National MP Agnes Loheni, the first Pacific Island woman in the New Zealand Parliament,     
speaks against abortion as health care bill

Treating abortion as health care and completely discarding the humanity and rights of the unborn child appears to be a cause whose time has come in Australasia. A new generation of “reproductive rights” warriors are determined to put their stamp on the sexual revolution.

In the same week that a majority of legislators in the Australian state of New South Wales accepted for debate a bill that effectively allows abortion on demand up until birth, the New Zealand Parliament voted by 95 to 23 for a very similar piece of legislation.

Both bills remove abortion from the criminal code and treat it as an untrammelled right until 22 weeks (NSW) or 20 weeks (NZ) gestation. After that a second doctor’s signature is all that is required to authorise the termination of an unborn child’s life at gestations when others are being kept alive in neonatal intensive care units.

In New Zealand this radical change has been pushed by the Green Party, partners in a Labour-led coalition government. The sole remaining restriction would have been set at 22 weeks except that the Labour leadership wanted to be sure to “get it over the line” with slightly more conservative MPs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sees the issue totally in terms of women’s rights. She thinks it is terrible that they have had to lie for 40 years to have abortion on demand (claiming to be in danger of mental collapse if unable to end an unwanted pregnancy). Somehow this pretence is worse than actually ending the life of a human being. “The time is right for us to put women's dignity and rights at the centre of this discussion,” she said at the first reading.

Ardern said she had grown up in a religious household (Mormon) and respects people's rights to hold their views. “But I draw a line when holding that view impedes on the rights of others.” Like so many others she refuses to see, or acknowledge the rights of those “others” in the womb.

It was expected that most Labour MPs would support the bill (42 out of 46) but it was surprising and dismaying that three-fifths of National MPs (33 of 55), including their leader Simon Bridges voted for it.

The greatest surprise, however, came from Labour’s other coalition partner, New Zealand First, which announced at the last minute that it wants a referendum on the issue. Although referenda on controversial issues is a party policy (and includes euthanasia and cannabis legalisation) there had been no mention of it in inter-party talks on the bill.

All the pro-bill people are against a referendum, it turns out, even though they claim that majority public opinion is on their side. Various reasons are advanced, but it is clear that the government wants the issue well out of the way before next year’s general election. That is why they have allowed only six weeks for public submissions – compared with the year we had for the euthanasia bill. If the latter consultation showed anything it was that considered opinion is against playing fast and loose with human life.    

After the first reading in the unicameral Parliament, the bill goes to a parliamentary Select Committee for review. Then there will be a second and possibly third reading. The legislation will probably become law in about six months.

Members speak up for the unborn child

There were several excellent speeches from National MPs at the first reading debate. Here is a sampling from the Hansard record:

Simon O’Connor: …the fundamental reason I oppose this bill is I believe in human rights, and human rights are for all. They're for mums and they're for babies, and where rights start to occur for some and not for others, we no longer have human rights. Across history, we as humans have a very sad legacy of where regimes have sought—often when they're in positions of power—to remove the rights of others. These regimes of the past, and certainly in recent centuries, always start by defining a category of people as non-human, as not the same as us. Once that change of definition is done, that denial of human rights is done, the abuses start.

So for me this debate is simply really a question of whether the unborn child is a human or not, and I stand with those who say that it is, for it can be none other. Consequently, the unborn child has human rights. In fact, it has the most fundamental of all human rights, and that is the right to life. My wife said to me that every pregnant woman gives birth to a human, nothing else. She is pregnant with a human being, and this is incontrovertible. Those in favour of terminating the unborn work exhaustively to avoid this fact, but, as I say, what develops at conception is simply each and every one of us—just a little bit younger. As some have said, they're just cells in the womb. Oddly, too, we are cells—just a little older.

The sad irony of this debate is those who proclaim their love of human rights are actively seeking to remove it from some. It has been said, “I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” I think the sort of statement of those born and advocating abortion would be what progressives call the position of privilege, where those with power exercise it over those without. I think those who call themselves progressives in this Parliament will find themselves in the uncomfortable position in the debate of the unborn of actually being the privileged, the people of power and those who can dominate others. They already have rights, but they are open and willing to remove them from others. The unborn child is, arguably, the most vulnerable of all human beings, those with disabilities and those who are unborn girls even more so. For us to say we believe in human rights, then the truth of what is said comes down to whether such rights apply to those who need them most, and I would argue, in this case, the unborn.

As a colleague of mine in Australia has said recently, the best chapters in our history have been when we have recognised the innate dignity of others, but our worst have been when people with rights have decided that others should not have them. I always have and always will stand and speak for those who promote human rights for all. I'll always stand with those who speak without a voice. I'll always stand and always will with the unborn and those who are becoming mothers. I'll always stand with the most vulnerable in our community and challenge those who use their power against them. I will always stand with those who struggle to be themselves in a society that demands able uniformity. And I'll always stand behind those hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders working every day to promote the rights of all human beings—mothers and babies; not just those deemed worthy.

Agnes Loheni: No matter which way one tries to dress this up, we are discussing the termination of a life. We can play tug of war and quibble over whether we are talking viable life, six weeks, 12 weeks, 20 weeks, actual life, or a life not until it's born, but at least we are talking about the life of a baby facing termination. So to dress this bill in euphemistic language that talks of health issues is disingenuous.

The vast majority of abortions are performed as a result of unintended pregnancies. The most common reasons cited are that pregnancy would interfere with education, work, or an ability to care for existing children. Financial stress also plays a part, as does the realisation that a mother felt her family was already complete. I understand that. I was shocked to find out that I was pregnant with my fifth child after my husband and I agreed we would stop at four. You go through a range of emotions with a shock unexpected pregnancy. But for most of us mothers, we very quickly get over it and proceed with our lives and our pregnancies, and I ended up with a beautiful son after having four gorgeous daughters. … 

To medicalise abortion is to deceive ourselves as to what we are deciding to do. This is not a cancer we are cutting out of our bodies. It is not a collection of cells akin to those, say, in our finger, that a quick cut will eradicate. It is a distinct human life with its own DNA, heartbeat, and brain function. The child is both part of us and distinct from us, and it needs us to help he or she into the world and requires us to be ongoing in the child's care once it arrives. All mothers know that moment we find we are pregnant, and our hand goes instinctively and protectively to our stomachs—that we have a life inside of us. So I take exception to the idea that wanting to protect the unborn child somehow is archaic, medieval, uncaring, or old-fashioned. It is not progressive to want to speed up the process of termination; it is regressive and anti the value we place on life both unborn and born.

Simeon Brown: Some would argue that these late-term abortions are extremely rare, so are not worth talking about. But how does that follow? MPs must answer the question themselves: is a child, born or unborn, at 24 weeks deserving of some form of legal protection due to its viability outside the mother's womb? If yes, then they should be protected by law. Regardless of how rare such abortions are, it is our job as legislators to provide legal protection for these vulnerable New Zealanders.

This child can respond to stimuli. It can recognise sounds, especially the sound of his or her own mother's voice. Developmentally, there is no difference between the born and unborn 24-week child; it is simply a question of position.

The question also needs to be answered whether this bill will allow for abortion of disabled children, such as with Down's syndrome, or for sex selection—concerning questions which I hope will be answered.

Paulo Garcia: Everybody knows in this House that I am a Christian and I am Catholic, and this is part of my life. This is how I live and how I think and how I make decisions. I stand now to say this: that my being, my faith, my religion does not make me stand in judgment. It does not make me stand in disdain. It makes me stand because I am saddened.

The most number of abortions happen when women find themselves with unwanted pregnancies. For me, every time I hear the words “unwanted pregnancy”, it is a saddening combination of words. … It mirrors an absolute absence of love from a mother to her child. That absolute absence of love is a reflection of the circumstances that this mother finds herself in. It is a reflection of the absolute lack of love in her circumstances, in her environment, that prevents her from feeling love for her child—thus, the unwanted pregnancy.

In ideal circumstances the love would be there. In the absence of love, the difficulties arise. But as we speak as members of a House of a Parliament that is focused on caring for the most vulnerable, then in a situation where mother and child are the most vulnerable, I stand and [plead] that both be recognised.

Carolyn Moynihan is Deputy Editor of MercatorNet. She writes from Auckland.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet