Saturday, July 03, 2010

For abortion reform

Steve Chadwick has finally announced her Abortion Reform Bill. The bill is modelled on the reforms Victoria passed in 2008, and would remove abortion from the Crimes Act and allow abortion on demand up to 24 weeks. Its a good bill, and I support it completely. Our current law, which effectively requires women to declare themselves mentally ill in order to access a basic medical procedure, is medieval; it is aimed solely at stigmatizing women and making them face the wagging finger of society rather than providing a proper legal framework. Its long past time the law in this area was dragged into the 21st century.

Chadwick is currently gauging support before putting the bill in the member's ballot. Currently, she thinks MPs are "divided 50-50". I don't think so. Its more that most of them don't want to touch the issue with a barge pole. After the toxic debate over Civil Unions (and with memories of the even more toxic debates of 1986 and 1977), no-one wants to go through that again, at least not if they can avoid it.

But they may not have a choice. The Christian Taliban are currently challenging the legality of the current regime and the mental-health bypass in the Court of Appeal. If they win in any substantial way which affects abortion access, Parliament will have to act. The New Zealand electorate is quite comfortable with effective abortion on demand, and will not tolerate its restriction. And there would be a strong case for urgency to restore the legal status quo ante pending real reform.

Even if things aren't pushed that far, and the bill is progressed through the ballot, I have no doubt it would eventually pass if drawn. This isn't 1977 anymore. We're a far more secular country now than we were then, and far more liberal. As noted above, we're quite comfortable with abortion on demand. While there are still a few dinosaurs in Parliament, most are part of that consensus (though some would vote against if they had the luxury of doing so, just as people did in 1986 and 1977). The debate would be nasty, but choice would ultimately win.

The real danger here isn't that the law wouldn't pass, but that it would be amended to reduce access for specific groups. In 2004, the National Party backed parental notification and consent laws, which would basically have turned teenage girls into brood mares. It was a nakedly opportunistic political pose, aimed at pandering to the Christian Taliban, but most National MPs at the time (including "liberal" John Key) cynically went along with it. There's no guarantee they won't do the same again; the only way of stopping it is if they understand they will face an electoral backlash for selling out women for the sake of Christians.

The Hand Mirror is suggesting writing to MPs to let them know you support the bill. I'll certainly be doing that, and I hope you will too.