This post is part of the blogswarm – Abortion 7 April 2011. This isn’t about the right or wrong of it. This isn’t about the morality of it (for that, go to the utterly brillant page on The Hand Mirror for that). This is about treating abortion as a health issue rather than as a crime. For an alternate view of my discussion here, have a look at BeeFaerie’s blog.
When one talks about “pro-choice” there seems to be an automatic assumption of it meaning “choosing an abortion”. To me, this is illogical and prejudicial. To me, pro-choice means “Allow me to choose which of many options (including adoption and abortion) is best in my specific situation. Give me the respect – that I actually will think carefully about these things and not rush into any option”
Currently, abortion is a crime under section 182 of the Crimes Act 1961. It has interesting wording:
Killing unborn child
(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who causes the death of any child that has not become a human being in such a manner that he would have been guilty of murder if the child had become a human being.
(2) No one is guilty of any crime who before or during the birth of any child causes its death by means employed in good faith for the preservation of the life of the mother.
Section 183 gets even more interesting:
Procuring abortion by any means
(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether she is pregnant or not,—
(a) unlawfully administers to or causes to be taken by her any poison or any drug or any noxious thing; or
(b) unlawfully uses on her any instrument; or
(c) unlawfully uses on her any means other than any means referred to in paragraph (a) or paragraph (b).
(2) The woman or girl shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section.
My first thought on reading this is “Holy crap – it is an offence to procure miscarriage when you’re not pregnant???”
Section 187A goes on to talk about the definition of “unlawfully” as excluding (within 20 weeks gestation) any pregancy resulting from incest (grandparent, parent, sibling only), a pregnancy that would cause physical or mental harm to the woman, one where the child* would be severely mentally or physically “abnormal”, or where the woman is “severely subnormal”. Don’t you just love the way they say this?
Danger to the mental or physical health of the woman can, in part, be determined based on whether there are grounds to believe the pregnancy is due to sexual violation.
Now, all of this is handled in the Crimes Act. In other words, whether or not an abortion can be procured is considered in criminal terms. In fact, the way it is worded is that it says abortion is always a crime unless certain conditions apply. Way to make a woman feel confident.
To me, it is not quite so much the conditions because welfare of the woman, whether it would be kinder to the child to abort are all good things to consider. Rather, it is the manner in which they are considered. Sure, the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 provides some context around this, but it is still considered on a criminal basis. You simply do not manage welfare in a criminal context.
No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. ~Frederica Mathewes-Green
Putting any view of whether or not I support abortion to one side, it is without any question in my mind that we need to have a legislative framework around the issue of abortion. We need to be able to say “these are the rights of women, these are the things we will do to protect them, and maybe (just maybe) these are the things we will do to protect the child). Having a legislative framework does not necessitate considering it from a criminal point of view.
By treating abortion as a health issue, you get more people involved in the process. You remove a great deal of the emotion from the argument, because it is no longer a matter of doing wrong, but a matter of doing right. And that is precisely why I chose the title for this post. With phrases like that in our language, we have in our minds a “wrongness” about abortion. When the real wrong is how society considers the issue.
*I want to be extremely careful here. Some of my best friends have genetic conditions that make their lives very difficult. But the world is a far far better place with them in it. I have a genetic condition – one in which no-one would know whether it was mild or life-threatening until it manifested during puberty. To my dear friends, I want to apologise for the distress this post may very well cause.