Procedural snafu sees clinic safe zones removed from Abortion Bill


In a late night debate in Parliament, a technical snafu enabled what may become a highly contentious clash in the context of the abortion legislation being moved through the House of Representatives.

So what happened?

On Tuesday night during the debate on the Abortion Legislation Bill, a vote to introduce safe zones around clinics that would bar protests inside that area was actually beaten down. But then a second attempt by A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour to amend the clause was passed almost by accident when a verbal vote instead of a head count was taken, because no one called for it.

Some Members of Parliament who support the Bill at large do not necessarily support particular individual clauses, and this was one of those cases.

To be fair that there are plenty of Members of Parliament who probably wish now that they had demanded a numerical count of the vote instead of simply going by the loudest call. But a snafu is a snafu, and this will be a particularly embarrassing one for the Green Party and its pro-abortion allies as they try to steer the legislation through the last stages of its trip through the House.

So, what does this mean?

You might have seen in the United States how contested abortion has become as an issue. It is one to make the blood boil in many people; to make the language emotive and the debate to often lose any sense of rhyme or reason. Anti-abortion protesters who call themselves “pro-life” – a bit ironic since many of them are also pro-death penalty – can be an extremely militant bunch and in the worst cases, have practiced what I would term “medical terrorism”. It is not at all uncommon to hear of protesters outside abortion clinics with placards reading things like “Abortion is Murder” and using particularly vulgar language towards anyone going into, or coming out of abortion clinics including “murderer”, questioning their morals and decency.

Although I do not think New Zealand will ever see an attack on an abortion clinic, I see the potential for the militant anti-abortionists to be emboldened by the events of the abortion debate in Parliament on Tuesday night. I see the letters in The Press from people like Ken Orr from Right to Life, the Catholic and Christian churches, the social conservatives being ramped up. More debates about this are likely to happen around election time as those M.P.’s with a socially conservative conscience square off against those who are probably more socially liberal.

Colourful times are ahead of a sort that the left-wing of New Zealand politics most probably did not want in the passage of this piece of legislation. The snafu will be one that will have mobilized the activists on both sides of the fence in ways few probably believed could happen.