New Zealand should have three referenda later this year, not two. There will be referenda on the “conscience issues” of euthanasia (End of Life Choice Bill) and the legalisation of cannabis. There should also be a referendum for the most difficult conscience issue of all – widely increased access to abortion (Abortion Legislation Bill).
The Government wants New Zealanders to pretend that abortion is not a conscience issue: the effect of the Abortion Legislation Bill is to rebrand abortion as a “health issue”. According to this view, the pregnant woman is the only person involved: the embryo/foetus is just a mass; the woman suffers from a condition (pregnancy) that is resolved by removing the mass.
It is not necessary here to describe how ludicrous and repulsive this view is; it is enough to point out that it is highly contentious – probably the most contentious moral issue most of us have ever encountered. Many New Zealanders consider the embryo/foetus to be either a human being or, in terms of its potential, “human enough” to require serious recognition and protection.
The pretence that this morally highly contentious issue is not a conscience issue at all is nothing short of dishonest – and should be rejected out of hand, not only in the interests of reason and common sense but also as a protest against that dishonesty.
This dishonesty was reinforced by the decision to exclude men (so far as possible) from membership of the Select Committee and by the Select Committee’s decision that submitters who oppose the Bill altogether (seeing no way to tweak it into decent shape) would not be permitted to appear before the Committee. Only those who support increased access to abortion were granted the privilege of a hearing. To use the machinery of our democracy to reduce public access to democratic processes is profoundly wrong.
As the Bill is not yet law, it remains for Parliament to decide whether abortion is a conscience issue or a health issue. For that reason, Parliament might (or might not) decide that the decision whether or not to pass the Bill is indeed a “conscience issue” and allow MPs a “personal vote” rather than a “party vote”. However, Parliament could also make a far better decision – put the matter to a referendum, along with euthanasia and cannabis.
There are compelling reasons why the issue should be resolved by referendum:
1) It is completely ridiculous to have a referendum on euthanasia, which allows a person to take their own life or to agree to be killed, and not to have a referendum on abortion which, according to many of us, allows a human being to be killed without their consent. Our law-making processes should not be ridiculous.
2) A referendum involves voting by secret ballot. However, when MPs cast a “personal vote”, they do so visibly, without the protection of secrecy. There may have been times when an MP’s conscience was safe from scrutiny and condemnation – he or she could express a conscientious objection with impunity. Certainly, this is not the case now. We see all around us that the ideologies of wokeness govern not only the law but also morality, and are equally dogmatic, condemning and unforgiving in both settings. We see that a conscientious objection to any woke dictate is “wrong” and is punished severely – for example, by crippling the objector’s career. MPs are no exception, they are ring-barked by wokeness in general and by hardline feminism in particular. They are not free, as perhaps they once were, to vote according to their conscience. We citizen voters are not as yet under siege to the same extent; and, anyhow, we have the security of a secret ballot. So, the issue should be left to us.
Abortion on demand is a conscience issue that should be addressed by those who are still free to vote with their conscience – the electorate, in a referendum.