by NZ CATHOLIC staff
MPs on a select committee considering the Abortion Legislation Bill have heard an oral submission from the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Nathaniel Centre, the NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre.
The Nathaniel Centre director, Dr John Kleinsman, and Julianne Hickey, executive director of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, spoke to the select committee on September 24.
The NZCBC and the Nathaniel Centre had submitted a joint written submission.
Dr Kleinsman told the MPs that Catholic teaching on abortion is premised
on a belief that embryos and fetuses are entitled to be granted a place in the human family and to be treated with the same respect as persons, whatever their stage of development.
Every pregnancy involves at least two lives — the mother and her unborn child, Dr Kleinsman said. Therefore, there are at least two sets of human rights.
“To hold that the fetus is not a ‘legal’ person ignores the fact that a genetically unique human life has begun which is neither that of the father or the mother,” Dr Kleinsman continued.
Quoting from a 2003 ruling by Judge Sir John McGrath, Dr Kleinsman pointed out that “the rule according legal rights only at birth is in modern times one founded on convenience. It does not rest on medical or moral principle”.
“The current abortion law rightly recognises that every abortion decision
involves the resolution of a tension between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child.”
The inconsistency of ignoring the existence of the unborn child with maintaining section 182 of the Crimes Act (Killing Unborn Child) was pointed out.
The creation of a legal narrative that is only about the rights and choices of
women was also critiqued.
“Every woman who chooses an abortion needs to know there is an emotional, spiritual and psychological space within which she can later deal with her decision, as required. That space is, in the first instance, either created or destroyed by the language we use, including the narrative generated by the law governing abortions,” Ms Hickey told the MPs.
The oral submission also touched on the subjects of coercion and consequences.
“Abortion is not an acceptable societal response to financial poverty or to
a lack of physical or emotional support. Neither is it an acceptable solution to partner pressure or sexual violence,” Ms Hickey said.
“Those women whose decision to have an abortion is made from a place of ‘no other choice’ are much more likely to experience negative emotional and psychological consequences.”
The oral submission discussed free and informed consent. Ms Hickey stated
“ . . . the proposed bill is more out of step with modern health law . . . because it substantially weakens the process for obtaining informed consent and detecting coercion”.
The submission recommended that “every abortion should necessarily involve a counselling session by someone independent of the abortion provider”.
The select committee was also told of concerns around the proposed new
law allowing abortions on the basis of gender, enabling late-term abortions “on demand” because of “an incredibly weak test”, and that late-term abortions on the basis of fetal abnormality will no longer be explicitly prevented.
Contrary to what the bill’s explanatory note states about “additional layers of legislative requirement” around abortion being “out of step with modern health law”, the oral submission argued that, because of what is involved in an abortion, it is “entirely appropriate” that regulations surrounding abortion involve “additional layers” of requirements “not attendant on other medical procedures”.
Caritas also made a written submission on the bill.
Among the points it made were that making abortions easier to get, as the
bill proposes, does nothing to address serious underlying issues.
“When you live in poverty, or are socially shamed, or are feeling coerced or
isolated, ‘choice speak’ is meaningless because you don’t have real choices or options,” the submission stated.
It also noted that human rights implications such as freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination in employment concerns arise from the bill.
Caritas also noted that Māori are over-represented in abortion statistics.
“This bill doesn’t address underlying economic, cultural and justice issues.”