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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 10. 1971

Law and Abortion

Law and Abortion.

At present the laws regarding abortion outside most of Asia and Africa are as follows:

In the United Kingdom abortions may be legally performed to preserve the life, physical and mental health of the pregnant woman or any of her existing children, or if there is a substantial risk of physical or mental abnormality in the fetus. In practice the situation is that if a girl or woman is fortunate in her choice of doctor and is living in or near a large centre, she will probably be able to obtain an abortion pretty well on demand. If she is unlucky, and poor, then although her situation may lie well within the strict bounds of the law, she may not be able to obtain an abortion. Any two doctors may recommend an abortion.

In Scandanavia the laws generally have been reformed but are tightly controlled. In Sweden the abortion decision is given after the Medical Board has examined each woman's case, if it is felt that there is a serious threat to life or to physical or mental health, arising from disease, a bodily defect, or exhaustion; for eugenic reasons; or in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or impregnation of girls under fifteen or sixteen. In Norway and Finland there are now similar laws. In Denmark there is a network of Mothers' Aid centres where abortion applications are processed and if refused, the girl or woman is given financial, medical and moral support in bringing the pregancy to term and in caring for the resulting child for up to two years.

In the rest of Western Europe, with the exception of Switzerland, abortion is either extremely difficult to obtain or else is banned altogether. Switzerland is halfway between Scandanavia and the rest of Western Europe—the law is less liberal than in Scandanavia and is most strictly enforced.

In Western Europe, generally, it should be noted, there remains a very high rate of illegal abortion, for most women wanting abortions do not fall into the legal categories.

In the Soviet Union, abortion on demand was introduced in 1920 banned in 1936 along with easy divorce, and reintroduced in 1955 after Stalin's death. Abortion is now available on demand, with a small fee required if there is no medical reason for it. There seems to be some indication that for "abortions on demand" there is often no anaesthetic given, in order to keep down the incidence of the operation.

Cartoon of abortion denial

page break

In Eastern Europe, unlike the Soviet Union, abortion, records are widely published, and the subject is widely debated. The law varies from abortion on demand, to something approaching the Scandanavian system; while in East Germany and Albania there is no legal abortion at all. In East Europe generally, the abortion rate is high; but it must be taken into account that there is a great deal of confusion in this area of the world. First of all, most East European countries are predominantly Roman Catholic, and the Catholic Church officially is now strongly anti-abortion. The governments, finding it difficult to reconcile their anti-malthusian theories with the reality of the rising birth rate and the consequent cost in schools, medical services etc., have not made birth control devices freely available, let alone promoted them. Abortion in this area, then, is used instead of contraceptives, and is switched on and off with the fluctuations of various governments' attitudes and theories.

The Nativity cartoon

Before 1860 abortion in Japan was not an offense at all. After the arrival of Christianity and the westernizing influences, it came to be punished more and more severely. At present, the legal position in Japan is that an abortion may be performed by any doctor when there is a defined possibility of hereditary disease or deformity, when the patient or her Spouse suffers from leprosy, when the woman's health may be impaired for physical or economic reasons, or if the pregnancy resulted from violence or compulsion. The law is broad, therefore, but it is in practice and not in fact that there is abortion on demand in Japan The law and its amendments were passed partly because of the serious overcrowding of the islands at the end of World War II; and partly because of the clear-eyed view the law had, that the real choice was not between the life of the fetus and the life or health of the woman; but between the life of the fetus and the life or health of the woman which may be injured by having an abortion performed by quacks.

In the United States, abortion on demand is now available in three states, while in several others it is available where the life of the woman is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest, or where there is a substantial risk of disease or deformity in the embryo. Even in the three most advanced states however, in practice there is no abortion on demand, for the operation must be performed in a hospital rather than a clinic or doctor's surgery, and the fee usually charged puts the operation out of reach of the women who need it most Prior to the repeal and reform of some of the states' abortion laws, there grew up in some large cities, groups of Protestant and Jewish clergymen who organised a Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, freely available to any woman, counselling women without coercion and if the desire for the abortion was firm, recommending safe illegal abortions. The experience of these courageous and humane people led them to believe that reform of the law would do little to relieve the suition of illegal abortions and overburdened women, and that "it is the solemn and religious obligation of the church" to press for free abortion on demand.

In Canada the old ambiguous laws on abortion were reformed in 1969 when the Criminal Code was amended; legally a woman can now obtain an abortion to preserve her life or health. The interpretation varies widely from abortion on demand for fortunate well-to-do women in large cities and with sympathetic psychiatrists, to no abortion under any circumstances for poor women, or those serviced solely by a Catholic hospital or doctor Pressure is increasing to repeal the abortion law entirely in that country.

In Latin America generally, abortions are forbidden by the Catholic authoritarian governments. In that continent, where the well-to-do women use the Pill as freely as their North American Catholic sisters, the poor women, the mass of women, resort to sticks and sharp implements to abort themselves, with the result that the largest quantity of blood for transfusions in many hospitals, is used to try to save some of the lives of abortion victims, women tormented by constant pregnancies in the midst of appalling poverty. In Chile alone have recent governments begun to educate poor women in birth control (particularly the "loop" or intrauterine device) with resulting lower abortion rates.

New Zealand's abortion law is ambiguous Strictly interpreted, an abortion is permitted only to save the life of the pregnant woman, sometimes, following the English case of Dr. Alec Bourne in 1938, and others, it has been interpreted more liberally on the principle that there is no clear line between preserving life and preserving health. More recently however, because the law is unclear, many doctors arc finding themselves unable to practise their profession according to their best judgement because of attempts by one section of the community to impose its morals upon the rest of the N. Z. population.

Image of a foetus