Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 9. 1ts May 1973
Abortion March Successful
The abortion march on April 13 was a success, despite miserable weather contitions. A hundred and eighty people turned out in driving rain and cold temperatures to demand repeal of the abortion laws. The march was militant and lively, chanting as it moved through the streets: "Repeal the abortion laws!", "A woman's right to choose!", "1, 2, 3, 4, no more abortion laws!"—the message was loud and clear to those standing on the footpaths.
This year there was no opposing march as there had been on both occasions last year (May 5 and July 18). Instead, anti-abortionists leafleted the bystanders along the sides of the march, while a number of them waited at the Town Hall to meet us as we arrived for the rally. However, apart from waving pictures of foetuses in front of one of the speakers, they caused little disturbance. Two of their number had come along dressed as executioners, complete with axe, and tacked themselves onto the rear of the march, The significance of this masquerade was rather obscured after the police confiscated their axe before the march began.
Four people gave short speeches at the rally: Jacqueline McCluggage, speaking for the Women's Abortion Action Committee; Helen Smith, a member of the Values Party and Porirua City Councillor; Shirley Smith, a Wellington lawyer, and Alison Laurie, a feminist who has recently returned to New Zealand after being involved in the abortion movements in Denmark and the U.S.
The success of this march, and the support marches all over the country have received from many organisations and prominent individuals, indicates the widening acceptance of the demands raised by the abortion rights movement. Only a few years ago abortion was not even talked about in public, let alone proclaimed a woman's right and openly campaigned for. The abortion rights movement, which was stimulated by the growth of feminism, has lifted this taboo on abortion and brought the issue out into the streets.
Why we Organise Marches
The Women's Abortion Action Committee wants to reach out to large numbers of people, not only to make them aware of our aims, but to involve them in building a strong, powerful movement to repeal the laws. By organising marches, we can provide a focus for continuing educational activities and a way of involving the maximum number of people in fighting for repeal. We encourage the participation of women, because these are the people who suffer most directly from the unjust laws, who know the fear of having an unwanted pregnancy. The accent is on participation because this is an issue which will derive most of its support from women, yet women have been brought up to expect men to make their decisions and fight their battles for them, few are confident enough to stand up and demand their rights in such a controversial matter as abortion. Through leafleting, posters and all the other publicity which is part of the build-up to a march we can let women know that we want them to join us, that they don't need to stand on the sidelines, they can act, and their involvement will mean that we can challenge the laws even more effectively.
A demonstration has an impact on other people besides those involved in it. It shows the anti-abortionists that we won't be intimidated by their opposition, that we will not tone down our campaign for fear of raising the ire of the churches and other influential opponents of abortion. We will bring our demands into the streets despite their efforts to stop us. A march attracts publicity, especially if it is lively and spirited, spreading our demands to many more people, especially the many women who are confined to their houses. It also lets the government know that we are active and growing, that we mean business and we don't intend to let the pressure off them. Not, at least, until we get what we want: Complete, total repeal of all the laws—the right to have an abortion when and if we choose.
Prof Liley Raises Questions
At a recent meeting for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the national president. Professor A.W. Liley, said that the steady upward creep of what are still ludicrously called "therapeutic" abortions in New Zealand suggests the "inevitability of gradualness", the same sort of progression which saw the Weimar Republic become the SS State of Hitler. That the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association should report this trend, with apparent satisfaction is an interesting measure of the sincerity of the claim that the organisation does not wish to see more abortions.
According to Professor Liley, the longer this trend continues the more lurid become the statistics, the more blatant become the abuses and the greater becomes the discrepancy between the misplaced idealism of some legislators and the sordid reality of the practice. In this context he said, these claims and questions needed re-examination:
1) If, as we have been told, the majority of women needing abortions are not promiscuous and irresponsible but are married and responsible, how does it happen that half of the women having abortions in Britain are single divorced or widowed?
The legislators of Hawaii were a tittle bewildered after being reassured that the majority of candidates for abortion—would be married, to find that 85 percent were single.
2) If abortion is the neat and tidy answer to illegitimacy, how can anyone explain in the 1970 UK figures which show that 4-5 abortions have to be done to prevent the live birth of one illegitimate baby? (Registrar-General's Statistical Review of England and Wales 1970: Supplement on Abortion 1972; National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, Annual Report, April, 1970 - March 1971.)
3. If legal abortion is the answer to illegal abortion how can 58,663 legal abortions notified to the Registrar-General in the UK in 1969 produce a fall of twelve in maternal deaths from illegal abortions and produce a corresponding 12 deaths from legal abortions to leave the total precisely as before? (British Medical Journal, 30/9/72, page 826.)
We are assured, of course, that the explanation lies in the late stage of pregnancy at which UK legal abortions are done—they should have been done safely in the first trimester as in Hungary—but...
4. Why have Hungarian claims of only 1.2 deaths/100,000 first trimester abortions been not remotely approached by first trimester abortion mortality in Denmark, Yugoslavia or Oregon (23.0, 22.5, 18.6 per 100,000 first trimester abortion respectively)?
Hungarian claims of the safety of abortion look extremely suspect alongside an overall maternal mortality among the worst in Europe and a high death rate from spontaneous abortion.
5. If abortion and family planning are the answers to the 'battered baby' and 'child abuse', how could the 4½-year survey of 400 battered babies by Professor Lenkowski, Department of Pediatrics, USC Medical School, find that 90% were in fact planned pregnancies?
Is abortion the answer to the battered baby—or simply another and more lethal manifestation of it—of a trend which no longer regards children as children but as property or chattels to be disposed of or dealt with at a parent's whim?
6. If contraception and education are the answers to unwanted pregnancy and the alternative to abortion, how can we believe the experience of Dr. Michael Brudenell at King's College Hospital: "Of 300 women with unplanned pregnancies request termination and seen by me personally, 79% had used either no contraception at all or a method which they knew to be unsatisfactory. Among this group were many intelligent women, including students, nurses, teaches and doctors and barristers.
"Furthermore, few of these unplanned pregnancies resulted from a single unplanned intercourse: most were the result of regular liaisons so that failure to take proper contraceptive measures in these patients is a recurrent phenomenon." (Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. 65, 155-158.)
'And how' Professor Liley asked, 'does one explain that Sweden with two generations of sex education, can still have a rising illegitimacy rate, a rising abortion rate and a rising VD rate?
The submissions of the Royal College of Obstreticians and Gynaecologists to the Lane Commission ended with the usual pious platitudes about the need for more sex education and freer availability of contraception.
A leader in the British Medical Journal on "Unplanned Pregnancies" shared these sentiments. This led one exasperated reader (British Medical Journal, 6/5/72, p. 348) to write: "When will we ever learn? For never in the whole field of human history has so much been spoken so freely and openly and for so long, on so singular a subject as sex is now. To deny this is merely foolish.
"Yet in spite of this unwanted pregnancies continue not to decline but to escalate. Clearly there is something wrong somewhere. It teems to me that education itself may be one of the factors, especially if it is the wrong education, as much of the current propaganda would seem to be.
"At least some pro-abortionists have the candour to drop any facade of philanthropy and preach an unadulterated hedonism and doctrine of "situation ethics" and "enriching experience". Some are still squeamish enough to prefer a semantic smokescreen and are distressed by the publication of unpalatable facts.
"Dr. Lendrum Shettles is a world authority on early human development and the implantation of the fertilised ovum. He stated that it was indisputable that human life began at conception. Colleagues asked him to retract this statement as it was 'disturbing'. In a letter to the New York Times, Doctor Shettles publicly declined to do so.
"When Mr Justice Blackman, Senior Justice of the nine-man US Supreme Court Bench, was asked why, since the court had discarded historic claims of the humanity of the foetus, they had not considered modern evidence, he replied that the court had not had time."
Someone, however, has to have—or make—time for the foetus, and that is what the membership of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child is about.
When does human life begin?
One of the two most basic questions involved in the abortion issue is "When does human life begin?" In answering this question we must observe the source of knowledge upon which the opinions are based.
The most noteworthy scientific body within the last decade to consider this problem was the First International Conference on Abortion held in 1967, U.S.A. The decision of this conference, (of which 20% were Catholic with the ratio being worked out proportionately on academic discipline, race and religion) was 19 to 1 in support of the following statement: "The majority of our group could find no point in time between the union of sperm and egg, or at least the blastocyst stage, and the birth of the infant at which time we could say that this was not a human life. The change occurring between implantation, a six weeks embryo, a six months foetus, a one week old child, or a mature adult are merely stages of development and maturation."
Since this is the most qualified body ever to discuss the question and come to a conclusion, from a scientific standpoint the abortion debate must proceed on the assumption that this is human life. As this is human life we can say therefore that an infant once was a foetus but not that it has come from a foetus. (In the same way, an adult once was a child but has not come from a child.)
The other basic question in this debate is centred around the saying, "A woman has the right to control her own body". (Just as a man has the right to control his own body.) While people agree that every person has (or should have) the right to control her/his body, is the foetus part of the woman's body? The organs within the woman's body e.g. the heart, the lungs etc. all have cells which carry the same genetic code as the mother and therefore are very much part of that women's body. However, the new living being within the womb of the mother has a genetic code that is totally different from each of its parents. It is in truth a completely separate growing organism—this is not part of her own body but rather it is another person's body and as such the mother has no right to exercise control over it.
Who is to say that the mother's right to control her own body is greater than that of the unborn child to life? These rights are equal coexisting rights and so neither is greater than the other.
Does a woman have the right to privacy over her own body? Yes she does, but if she does something to surrender this right, (e.g. she may be bashing some of her children) then the law will not protect her. The right of the child to life is far greater than the right of a mother to privacy.
There are many other issues in this debate that have not been dealt with here because I feel that these two questions are the most crucial to the whole question. Having dealt with these I will leave it to others to argue the remainder.
Petra Van Den Munckhos