Abortion as election issue: What would it mean?

Yesterday’s High Court ruling that the Abortion Supervisory Committee has not used its full power to scrutinise the circumstances in which consultants authorise abortions on mental health grounds has woken a sleeping giant.

Russell Brown sums up the way things have operated for the past three decades well: “We knew the process was a fudge, but it has long seemed to be a fudge the majority of the country can live with.” On the other hand, as David Farrar points out, “the proper way to change laws is through public vote or the legislature – not through the back door”, “even though it would probably be a very heated debate.”

Farrar is correct in principle about effecting legislative change on such issues after proper public debate. But the modus vivendi that quickly became established after the passage of the 1977 Act did seem to reflect the preferences of most people, so I’m a little torn about this, and not looking forward to the debate, which will inevitably be heated.

Will it become an election issue, and, if it does, how will that play?

Even back in the 1970s, I recall, most NZers supported some degree of abortion on demand. I doubt whether the proportion of the population has declined. Increased if anything. Further, should the law need to be modified to reflect the prevailing more liberalised practice, I suspect that the balance in Parliament is now more pro- than anti- abortion. It is vastly more representative of the population by age, gender and ethnicity, for one thing.

The election may make a major difference to the balance of forces in Parliament, however. And it is unlikely that a new law could be passed before the House rises before the election, even if the election takes place at the latest possible time. This makes abortion a major election issue, should a higher court not put the sleeping giant back to rest.

As stargazer notes over at Handmirror, this issue will give the christian political parties the “kind of publicity they need, without having to pay for it.” She correctly points out that the reluctance of people like myself to become engaged in an ugly debate is not matched by the christian right:

“… I don’t doubt that they honestly believe in the justness of their cause. And therein lies the danger. This level of fervour, the deep-seated conviction that is backed by a regular source of tithing income, is indeed a difficult thing to fight.

“… while we hesitate, they’re organised and they are marching on. I think we have no choice but to respond.”

I think she’s right, but I think that we will respond, just as we did last time. I think also that the National Party list presents a big danger, and is where attention should be focussed too.

If abortion becomes a live election issue, then we must ensure that every candidate’s position is known, given that the vote will be a ‘conscience’ vote. This may even have an impact on the final outcome of the election, should the views of the predominantly white and male National Party list not reflect those of the voters.

[Update: Chris Trotter’s take, which complements my analysis can be found here.
Also, the scrutiny of MP’s individual positions has begun. Idiot Savant’s post concludes that, “While National contains a few liberals on this issue (Dr Jackie Blue and Dr Paul Hutchison being notable examples), it has a seriously disproportionate number of conservatives and outright medievalists.”]

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6 Responses to “Abortion as election issue: What would it mean?”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    I predict that the Nats (and in particular, Key) will do everything they can to defuse the issue. Key was hugely reluctant to campaign on the anti-smacking legislation because of it’s immensely emotive, divisive nature. An abortion debate would be even worse. There are vastly differing opinions on the subject right up and down the political spectrum. It would be almost impossible to fight a coherent election as this would be the all-encompassing issue. Rational debate would also end as most people (including me) have a fairly fixed opinion on this.
    My guess is most parties will tough this one out until the MSM and bloggers get tired of it. Alternatively, Helen Clark will quickly kick it to touch in the form of a select committee, if things look like they are heating up.

  2. Sconehead Says:

    I have a fairly fixed opinion on this too.

    Helen Clark and other recent governments are pro-death.

    It’s a catastrophe, especially for the 12,000 or so (and increasing, it might even be 18,000 I haven’t seen the ‘Health’ Department figures lately) foetuses killed each year.

    I can’t – honestly – see how abortion on demand can be justified. We should be tightening up the requirements not loosening them. I know it’s a complex legal, ethical and moral question in some people’s mind but it’s not one that we have had much of a public discussion of in recent years. Meanwhile the numbers of abortions are steadily increasing – it’s become a form of contraception.

    We now have a situation where we have little or no waiting lists for state-funded abortions while people are dying on waiting lists for other, presumabaly less important, life-saving surgery.

    Madness barely comes close to describing the situation.

    If we were to have a referendum on the matter, I would suggest that we give a vote to each of the foetuses killed since this current legislation was passed (in the late 1970s?). The result would be easy to imagine.

  3. MacDoctor Says:

    If we were to have a referendum on the matter, I would suggest that we give a vote to each of the foetuses killed since this current legislation was passed (in the late 1970s?). The result would be easy to imagine.

    Yup. Zero for and zero against…

  4. Sconehead Says:

    ‘Yup. Zero for and zero against…’

    That sounds like you, jafapete.

    Actually, the suicide vote, though not zero, is very small.

    And while we are at it…I also think we should ask our forebears too what they think of clinically induced death. I doubt they’d go along with it.

    [Scone. Clever, yes. Me, no.]

  5. thehairyarmpit Says:

    There shouldn’t even be a debate at all. Legal and safe abortions are a woman’s right. Where have all the feminists gone?

  6. Sconehead Says:

    ‘There shouldn’t even be a debate at all.’

    Thanks Ms. Stalin. It’s so much easier that way, isn’t it. But I thought we were living in a democracy of sorts.

    Hairy armpits (except on women) and abortion on demand – like Stalinism -are not good things. I’m sure we can manage very nicely without either.

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