There has been much clamour recently over the call from the Abortion Supervisory Committee to review the law about abortions in New Zealand.
Activists have been forthright in demands to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and to make abortion merely a medical matter between a woman and a doctor.
Political parties have variously reacted with proposals including referrals to the Law Commission, binding referenda, or maintenance of the status quo.
But the reality is that most politicians don’t want a serious culture war on the issue, especially in election year.
Yet what is at stake could not be more important, could not be more fundamental in a civilised society.
Whatever the shortcomings of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act (1977) and its subsequent implementation, notably concerning mental health grounds and certifying consultants, the Act’s long title states that it is “to provide for the circumstances and procedures under which abortions may be authorised after having full regard to the rights of the unborn child”.
Why was there any reference to the rights of the unborn child? Because, as in 2010 the admittedly pro-choice political commentator Chris Trotter summarised the pro-life argument, “something human always dies when an abortion is performed”. That something is a human being.
Morally and scientifically, there is not some sort of threshold or developmental milestone whereby the unborn child becomes human. As Donum Vitae, signed by Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) stated, this new life would never become human if it were not human already.
This point was taken up in a recent article by US Dartmouth College researcher Ana Maria Dumitru. She noted the argument that an organism with all of the capacities to become a recognisable (and extra-uterine) person is in fact already a person, because even if the organism’s capacities are not yet fully developed, they are still present in the early embryo. Personhood is determined, according to the sources Dumitru referenced, not by immediately exercisable capacities, but by radical or root capacities. So a human embryo has all the same radical capacities as the fully developed human adult. Both are persons.
And, as a human, as a human person, this new life has inalienable human rights, the most basic of which is the right to live.
This right is not conferred by law or given by parents — it belongs, as Donum Vitae acknowledges, to human nature and is inherent in the human person.
To fail to acknowledge that right in law has serious repercussions, as Donum Vitae states. “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined.”
As Voice for Life’s Bernard Moran noted in 2010, the present law is a compromise to recognise that there is an unborn human child involved in the abortion procedure. Given the push to make abortion merely a medical matter, Mr Moran’s comment then is worth repeating now: “Decriminalisation would basically be saying that the human person, the child, has no value whatsoever; it’s like removing an abscess or a tooth. That’s a modern form of barbarism.”
A barbarism which takes its central tenet from Stalin: “Death solves all problems. No man (child), no problem.”