WelCom September 2017: The Catholic Bishops 2017 Election Statement reminds us our voting choices must be guided by our faith. It specifically highlights ‘pro-life policies’, including upholding/advocating for policies and laws that protect the right to life of the unborn child and promote effective support for pregnant women.
Various politicians, and more than one political party, have outlined their commitment to ‘decriminalising’ abortion, by which is generally meant removing abortion from the Crimes Act and making it solely a matter of choice (‘on demand’) for women. This is of serious concern for many reasons.
Firstly, and most obviously, Catholic teaching unequivocally holds that abortion constitutes a crime against innocent human life which, biology confirms, begins at conception – it is, morally speaking, an act that can never be justified. At the same time, we need to acknowledge the reality that many women find themselves choosing abortion under extreme duress – whether financial, emotional or psychological. Thus, as Pope Francis has recently emphasised, while underlining the sinfulness of ‘sending the kids back before they are born’, we must also highlight the importance and availability of God’s forgiving grace.
Secondly, because so many woman choose abortions under duress, it is in the interest of free and informed consent and empowerment that all women contemplating an abortion go through a ‘process’ – one that includes independent counselling and is capable of addressing the coercive realities that lead so many women to have an abortion, that highlights the many risks associated with an abortion and identifies the other options that would enable them to keep the child. So-called ‘abortion on demand’ will not help women achieve this.
Thirdly, the desire to ‘decriminalise’ abortion reflects an erroneous belief held by many that the current New Zealand law ‘criminalises’ women. In fact, the law as it stands lays out criteria which, if met, mean an abortion is lawful. In circumstances where the specified criteria are not met, Section 183 of the Crimes Act (1961) explicitly spells out that ‘the woman or girl shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section’.
The present law is not perfect, particularly in the way it is being interpreted and applied. But ‘abortion on demand’, which would allow some abortions right up to birth, is a solution that is neither in the interests of the unborn child nor those contemplating an abortion.
Dr John Kleinsman
Dr John Kleinsman is Director of the NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre.