deals with crimes against the person. Anyone committing an unlawful abortion can face up to 14 years imprisonment. Under Section 187A a few exceptions are set out where abortion is regarded as legal - one of these grounds is:

"That the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman or girl."

Right to Life asserts that the vast majority of abortions (98%) are performed on the grounds that a woman's/girl's mental health is at risk. Their claim is that this ground has been misapplied to allow many women to have abortions when their mental health is actually harmed more by the abortion.

The ASC is being held responsible in the claim, because Right to Life suggests that their establishment in the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 was meant to stop abortion on demand. The claimants therefore argue that the ASC has failed to adequately supervise consultants in their authorisation of abortions to ensure that they are lawful.

The outcome of this case could have major implications for abortion law in New Zealand.

I am woman hear me roar?

'Looking back - moving forward' was the theme of last weekend's 2005 United Women's Convention, a follow up to conventions held in the 1970s. While the 550 delegates applauded the gains made for women over the past thirty years, it seems there is much unfinished business on the feminist agenda.

Many themes emerged: employment and pay equity; access to child-care; and the "injustice" of men free-riding on women's unpaid work. But the most worrying theme revolved around the notion of "choice". It is true that genuine choice requires the resources to act on that choice. But many at the convention were wrongly claiming that it is the state's obligation to provide the resources needed for unconstrained choice. Limited choice is just a fact of life – for men as well as women.

Some of applications of this idea were that: User pays education "penalises bad decisions", because if students drop out of a course, they still have to pay their loan back; and women who choose to stay at home for several years to look after children should, when they return to paid work, have equal promotional opportunity and pay to other women who have worked that whole time.

The government was, of course, regarded as the agency responsible for providing citizens, and women in particular, with the resources for virtually unlimited choice. The practicality or justice of this was not discussed. It was overlooked that choices are meaningful because different options have different consequences, and indeed should have. It is not the government's role to negate the consequences of individual's and families decisions. Choice is meaningless if it is surrendered to an artificial equality.

Council considers racial quotas

Councillors at Manukau City are talking about changing their electoral bylaws to create permanent "Maori seats" on the council. The arrangement they are proposing would be similar to what happens in Parliamentary elections, where there are a guaranteed number of seats (currently seven) given to people of Maori descent.

Racial quotas are used to guarantee representation of any self-identifying racial group. To work they rely on giving different rights to different groups of people. Civil rights in a democracy include the right to equal participation in the political process. Therefore, giving any group more rights always undermines the equality of citizenship.

Giving rights to Maori adults in Manukau City that are not available to other citizens is racial discrimination. It is pre-judging someone on the basis of their race as having the right to a greater scope of political participation.

If too few Maori are on the Manakau City Council, then the best way to remedy the situation is to vigorously encourage more Maori to stand and be selected on their individual value, not on the assumption of perceived discrimination.

Not all Maori, nor all Pakeha, nor members of any other racial group, think the same, live the same or are the same. To treat identity groups as political groups in need of rights is a poor way of organising the structures of a national democracy. Democracy works only when individuals are treated equally.

Democracy assumes individuals to be national citizens before they are self-identifying members of any given group.

Coming to a town near you

For details of a Maxim Institute event near you visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/events If you are interested in helping organise an event in your region email: roadshow@maxim.org.nz.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Thomas Jefferson

Sometimes it is said that a man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others?

Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

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