Thursday, April 07, 2011

Parliament and abortion

Today is World Health Day. And across the blogosphere, people are taking the opportunity to argue that abortion is a health issue, not a criminal one.

Inadvertently, the government seems to be joining the debate. Because top of the Order Paper today is the triennial motion to appoint members of the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

Hon SIMON POWER to move, That, pursuant to sections 10 and 11 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, this House recommend His Excellency the Governor-General reappoint Professor Dame Linda Jane Holloway of Dunedin and Reverend Patricia Ann Allan of Christchurch as members of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, and appoint Dr Tangimoana Frances Habib of Hamilton as a member of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, each for a term of three years from the date of appointment, and appoint Professor Dame Linda Jane Holloway as Chairperson of the Abortion Supervisory Committee.
This should be a formality, but instead will be treated as an excuse for anti-abortion fruitcakes such as Bill English and Judith Collins to rant about the evils of abortion - something no MP really wants to sit through. Which is a mirror of the wider debate itself. The reason we have not reformed our absurd thirty-year-old abortion law, which effectively requires women to declare themselves mentally ill to access a basic medical procedure, is because no politician wants to subject themselves to that toxic debate. In effect, a radical religious minority are exercising a heckler's veto over our society, and the fundamental right of women to control their own bodies in particular, because our political leaders are too chickenshit to stand up to them.

But stand up to them they must. The present law is fundamentally demeaning. It creates real problems around access. And its currently being challenged in court. If that challenge is successful, we may find that abortion is - overnight - illegal in New Zealand, or subject to such tight restrictions as to make it inaccessible in practice. That outcome is possible because we continue to rely on an outdated law. If we want to prevent it, then we need to bring abortion law into the 21st century, and make it clear in law that abortion is a medical procedure, not a crime.