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Abortion: morality and health

by Lamia Imam

Recently there have been murmurings in New Zealand politics around euthanasia, medical marijuana and the worst of the bunch – abortion. These conscience issues tends to irritate politicians of all shades because they irritate “the public”. They are uncomfortable topics because so much of the narrative is wrapped up in morality.

In the case of abortion, the unspoken narrative is that women should be punished for having sex and getting pregnant because they should know that it is a potential consequence. But why shouldn’t women have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care? Why shouldn’t women have access to affordable and reliable abortion services without being criminalised?

There has been a petition to parliament that would require parental notification for someone under 16 seeking an abortion in an effort to restrict access. Our current laws are outdated and there are always organizations like Right to Life who are trying to put even more limitations to access.

The morality of sex and pregnancy always seems to be about women and not the men who are party to it as well. Pregnancy as a health issue always takes a back seat when a woman’s right to make health decisions about her own body is given the same weight as an organisation’s right to assert religious authority on a stranger.

Last week there was a study from Hawaii, a state that reduced its teen pregnancy and abortion rates after it scrapped “abstinence only” sex education. If we as a society really want to lower teen pregnancy rates, then we should have comprehensive sex education in schools, which includes consent. Teenagers will have sex. There’s absolutely no way around it. Instead of just demonising young women, we should give them the tools to make safe decisions.

Right now it is possible for Kiwi women to access abortion services but it isn’t completely legal. Women still have to jump through hoops and waiting periods to get an abortion. Anyone who has gone through our public health care system and had to wait for results or wait to see a specialist knows how distressing and stressful that can be. Even with comprehensive sexual education and the emergency contraceptive pill (morning after pill), pregnancies will occur. Not everyone gets pregnant in the same circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances which in it of itself are traumatising increases the difficulty a woman might face with a pregnancy. Demonising women because of a health condition is counter-productive.

So often, the pro-life conversation is dominated by those who have regretted getting an abortion. But for every person who regrets getting one, there are many others who are relieved to have the choice. Their voices are shut out. Progressive abortion laws don’t force anyone to get an abortion but regressive ones definitely prevent people from getting one. A person can only “choose to keep the baby” if they have the choice not to. Otherwise it isn’t a choice.

Politicians do not want to talk about this issue because it doesn’t poll well with the voters. Politicians want to win elections but the purpose of winning elections is to govern. Governance requires making decisions that are sometimes unpopular. We elect people to represent us but also to exercise judgment on our behalf.

They have the resources to convene committees, get expert testimonies and make decisions that are based on evidence. We, as individuals, do not have that luxury when forming an opinion on an issue. They may not want to deal with this issue but dealing with it is in their job description. It’s time someone reminded politicians that winning elections isn’t their job, governing is.

Lamia Imam (B.A. Hons and LLB, Canterbury) recently completed Masters in Public Administration at the LBJ School of Public Affairs (University of Texas at Austin), focusing on election law, empirical & financial analysis of public policy, campaigns and public relations. She has presented, as part of a team of researchers, on the use of social media by congressional committees at the Congressional Research Service in Washington D.C. She previously worked at the NZ Parliament for the Labour Leader’s Office and at the Office of Treaty Settlements in Wellington. 

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