I have another column in the Dom Post today, and this time, I’ve written about abortion.
Why the level of surveillance? It’s because we don’t trust women to make decisions for themselves. Abortion has been treated as a matter of morality, but instead of allowing the people concerned to make moral decisions, we have insisted that they get opinions from other people first. …
When we deny women the right to make decisions about abortion for themselves, then we deny women’s autonomy. We say that women are not capable of making moral judgments, and that they are not autonomous adults.
the Abortion Supervisory Committee had failed to properly interpret the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, so “full regard is given to the rights of unborn children”.
Under New Zealand law, two consultants must authorise any abortion, and they must do so on grounds specified in the Crimes Act 1961. That’s right. Abortion is a crime in New Zealand, unless you meet certain criteria. One of those grounds is concern for the mental health of the pregnant woman, and as a matter of practice, that’s the box that’s usually ticked in order to enable women to access abortion. It’s an ugly compromise, and not even one that works very well. But three years ago, thanks to Right to Life NZ, and a judge in the High Court, even that compromise was under threat. We all thought that it would be back to the barricades on abortion.
But today, the news has come through that the judgement in the High court has been overturned on appeal: Appeal court strikes out abortion finding.
In a decision released today, a Court of Appeal bench of Justices Robert Chambers, Terence Arnold and Lyn Stevens, allowed the committee’s appeal and dismissed RTL’s cross-appeal.
They held that the law does not recognise or confer a right to life on the unborn child.
A majority – Justices Chambers and Stevens – held that Justice Miller erred in his findings as to the scope of the committee’s power to review certifying consultants’ decisions. They said the decisions of consultants involved medical judgment alone. Any complaints about the consultants could be made to and investigated by the Health and Disability Commissioner or police.
It was not open to the committee to form its own opinion about the lawfulness of decisions by the consultants, they said.
They quashed Justice Miller’s findings on the lawfulness of abortions.
The full text of the judgement can be downloaded here: Courts of New Zealand: Abortion Supervisory Committee v Right to Life New Zealand Inc.
In other words, Right to Life NZ’s claim that the Abortion Supervisory Committee isn’t doing its job properly is wrong.
I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know how strong the judgement against Right to Life NZ is. I couldn’t find anything in the judgement about whether it is possible for them to appeal this judgement to the Supreme Court. However, I’m sure they will be back, one way or another, trying to find a way to control women. At least this particular attack on women’s rights has been brought to a halt, for the time being.
If you want to understand the legislation controlling abortion in New Zealand, you have to go to the Crimes Act 1961. It is a much amended act: that date of 1961 is a little misleading in that regard. Once you are at the Crimes Act, because abortion is a crime in New Zealand, head for Part 8, Crimes Against the Person, and from there, to section 183: procuring abortion by any means. Under that section you will find that:
Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether she is pregnant or not,—
(a) unlawfully administers to or causes to be taken by her any poison or any drug or any noxious thing; or
(b) unlawfully uses on her any instrument; or
(c) unlawfully uses on her any means other than any means referred to in paragraph (a) or paragraph (b).
(2) The woman or girl shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section.
In other words, performing unlawful abortions is illegal.
So what then is an unlawful abortion? You need to head to section 187A: Meaning of Unlawfully. In that section, you find out that performing an abortion is unlawful, unless you meet certain criteria. The criteria are set out in subsections 1(a) to 1(d), and 2(a) and (b). They are familiar – danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, pregnancy following rape or incest, serious physical or mental deformity of the fetus.
The specific clauses and subclauses are of course important, but what I want to focus on here is the placement of the rules about abortion in the Crimes Act. It seems that it’s a crime for women to have authority over their own bodies.
That is all that I want to say about that, because really, there is nothing else to be said. Just reflect on it for a moment. In New Zealand, in the 21st century, it’s a crime for women to have authority over their own bodies.
There are two other matters I want to raise.
First, go take a look at the language of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977. In particular, look at section 32: Procedure where woman seeks abortion. Here’s an extract:
If, after considering the case, the woman’s own doctor considers that it may be one to which any of paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (1), or (as the case may require) subsection (3), of section 187A of the Crimes Act 1961 applies, HE shall comply with whichever of the following provisions is applicable, namely:
(a) Where HE does not propose to perform the abortion HIMSELF, HE shall refer the case to another medical practitioner (in this section referred to as the operating surgeon) who may be willing to perform an abortion (in the event of it being authorised in accordance with this Act); or
(b) Where HE proposes to perform the abortion HIMSELF (in the event of it being authorised in accordance with this Act), HE shall—
- (i) If HE is HIMSELF a certifying consultant, refer the case to one other certifying consultant (who shall be a practising obstetrician or gynaecologist if the woman’s own doctor is not) with a request that HE, together with the woman’s own doctor, determine, in accordance with section 33 of this Act, whether or not to authorise the performance of an abortion; or
- (ii) If HE is not HIMSELF a certifying consultant, refer the case to 2 certifying consultants (of whom at least one shall be a practising obstetrician or gynaecologist) with a request that they determine, in accordance with section 33 of this Act, whether or not to authorise the performance of an abortion.
Caps and bolds mine.
New Zealand legislation drafters have long since abandoned the practice of assuming that “he” includes “she”. They adopt gender neutral or inclusive language, even using phrases such as “himself or herself”, and “he or she” where necessary. The very language of the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, with its implication that doctors are necessarily male, tells us that it is old law, law that is very much in need of being updated. Of course, I would far rather that attention was paid to the content of the law: this is not a call to fix the form but not the substance of the law. Nevertheless, the language of the Act tells us something disturbing, namely, that the law has long been due for revision, and none of our lily-livered politicians will do anything about it, because women’s rights can always be deferred, put off, relegated to the back of the queue in pursuit of some grander goal.
And second, this is what happens when abortion is treated as a crime: Repairing the damage: Before Roe.
Banning abortion doesn’t make it stop; it just drives abortion underground, with terrible consequences.
Joseph Ratzinger, current head of the Catholic Church, has said that doctors shouldn’t suggest to women that abortion is an option. Abortion solves nothing, he said, and doctors should defend women from such “deception.”
Of course abortion solves nothing for Ratty, but then, an unwanted pregnancy is never likely to be his problem, is it. Or if it is his problem, then truly, that would be a miracle that even David Hume would accept. I can see the headlines now – Celibate 83-year-old man pregnant!!!
My problem with this is not just that as usual, the Catholic church wants to control my body, and the bodies of all women, but that they don’t even see me, and other women, as being capable of thinking for ourselves. Our silly ditzy little lady branes can’t cope with thinking about moral issues, so we’re not even going to be told about them. Worse than that, the Catholic church wants to insert itself into the relationship I have with the medical practitioners who help me to care for myself. Ratzinger wants me to be unsure about whether my doctor will discuss all possible options with me. He wants to make sure that no woman can trust that her doctors will have her best interests at the forefront of their thinking, and their advice to her.
The remarks that Ratty made encapsulate all that is wrong with official church thinking about women. It simply does not believe that women are autonomous adults, able and willing to think for themselves, and to make moral decisions for themselves. They must be kept from knowledge, and must be kept from even contemplating some actions. That is not the stance of an organisation that respects women.
On top of that, who on earth is Joseph Ratzinger to talk about deceit? He and his cohorts have been guilty of deceit for decade upon decade, hushing up the horrors of priests raping children, shifting paedophiles from one parish to another, pretending that nothing was wrong at all, and that if anyone was at fault, it was those who dared to criticise the church. Perhaps he might like to consider what Jesus Christ is supposed to have said about hypocrites (Matt 23: 23).
As I’ve said before, I’ve no doubt, and indeed I have good evidence that there are many, many fine women and men who are members of the Catholic church. But as I see it, their leaders in Rome despise and fear them, and want to control them, not just in actions, but in what they may think about at all. It’s hard to understand why the good people in the pews would want to remain in the church, but I suppose that many of them feel that the church they love is being stolen from them, and they will not give it up, but instead wait out and quietly defy the women-hating hierarchy of the church.
But for my part, why, thank you, Joseph Ratzinger, for your concern. But actually, I’ll continue to think for myself.
In July 2010, NZ “left wing” political commentator Chris(opher) Trotter wrote this in respect of Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.
The first question I’d like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: “Why now?” What’s convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?
I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.
In other words…. “No no no! Even though I agree with a woman’s right to choose, now is just not the right time for it, because it’s BAAAAAADDD for the Left.”
In November 2010, Chris Trotter wrote this in respect of Matt McCarten’s candidacy in the Mana by-election.
When Matt McCarten told me he was thinking of putting his name forward for the Mana by-election, I shuddered inwardly. … The political analyst in me pursed his lips and shook his head.
“With the Labour Party moving steadily to the Left,” he intoned disapprovingly, “this is precisely the wrong time to challenge Goff’s hand-picked candidate in an important by-election in one of the party’s safest seats.”
Then I caught the gleam in Matt’s eye, and I told my inner political analyst to go stick his objections where the sun don’t shine.
Because if being on the Left means waiting for the “right time” to fight for your principles, then, as the hero of Howard Spring’s wonderful political novel, Fame Is The Spur, discovered, when the fight comes to you, the bright sword of principle can no longer be drawn. Through all those years, while you were waiting for the “right time”, the sword’s blade was rusting fast to the scabbard.
So on the one hand, even though The Left holds principles dear, it must be pragmatic, but on the other, to hell with pragmatism: The Left should hold fast to its principles.
Guess what the difference is between the two cases….
Update: Chris Trotter has left a comment over at The Hand Mirror, where I cross-posted this. Chris Trotter’s comment.
I believe that’s what you call “a fair cop”.
Guilty as charged.
Good on him.