When rights become wrongs Fearfully and wonderfully made
By Keith Newman (13-03-2020/ updated 25-03-20 with postscript at end)
The Abortion Law Reform Bill and its amendments passed in the New Zealand Parliament on March 18 2020 following emotionally charged debates was a further polarising of our nation over what is sacred and what is secular. The new law, described by some as the world’s most extreme abortion legislation, has vague language that opens the way for abortion on demand up to 20-weeks. Beyond that a doctor will need to determine the criteria through to full term.
Attempts to provide pain relief for full term babies being aborted, medical assistance for babies that survived the abortion process and an attempt to ensure the law wasn’t used for gender selection or for terminating babies with deformities including Down syndrome were overturned.
For many this is a Bible and Christian morality issue; there’s no shortage of biblical texts that can be used to support that even if they’re at times out of context, but is this also a Treaty issue?
Is the voice of Maori, the sacredness of the pepe, the continuation of whakapapa being challenged, along with tikanga Maori, as it clearly was when so many voices were raised during the Oranga Tamariki cases where newborns were removed from their mother’s at birth.
Is denying the rights of the child in the womb after 20-weeks also a human rights issue?
I am reluctant to introduce this topic to the Bible & Treaty group but I note many of Maori and Pacifica MPs in Parliament oppose it including Ratana MPs Adriane Ruarawhe and Rino Tirikatene and several others within Labour, including Nania Mahuta and Meka Whatiri.
I note also a strong voice coming from many church groups that represent several hundred thousand New Zealanders.
While there is majority support in Parliament for the bill to progress, I continue to challenge myself. What do I really think, am I sitting on the fence in the ‘right to life debate’ because I don’t want to be pigeonholed among the protesters or the proponents? Has my caution made me cowardly?
Touch and go birth
I hold no firm opinion either way but some serious questions arise in my heart and mind. I speak as the product of a high-risk caesarian birth that was touch and go...and one who had nightmares about that process until my teenage years, when I had a revelation about where those images originated. Was I human when I remembered being lifted from my mother’s womb, hell yes. And I’m so glad to be here.
Despite trying to keep an open mind I am disturbed at the language and the passion of those who are determined to de-humanise the fruit of the womb before it is fully ripened and continue to champion it’s end, even through cruel dismantling, like some great social breakthrough.
What about the people crying out to adopt a child, around 300 couples and individuals waiting at any one time, surely there’s some supply and demand issue to be taken into account here?
Andrew Little’s Bill is being pursued “to better align the regulation of abortion services with other health services, and modernise the legal framework for abortion currently set out in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977”.
There were more than 13,282 abortions carried out in 2018, mostly women in their 20s, almost all on the grounds it would be a danger to the woman's mental health.
Abortion is about to be removed from the Crimes Act which seems fair enough but there are some critical definitions at stake and vague parameters that could pave the way for ‘abortion on demand’ or a kind of eugenics (abortion for Down Syndrome and other ‘defects’) which concerns many opponents.
In a heartbeat
A lot of misinformation has been propagated; recently one columnist suggested the baby has no heartbeat in those earliest stages, and there’s the ongoing suggestion that the foetus isn’t human until birth.
Without a good medical reason, ending of the life of a full-term baby, may under current law be considered as murder. The shift in terminology being used clearly attempts to redefine the argument.
Currently a woman needs two health professionals to support her case for a legal abortion and that’s pretty much it up to full term; the law change would remove these and other ‘obstacles’, making the decision pretty much up to the woman concerned.
In the second reading (3 March 2020) many of the “complicated legal hurdles to be cleared before receiving abortion” were removed. Support shifted slightly from 94 in the first reading down to 81 with 39 opposed.
More than 30 organisations signed an open letter supporting abortion law reform stating “at its core, this bill is about supporting women and pregnant ‘people's’ autonomy, dignity and wellbeing”. A petition with over 13,000 signatures was presented to Parliament in mid-2019 opposing the bill.
The New Zealand Christian Network actively wrote to oppose the reforms last year, the Catholic bishops have expressed concern that the ‘tenuous rights’ of the unborn baby are about to be removed.
Churches late rally
Now late in the picture the churches of Aotearoa seem to be rallying; in particular the Assemblies of God (AOG) representing 229 churches and about 20,000 people and the New Life churches (76 churches and approximately 13,000 people) and the Auckland church leaders group (16 senior pastors) have written to all MPs asking them to reconsider their decision.
I’ve seen passionate appeals from ministers of other denominations as well, crying out for the rights of the child. It is an appeal that resonates because it is a cry from the heart that prayerfully considers the Creator’s purpose and intent.
I’m all for women having the right to make decisions about what happens to their bodies and for abortion under severe mental or physical duress; in some cases where rape has occurred, or if giving birth might cause physical harm.
I’m not so confident it should be used as a means of late contraception. If we are made in the image of God then there’s a spark of divinity that is being snuffed out here. Those in favour of the bill deny pre-birth human status and will clearly have difficulty with the divinity part.
It’s supposed to be a conscience vote but there’s some suggestion its become a party vote in some cases, in other words vote how you are told.
The select committee received more than 25,000 written submissions and publicly heard from 150 groups and individuals. National MP Agnes Loheni claimed the vast majority of submissions opposed the bill.
Animal rights affirmed
We’re very firm about animal rights and pass legislation preventing calves from being aborted (June 2015) but seem to have little regard for the human baby. Even if the baby survives the abortion apparently any requirement for medical help will be denied.
Did Andrew Little really say: “Abortions that take place before nine weeks, or even before 12 weeks, do not entail an unborn child. It is not an unborn child, and I reject the language of that—that this somehow is a debate about unborn children." Well, yes according to Hansards that’s exactly what he said.
Little’s definition goes against much of the science and biology teaching that has been with us for generations; that life begins at fertilisation and is contrary to the long argued cases for foetal rights enshrined in the laws of many countries.
What about all the medical advice on protecting and caring for the baby in the womb; don’t smoke, don’t drink, which was standard talk and practice from Plunket and most doctors, nurses and health clinics?
What about the delight as the child grows and develops in the womb and starts moving and responding to stimuli, a kick at the sound of the father’s voice or a rhythmic movement when the mother singing? Is that not human?
And while I don’t agree with the very graphic images used by protestors to make their point I was concerned when David Seymour, who’s behind the Euthenasia Bill, used his own form of hate speech in Parliament: “I hate these odious ogres who stand outside abortion clinics” (11-03, NZ Herald).
Where do we stand?
Abortion is one of those topics so polarising and fraught with emotion that many refuse to engage in even discussing it. I’ve been one of those.
My conscience is telling me something is deeply wrong here, and that classifying a three month old foetus as simply tissue is a denial of something incredibly marvelous.
Scripture tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “knit together” in the womb and known by the Creator in the secret place (Psalm 139:13-18)
Have Maori and Pacifica voices been sufficiently heard or sidelined and dismissed? Is this vote really what New Zealanders want or is it part of an agenda to make unborn children another disposable part of our consumer mentality.
And, to my point, would this law change be a step too far and a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi promise to protect?
On March 18 abortion as a “medical procedure” was removed from the New Zealand Crimes Act under the Abortion Legislation Bill which passed 68 against 51.
Abortions are now simply a health issue. The controversial debate over whether to amend and liberalise the law passed a first reading in August 2009 with a much stronger 94 votes in favour and only 24 opposed. By the second reading there were 81 for and 39 against.
Parliamentary under-secretary to the Minister of Justice and Green Party MP Jan Logie hailed as a victory for women who will "have the freedom to make the right decisions for themselves" about having a child.
She said it treated “pregnant people” as untrustworthy and unable to make their own decisions, creating serious barriers to healthcare. Now they will no longer “have to jump through unnecessary hurdles".
Strongest opponent to the Bill National MP Agnes Loheni, described it as “an attack on our own humanity” and in her own report stated of the 25,000 submissions on the Bill, approximately 91.6 percent were opposed to it.
The idea of putting the vote to a public referendum was dismissed because of the already packed agenda which will see recreational cannabis and euthanasia questions as part of the September election process.
Under previous legislation women had to undergo a test by two medical practitioners to prove they would be under physical or mental danger decide if they proceed with the birth.
The changes still require a test for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant with two doctors agreeing an abortion is the right decision. Currently very few abortions take place after 20 weeks.