Proposed abortion law fundamentally flawed, Catholic bishops tell Parliament

The proposed new abortion law is fundamentally flawed because it removes any requirement to take the rights of the unborn child into consideration, says an oral submission from the Catholic bishops and the church’s Nathaniel Bioethics Centre to a Parliamentary committee.

John Kleinsman and Julianne Hickey told the Abortion Legislation Committee on 24 September that the current 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.

“A fundamental flaw of the proposed new legal regime is that there will no longer be any requirement to take into consideration the rights of the unborn child. This is biologically, humanly and ethically dishonest,” they said.

The Abortion Legislation Bill seeks to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and provide a new legislative framework that treats abortion as a health issue. If passed, it would replace the existing 1977 law. It will be voted on as a conscience issue by members of Parliament. The committee is hearing public submissions on the bill, which was introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 8 August.

John Kleinsman is the director of the Nathaniel Centre, the bioethics agency of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference. Julianne Hickey appeared with him before the committee on behalf of the NZCBC, for which she works as Executive Director of Caritas, the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development. She was not speaking on behalf of Caritas.

They were speaking to the committee about the NZCBC and Nathaniel Centre written submissions on the bill.

They told the committee that ignoring the existence of the unborn child denies women the right to deal with abortion as the significant moral issue that it is.

“We do not serve women well by creating a legal narrative that abortion is only about the rights and choice of women. 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.

“This leads to the second key point. Looking at abortion as a health issue, one of the factors that distinguishes abortion from other medical procedures is the very real risk of coercion.

“Choices are always made in a context and shaped by that context – in many cases limited by the context in which we find ourselves making that choice. 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.

“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.”

Read the full written submission here. The oral submission is here.