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.

Abortion legislation reaches Second Reading

Shortly the contentious legislation surrounding abortion laws will go through the Second Reading stage in Parliament. With 30 individual organizations having also signed an open letter supporting the legislation as it progresses through Parliament, including Amnesty International New Zealand, the high level of support for this contentious Bill of Parliament is considerable.

The legislation in question would enable women to voluntarily seek an abortion up to the 20 week mark of their pregnancy. At that point, they would be required to seek a statutory. The statutory test means a health practitioner will have to “reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being”.

There are obvious opponents such as Right to Life, Family First, and various Christian/Catholic organizations. Their members include people like Ken Orr, head of Right to Life. I assume that if they have not already done so, these organizations will come together just like the 30 that wrote in support of the legislation, but with the polar opposite intention in mind.

To be clear I support this legislation. Not because I am a murderer as the most ardent of the conservative lobby would have one believe. Not because I am a child hating monster.

I support this legislation because New Zealand has hugely outdated legislation concerning abortion, which does not recognize, nor support the autonomy, dignity and physical being of a woman. I support this legislation because it is far too restrictive in too many instances – whether it is a woman who and whose partner took contraceptive measures to prevent pregnancy during intercourse that failed; a woman who has been sexually violated; a woman who has developed potentially life threatening complications.

But most of all, I support this legislation simply because I understand and respect a woman’s right to control her body.

The legislation passed through the First Reading of Parliament 94-23 and was sent to the Select Committee which has received submissions on it.

New Zealand First asked for a binding referendum, to address the concerns of its more conservative members, but also to draw off support for National.

Most Labour Members of Parliament and all of the Green Party were in support of the legislation when it went through its First Reading. The more left leaning National Party, Members of Parliament such as Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye supported it as well When it goes before Parliament for the Second Reading it is likely to pass, but with significantly smaller numbers – my guess will be about 65 M.P.’s.

There is one more reading after the Second Reading before a law can be submitted for Royal Assent. That is the Third Reading and will be where M.P.’s sum up their take on the legislation before sending it to a final vote. If this legislation fails here, it will be a significant instance of stalling women’s basic rights in terms of one of the most important medical procedures they might ever undertake. But if it wins, New Zealand will have overhauled one of the more conservative national laws in the western hemisphere on abortion.

And that is to be encouraged.


Looming referendums: Are politicians passing the buck?

Two referendums are due at the next election in 2020.

One is for A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour and his End of Life Choices Bill, which Mr Seymour hopes will legalize euthanasia. The other is to legalize cannabis.

But are Members of Parliament passing the buck? It depends on whom one talks to. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters believes that “temporarily empowered politicians” do not necessarily know better than the general public. As a result New Zealand First believes that it is correct to pass the decision making on big decisions or ones that are perceived to be morally divisive back to the people. The party even has a principle in its 15 Fundamental Principles that requires decisions that are not party policy to be sent back to the public for a referendum.

This is the primary reason why New Zealand First voted no in the 2013 Same Sex Marriage conscience vote – the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Bill had not gone to the public as a referendum, so the party chose not to support it.

Whilst Mr Seymour is in support, many conservatives are not. Judith Collins and Maggie Barry of the National Party believe it is an affront to the most important human right there is: the right to life. I would probably support it, but I would need to see what safeguards are in place – not only to ensure that a family cannot use it as a means of getting rid of a terminally ill family member, but to stop pro-life family from interfering if the irrevocable decision to die has been made.

Currently the legislation to legalize cannabis will go before Parliament late this year or early next year. It is being sponsored by Green Party Member of Parliament Chloe Swarbrick, who was handed the legislation by fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter when the latter become a Minister of the Crown.

Support for this is fluctuating. Family First, a small party outside of Parliament with strong conservative family orientation released a survey done by Curia research. It showed that there was low support for the legalization of cannabis, at just 16%. A Newshub poll showed that support among Green Party members dropped from 83% to 64% whilst National Party opposition rose from 40% to nearly 66%.

I personally support the legislation before the House and think it would help to reduce cannabis related crime. But before then should it become law there needs to be firm measures against anyone who sells to minors. I agree with sending it to a referendum as it is too controversial to rely on a party vote or conscience vote in Parliament. Whilst Members of Parliament are empowered to make decisions, I believe the limits of what Members of Parliament can vote on, should be mainstream legislation that was put through the select committee process and in doing so, subject to public submissions.

N.Z.F. wants abortion referendum, but legislation has the numbers

New Zealand First wants the recently announced abortion legislation to go to a referendum. The move came as the pro and anti-abortion lobby groups marshal their forces for the coming scrap. This may sound like a description of foes getting ready for war, but when one looks at how quickly abortion can turn into an intensely personal argument, in many ways it might just as well be.

Per New Zealand First’s 15 Fundamental Principles, all substantive issues not recorded in in the party manifesto shall go to a referendum. When I asked about this whilst a New Zealand First member it was explained that this was intended to be the party’s way of saying don’t rely on us to make your minds up on this: Have your Say!

Some have told me that this is a cop out by Members of Parliament too scared to take a side. I guess though in response New Zealand First could argue that the conscience vote is a cop out – is a Member of Parliament in your electorate with totally different views to yours deciding “NO” on something you want them to say “YES” to, really working for you?

I get that there are concerns that there might be abuse of abortion if it the law changes. I wonder how many women were given all the information they needed and had the process fully explained to them before they made their minds up. At the same time though, I noticed that there were people who said that they were basically made to be dishonest so that the doctors who had to make the decision would proceed with a procedure that in many cases the woman actually did need.

But what has always annoyed me is the inevitable accusations of murder that come out of the mouths of the conservative anti-abortion lobby. Well, wouldn’t knowingly letting a woman die from complications caused by a pregnancy gone wrong also be murder? I am certainly aware of cases where a woman would have died had she not terminated her unborn. And we also have to ask, what message is that sending a loving partner/fiance/husband/wife of the pregnant lady should have to lose their forever person just to appease someone with no reasonable stake in the matter?

But it is not the one that annoys me the most. That will be forever and always, those cases that arise out of sexual violence. In that case the decision is solely that of the victim. No one else has a stake in the matter.

So, I look forward to seeing this legislation pass. New Zealand First might have meant well sending it to a referendum, and maybe it will go there, but if it does I hope New Zealanders come together to decisively support a long overdue change in very outdated legislation.

Abort the abortion law change? No thanks!

Abortion. The very word in a medical context or a religious context is enough to provoke a very emotive, not necessarily properly informed, and sometimes deliberately misleading debate. And yet, at the same time, there is no doubt regardless of which side of the debate one is on, it cuts right to that most fundamental, most inalienable right – to that of life. I deliberately sit on the fence here. Not because I have no empathy or heart, but because to make an accurate assessment of the issue without being partial to one aspect or another, one needs to be remote.

It has been commented many times over that very often the people making the moral calls about abortion in places of authority such as Government ministries or in churches are men with no understanding of the biological changes a woman must experience in the course of pregnancy. It is probably the most profound thing a woman will have happen to their body. They have no understanding of the medical hazards a woman who is pregnant must navigate through successfully to give birth. Or they DO have the understanding, but either their individual principles or – if they are working for a Government ministry – political ideology or other indoctrination gets in the way.

Which is why I was delighted that today it was announced New Zealand will permit abortions up to 20 weeks. It is part of a sweeping law change that will liberalise the 1977 Sterilisation, Contraception and Abortion Act, . The compromise reached derives from the liberal position that the medical establishment wanted which said that there should be no statutory test at all and the more conservative position that wanted a statutory test to determine whether there is a heart beat at an early stage.

I have no problems with a medical test being done. For me the test should be more construed as a medical check up, rather than some sort of red line or other limitation on abortion.

Now we watch the opposition mobilize. I expect to see massive opposition from religious groups. Conservative pro-life organizations such as Right to Life however will strongly resist this happening, saying that the sanctity of life from conception to ones natural death is endangered by abortion. On their website R.t.L. have the following stated aim:

To work purposefully towards, the achievement of the realisable ideal of no abortions within our society

There are however two massive and – in my view fundamental – flaws to Right to Life’s argument. First, Right to Life in no way acknowledge that a victim of rape or incest was subject to a grave criminal offence against her will. Second, if the female develops medical complications in any pregnancy brought on by the act of rape, again the choice as to whether she aborts or not should be hers alone. It should also be exempt in all respects from Section 187A of the Crimes Act (see below).

Another group, Family First, headed by Bob McCroskie are calling it “deeply anti-human rights”. Which is interestingly hypocritical because guess what Mr McCroskie? Women make up half the worlds population and have human rights just like us and one of those rights is an absolute right to life. Are you trying to say that that most holy of human rights is not inalienable when it comes to women? That is the intonation.