Wednesday, June 13, 2007



An unpleasant duty

Looking at the Order Paper, it seems Parliament has an unpleasant duty ahead of it tomorrow: the appointment of new members to the Abortion Supervisory Committee. Governments have tended to avoid this because it gives fruitcakes like Bill English and Gordon Copeland an opportunity to spout off about the evils of abortion, and nobody really wants to sit through that. But as the ASC currently has no members, and this is likely to become the subject of court action, it has to be done. I expect the political parties are either drawing straws for who has to hang around and make up quorum - or using it as a punishment.

Of course, there is a way of avoiding this unpleasantness - or at least avoiding having to do it all again in a few years time. Its clear from the smooth operation of the system in their absence that the Abortion Supervisory Committee serves no useful function other than as a sop to radical Christians whose day has frankly passed. It should be abolished, and replaced with abortion on demand. And if this causes Gordon Copeland to die of apoplexy in the chamber, then so much the better.

33 comments:

Quorum is someone in the chair, and a minister.

And who knows, maybe, like with s 59, in the same few years' time when we will be aghast that we used to smack children, we'll be aghast that we used to kill them too.

Posted by Graeme : 6/13/2007 02:49:00 PM

Graeme - there is the Standing Orders quorum (on which you are correct) and political quorum (parties are pretty much going to vote on everything). Quorum isn't exactly the right word, more "making up the numbers".

I'm not getting into an abortion debate - they never go anywhere.

Posted by G7 : 6/13/2007 02:59:00 PM

"And if this causes Gordon Copeland to die of apoplexy in the chamber, then so much the better."

Its very rare for me to agree with you I/S but I do on that one.

Sb

Posted by Sb : 6/13/2007 04:17:00 PM

I/S
Wait until you hear who Copeland is suggesting should go on the committee.

Bill English has asked some written questions as to how many abortion facilities are acting with out a licence. I have heard that some are. That is illegal, hardly a
"smooth operation of the system" - not that it matters to you, of course.

If there is no supervisory committee to issues licences, and if some licences have expired without being renewed, that is against the law and the govt is condoning lawbreaking by not appointing a committee as soon as the previous committee left.
If the Government is not going to let the Ministry of Health to do the job, then appointing people to the Commission is the only way the Govt is goingto be able to dodge such questions without appearing to condone law breaking (again).

Posted by Dave : 6/13/2007 05:38:00 PM

I/S:

Who's been pissing in your coffee? At the moment, it sounds like you're going die of apoplexy or choke on a hunk of bitter fruitcake long before Gordon Copeland.

And, graeme, couldn't agree with you more - abortion seems to get everyone on the crazy juice and who needs it?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/13/2007 05:50:00 PM

We could always make abortion illegal and actually give women real support for raising kids through a DPB that was actually livable. No? Hopefully one day we will be aghast at killing children.

Posted by muerk : 6/13/2007 06:07:00 PM

Dave: I'd care more if the ASC was something other than a rubberstamp body. But the fact is that its not. If the system operates perfectly well without it (and it clearly does, in that women continue to have abortions according to the usual procdures, regardless of whether the rubberstamp exists or not), then we might as well be rid of it. That paper bag was beginning to get a bit tatty anyway.

As for illegality, there may well have been illegal abortions performed, without any of the parties knowing or caring. Generally, there is a solution to this sort of problem: retrospective validation. And if there's even the slightest hint that women or doctors are going to be persecuted by being dragged into court over it, then I have no doubt whatsoever that the government will use it quicker than you can say "immortalsoulendowedatconception".

Oh, and Copeland can suggest whoever he wants. But unless he has 60 friends who are MPs, I don't think his opinion on the matter is worth squat.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/13/2007 06:26:00 PM

Craig: Hardly. I'm just amazed that we continue to indulge the desire of fanatics to grandstand when they lost the argument twenty years ago. Though I suppose the reason we haven't properly buried the issue is because it was sufficiently unpleasant that nobody really wants to revisit it.

Unfortunately, if the right-to-life nuts press it, we will have to, and they will lose even their tatty paper bag.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/13/2007 06:29:00 PM

i/S
retrospective legislation only occurs if one MP is prepared to do something about it - and that MP has 60 friends who agree with them.

On this matter, this stage none are, as they don't - so its hardly a solution, is it.

Posted by Dave : 6/13/2007 06:34:00 PM

Dave: I think opinion will crystalise very quickly if there is any suggestion that people might be persecuted. Because while people (other than yourself of course) find the whole topic of abortion to be tiresome and unpleasant and best ignored (like Jehovah's witnesses on a Saturday morning), they find the thought of people facing criminal charges for an inadvertant oversight of the government even worse.

Otherwise I exect a clause slipped into an omnibus statutes amendment bill somewhere along the line to normalise proceedings. And it would be entirely appropriate to do so.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/13/2007 07:18:00 PM

"Otherwise I exect a clause slipped into an omnibus statutes amendment bill somewhere along the line to normalise proceedings. And it would be entirely appropriate to do so."

Appropriate, perhaps. But Standing Order 300(2) might get in your way. And if Copeland lets that through he doesn't deserve to be in Parliament.

Posted by Graeme : 6/13/2007 07:47:00 PM

Good news Graeme and Muerk!

I've just looked through the law texts and, guess what, it is illegal to kill children in New Zealand (hmmmm...maybe that was what the Kahui fuss was all about...)

I can't quite figure out when the law was passed...perhaps it was some sort of United Future coalition agreement thingy.

Posted by Terence : 6/13/2007 08:28:00 PM

"Its clear from the smooth operation of the system in their absence that the Abortion Supervisory Committee serves no useful function other than as a sop to radical Christians whose day has frankly passed"
The ASC has actually functioned extremely badly, and instead of enforcing the law have allowed mental health to be used as a excuse to justify abortions for any reason. The reason you say it is working fine is because it is doing the work you want it to do (allow abortions), not what its suppose to do (only allow them if there is a serious risk to the life, mental or physical health of the mother or fetal deformity).
"Generally, there is a solution to this sort of problem: retrospective validation"
Disrespect for the law. same solution Labour used with the pledge card. Same solution a future governemnt might use to justify future illegal actions against you or your neighbour. restrospective legalzation should be rare and possibly not done without a referendum.
"I'm just amazed that we continue to indulge the desire of fanatics to grandstand when they lost the argument twenty years ago"
I hope that you will in a few years stop revisting areas of rogernomics and economic reforms of the 80s you lost twenty years ago.
" people (other than yourself of course) find the whole topic of abortion to be tiresome and unpleasant and best ignored "
I hope people find it tiresome and best ignored once the laws are amended to atleast define mental health in a way to stop de-facto abortion on demand and have the law operate as intended in 1977.
At least I/S you are honest in saying that you want abortion on demand without any legal restirictions.

Posted by Nicholas O'Kane : 6/13/2007 08:35:00 PM

Terence - you're right, I just found it - s 182 of the Crimes Act 1961:

"182 Killing unborn child

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who causes the death of any child that has not become a human being in such a manner that he would have been guilty of murder if the child had become a human being.

(2) No one is guilty of any crime who before or during the birth of any child causes its death by means employed in good faith for the preservation of the life of the mother."

Posted by Graeme : 6/13/2007 08:39:00 PM

Hi Graeme,

First up, some pedantry from me: As I understand it, the section of the crimes act that you refer to dates from 1908 (the 1961 modifications to the act did not touch the section on abortion).

Second up, an omission from you: the amendment allowing the mental health of the mother to be a condition that may be considered.

Thirdly, the substantive point: your emotive little sentence "...children, we'll be aghast that we used to kill them too" gets it's rhetorical force from the image that the word child conjures in people's heads: a fully formed young human being living outside of , and not wholly dependent on, its mother's body. Mention the world 'child' and a 3 centimetre long fetus is not what springs to mind. And that's the rhetorical trick you're trying to play.

I'm off to bed - have a good evening.

Posted by Terence : 6/13/2007 09:36:00 PM

Former SPUC President Diana Mason has definitely had her day - she died last week, aged 84.

Abortion is a dead issue politically, as anyone other than the few remaining die-hard anti-abortion zealots knows. Women's votes are more crucial than ever, and most women don't want the state restricting their access to safe birth control. Even Catholic South America is changing its mind on this issue, having ample proof that making abortion illegal doesn't stop it happening, just makes it less safe, especially among the poor.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/13/2007 11:13:00 PM

terence - thank you, but no.

Word for word from the current Crimes Act. Currently in force. Unamended. That is what the Crimes Act says. Now.

Posted by Graeme : 6/13/2007 11:44:00 PM

Nicholas: The ASC has actually functioned extremely badly, and instead of enforcing the law have allowed mental health to be used as a excuse to justify abortions for any reason.

If this was true, I'd have expected Parliament to have acted to prevent the thwarting of their intent sometime over the last thirty years. They haven't. While part of this no doubt stems from the same reasons that has seen them fail to appoint people to the ASC - the thought of zealots frothing at the mouth again - I think its also true to say that they're perfectly happy with the existing situation. They have a paper bag to wave at the zealots ("see? We don't have abortion on demand! We have an Abortion Supervisory Committee, which, um, supervises!"), while in practice we effectively have abortion on demand.

(And its not as if they haven't had a chance. The zealots had a Status of the Unborn Child Bill, which would have restricted abortion rights, drawn in 1983. It was defeated. And in 1990 the rules around certifying consultants were revisited in the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Amendment Bill. While the part dealing with abortion ultimately did not pass due to the 1990 election (the government split the bill in order to liberalise contraception access for under 16's before being chucked out of office - something that had overwhelming support), it did make it to committee stage, where several attempts to restrict access were overwhelmingly defeated. If the government had wanted to tighten the definition of mental health reasons to conform to your interpretation, it had a perfect opportunity to do so in 1990. The fact that they didn't try suggests they were happy with the status quo).

That said, it also seems that the politicians have not had any great desire to liberalise things either, for much the same reasons as noted above. If the law works the way you want it to (and it does, for the vast majority of New Zealanders), why take the political flak for changing it? But if the issue is forced upon them - and pushing the absence of the ASC will force it - then it will not end any other way than in complete defeat for the last dying fringes of the pro-life movement.

So, go and sit in the corner, gnaw your paper bag, and be grateful you've got even that. Because if you force this issue, we will take it and burn it and you'll have nothing but ashes.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/14/2007 01:04:00 AM

Graeme: Indeed it says that. However, s182 must be read in the context of s187A, which permits abortion to be carried out for numerous reasons, including "the physical or mental health, of the woman or girl". ignoring that section is intellectually dishonest, to say the least.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/14/2007 01:07:00 AM

Graeme: Appropriate, perhaps. But Standing Order 300(2) might get in your way.

Bugger. Guess it would just have to be done explicitly. Of course, this would make it much clearer that Copeland had lost, so maybe he'd be better to let it slip by him after all?

OTOH as Nicholas shows, NZ's freaks have never known how to cut their losses.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/14/2007 01:09:00 AM

I/S, s 182 does not need to be read in the context of s 187A. As the text of s 187A makes clear, only ss 183-186 need to be read in light of s 187A.

If an act is illegal under s 182, then s 187A cannot be used to make it legal.

Posted by Graeme : 6/14/2007 01:19:00 AM

Graeme: shit, you're right. I apologise. OTOH, given the widespread use of abortion, and the stunning lack of prosecutions for it under s182, fairly clearly the authorities do not consider it to apply to such cases. In other words, its stunningly irrelevant.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/14/2007 01:24:00 AM

Graeme, you state: "terence - thank you, but no. Word for word from the current Crimes Act. Currently in force. Unamended. That is what the Crimes Act says. Now."

Yet Terence never claimed otherwise, all he stated was "some pedantry from me: As I understand it, the section of the crimes act that you refer to dates from 1908 (the 1961 modifications to the act did not touch the section on abortion)."

In other words, it's a 100 year old law, and although still in force, it needs to be read in a modern context, which it is. Why is it the same people that shout "child killers!" make such awful arguments?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/14/2007 08:45:00 AM

Thanks Graeme for imparting your knowledge of the law. If what you say is correct, it seems to me that there is a compelling case to modify the law so that it reflects what currently happens, and what most New Zealanders appear to be comfortable with.

Now, back to the substantive point: personally I think that there's a reasoned debate to be had around abortion (I fall into the pro-choice camp but I find the decision a complicated one) conflating the abortion of a fetus with the death of a living child does this debate a considerable disservice.

Posted by Terence : 6/14/2007 08:59:00 AM

"...conflating the abortion of a fetus with the death of a living child does this debate a considerable disservice."

When then do we decide that a fetus is worth legal protection? Is it at the point of being viable outside of the mother's body? When the heart is beating? When there is a certain level of brain activity? When all major organs and body systems have developed?

Scientifically, we know when an independent genetic being is formed. After that point, where do we draw the line?

When does personhood become?

Posted by muerk : 6/14/2007 09:07:00 AM

hi Muerk,

Flights of rhetoric aside. When it comes to the ethics of the issue, yours, I think, is the key question. And, believe it or not, I have thought long and hard about it. But the answer takes a while to type. And I goatta get some work done this morning; I'll try and reply at lunch or tonight.

cheers

Terence

Posted by Terence : 6/14/2007 10:02:00 AM

Hello again Muerk,

Other than being ammunition for emotive appeals, ultimately, the issue of when personhood is attained isn't, I think, the key one when deciding whether abortion ought to be legal or not. This is because I don't think that there is one discrete moment of when such attainment occurs. Rather it is something that develops over time from conception onwards. While birth may seem like a logical point for personhood to be bestowed, even this isn’t quite right as we don’t allocate newborns the full right-set that you or I might have (the right to choose to smoke, drink and vote etc). Nor do we require of them the same level of responsibility.

So the question of whether abortion ought to be legal or not is not one of whether a foetus is a person or not.

Instead I think it is an issue of two competing right sets involved that must be mediated between.

The first is that of a woman to determine what she does with her body. This isn’t an absolute right (we don’t allow women the right to get behind the wheel while drunk, for example) but it is a significant one – critical to living in a free society.

The second right-set is that of the developing foetus. It is one the way to being human so must be seen – in my schema at least – to be accumulating rights.

The key question then is when do the rights of the foetus to life outweigh the right of a woman to ownership of her body. Viability is, in my opinion, a pretty good place for this cut-off point. Up until then, the foetus is still entirely dependent on the woman. It could not – under any circumstances – live independently. As such, it seams reasonable to argue that, up until that point, the choice of the mother is paramount.

I’ve got to admit though that I have heard quite a compelling case for 12 weeks being a cut off point too. (Like I said the whole thing is not clear cut for me).

This is where the tidy world of philosophy and the messy world of policy collide. I think it is desirable (also for reasons of women’s health) that the majority of abortions take place before 12 weeks. Yet I still think that the 20 odd weeks of the current law needs to be preserved too as – in most countries – it is the most vulnerable women (or those in the most complicated situations) who end up needing to take advantage of later abortions.

New Zealand is, as I understand it, something of an exception to this rule (please don’t quote me on this though – I’m grasping at half remembered facts). The exception stems, as I understand, it from the cumbersome conservative nature of our laws and the requirements they require. All the more reason for reform.

Posted by Terence : 6/14/2007 02:59:00 PM

"I don't think that there is one discrete moment of when such attainment occurs"

Obviously here we have a point of difference. I think there are three obvious (at least) points where the attainment of personhood could be defined.

1. conception - this is a discrete point where a new genetic human life starts, though only a few cells large.

2. viability outside the mother's body - here the human life is no longer dependent on her mother, however viability is not a definite point, it is dependent on the medical technology available, viability in rural China (probably around 34 weeks) will be much later than in central London (24 weeks, possibily earlier). This means that personhood becomes dependent on outside factors which are unrelated to the actual human life involved.

3 - birth, a 24 week old baby is born prem in New York, receives high tech medical care and lives healthy and happy. A baby in New Delhi is aborted at 24 weeks because the parents discovered she was female. One baby is a person, the other is not even a baby, just a disposable foetus.

"...we don’t allocate newborns the full right-set..."

Nor do we allocate certain rights to the intellectually handicapped but they are still persons. Just because some human beings don't have certain rights or responsibilities, it doesn't diminish their personhood.

The other thing is that sometimes we call the pregnant person "woman" and other times "mother". "Woman" is what she is - she is a human woman. "Mother" however is a term based on a relationship to another person. If there is a "mother" there is also a "son" or "daughter".

As a society we have certain beliefs about this relationship. Mothers (and fathers too) are the people who love and care for their sons and daughters. The word "mother" defines a relationship of love and responsibility. An abortion destroys not only the person of the son or daughter, but also the relationship of "mother".

Women do have a right to choose what to do to their bodies, but we impinge elsewhere on those rights. The right to self-amputate unless through medical need. The right to suicide. The right to wear no clothes on public transport.

The rights to our bodies are mitigated by the rights of others. The right to not have to stare at a naked butt on the bus for example. The person growing in her mother's womb has a right to life. The mother has a right to abandon her child as soon as it poses no unreasonable health risk on the baby.

To make this personal - when were you ever not you. When were you ever a thing that could be terminated? My answer is that you never were. You have always been you, from the moment you existed. You were always a person, you always had, and still have, an inalienable right to your life.

Posted by muerk : 6/14/2007 05:39:00 PM

Jesus Idiot this is a bit harsh isn't it? "So, go and sit in the corner, gnaw your paper bag, and be grateful you've got even that. Because if you force this issue, we will take it and burn it and you'll have nothing but ashes."

You're as bad as the "fanatics"

Posted by Anonymous : 6/15/2007 12:08:00 AM

Muerk,

Just briefly as I gotta set-to working.

Why just three points? I can think of quite a few others: the ability to feel pain, a beating heart, discernable development of a brain, self-awareness.

But the point is that no one of these moments (mine or yours) is truly a transition from non person-hood to person-hood. The divisions are arbitrary, which is why I prefer to weigh up competing right sets.

Your own contention that person-hood starts at conception is particularly untenable in my opinion. In the moment after conception, the foetus has nothing other than potential which might mark it as being a human being. There is no sentience, no brain, no organs – nothing. Just genetic material and potential.

Yet you want to afford this entity a full set of human rights. Does this then mean that you oppose abortion in the case of rape? Or when a mother’s physical and mental health is at risk? If a 5 second old foetus is a full human with equal rights to its mother then presumably you would. Abortion = 100% chance of foetus dying; no abortion only = 50% chance of mother dying.

If you click through to my blog and send me an, email I’m happy to email you the article Pro-Life Nation from the NYT Magazine, which looks at the consequences of such an approach to abortion (Full rights to foetus no rights to mother) being taken in El Salvador.

Looking at this personally – do you really feel as a woman that your actual real life existing is only worth as much as the potential life of a few cells?

Personally, I don’t think that these cells have no worth. Just that – up until a point – their worth is less than that gained by letting a woman have control over her own body.

This is going to be my last post on this thread as I think we are only going to keep talking past each other. But thanks for your thoughts, while I disagree with them I have found it interesting to engage.

Posted by Terence : 6/15/2007 09:29:00 AM

Actually I think on this issue, I/S is worse than his supposed pro-life "fanatics".

Certainly Idiot would label me a fanatic, but I can give you a rational argument for my philosophical position. Hardly the mark of a 'zealot' or a 'nut'.

Posted by muerk : 6/15/2007 09:33:00 AM

test comment

Posted by Anonymous : 6/15/2007 09:48:00 AM

Terence:

I'll answer your questions and then yes, we'll leave it at that.

Why only three? Because there was limited space, as I said three, at least. I agree there are so many different times that the choice becomes arbitrary.

That is precisely why I take personhood at the moment of conception because prior to that an individual unique genetic human did not exist, after conception it does.

The existence of this unique being is not arbitrary, and whilst initially the person is only a few cells large, three weeks after fertilization, he or she has a beating heart. You only stay a few cells for a week or so.

"Looking at this personally – do you really feel as a woman that your actual real life existing is only worth as much as the potential life of a few cells?"

Yes I really do. And if I was raped I would not have an abortion, that person is still my baby despite the horrific crime of his father. Nor would I end the life of my child so that I could live.

That's a person to me. Likewise I disagree with IVF and research on embryos.

So I think I've answered you questions and made sure I haven't added any to you so that this discussion can finish.

Thank you for a polite and respectful conversation :)

Posted by muerk : 6/15/2007 09:49:00 AM