Hansard (debates)


Copeland, Gordon: General Debate


GORDON COPELAND (Independent) : On 1 April 2008 we marked the 30th anniversary of the commencement of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977. In that 30-year period approximately 360,000 abortions have been performed in New Zealand. No words can express how distressing I find that figure.

For that reason, I want to talk today about my member’s bill, the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Informed Consent) Amendment Bill. Before I do so, however, I need to make my personal position in relation to this matter clear. It was in 1974—around 4 years before the current abortion law was enacted—that, following a time of reflection and extensive reading on the subject, I came to the simple and irrefutable conclusion that abortion ends a human life. In my 60s I am Gordon Copeland. I was Gordon Copeland in my 20s, when I started school, the day I was born, and during the time in my mother’s womb. The inescapable fact is that had my life been ended by any means at any time after conception, then I would not be standing here today. The same is true for each one of us.

Having said that, however, I need to make it clear that my bill does not attempt to ban abortion but rather to update and modernise the existing law in two ways. Firstly, it introduces the concept of informed consent. The present abortion legislation pre-dates by many years the Cartwright inquiry and therefore the principle of informed consent as a prerequisite to patients agreeing to a medical procedure. To the best of my knowledge this is now standard practice throughout the whole field of medical practice in New Zealand, with abortion being the sole exception. Secondly, my bill stipulates that, in line with the situation in European countries such as the Netherlands, a decision to proceed with an abortion made by a woman with child must be certified as having been made on a completely free-will basis.

I believe that these two principles will have majority support both in Parliament and in New Zealand. I have reached that conclusion for three reasons. Firstly, people who adopt a pro-choice position in relation to abortion would nevertheless, I think, agree that informed choice is always better than uninformed choice. The same rationale applies to free will. A woman who is forced to make the decision to abort her child under duress—from the child’s father, her family, or her friends—-is, in truth, making no choice at all. Yet that was precisely the situation faced by Angela Thompson, a pseudonym, in her moving story published in the Dominion Post on 21 January 2006. Angela is just one of the thousands of women who were placed in exactly that position. Thirdly, many people from both sides of the debate, whether pro-choice or pro-life, are now agreed that New Zealand’s abortion rate is too high. Women in New Zealand are 2½ times more likely to get an abortion than in Germany or Holland. Likewise, our abortion rate is high. The number of abortions per 1,000 live births was calculated to be 312—that is the average for the years 2003 to 2006 inclusive. That compares with the USA rate in 2001 of 246, which, I am told, has dropped further since.

New Zealand now has the highest abortion rate in the developed world. The downward trend in the USA is attributed both to a growing awareness that abortion harms women and to a trend to pass bills such as that I am advocating today, at the State level. Similar legislation is being talked about in the UK. The Christchurch health and development study, which has been following the progress of 1,265 New Zealanders born in 1997, has found that women who have had abortions subsequently have significantly more mental health problems. The same conclusion has been reached by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK, which recently released a statement on women’s mental health in relation to abortion. It recommends that women who want to have an abortion undergo counselling before that decision is made—exactly as my bill proposes.

The trend internationally is to place the woman with child at the very centre of the abortion decision process—in other words, to treat these women as human beings with the ability to consider carefully all their options, including adoption, before making what is perhaps the most important decision any human being could ever make: namely, whether to abort a child. That is the proposition I bring to this debate today, and I believe that the people of New Zealand think it is timely for our Parliament to have a proper debate, and a proper bill, on this very, very important issue 30 years after the original Act was passed.

I seek leave to introduce the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Informed Consent) Amendment Bill in my name, despite Standing Orders 276 and 277, and for the bill to be set down for its first reading.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member is seeking leave to introduce the bill. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is.