The Green Party of New Zealand has published a position paper that includes a number of statements concerning abortion in the country. The paper notes that the law now requires that abortion must be approved by two physicians on grounds that the procedure is necessary to preserve the woman’s mental or physical health or because of fetal disability. The party states that, since “99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds,” the current legal situation is ‘dishonest’. This seems to be a frank admission that 99% of abortions are not, in fact, necessary to ensure mental or physical health.
If it forms a government, the party would decriminalize the procedure completely up to 20 weeks gestation, while continuing “current practice” beyond that point. In addition, the position paper states that “to prevent coercion either for or against abortion,” it will:
Ensure medical oversight agencies, such as the Medical Council, maintain, publicise and enforce codes of ethics mandating that personal beliefs (including religious, political and moral) are protected, however the practitioner is required to refer the patient to a neutral practitioner in a timely manner.
Three points about this proposal are of interest.
First: it implies that a physician willing to provide an abortion is “neutral” with respect to the procedure, while a physician unwilling to do so is not. This is incorrect. To take a position either for or against the acceptability of abortion involves a moral or ethical judgement, just as a moral or ethical judgement is involved in stealing or refusing to steal.
Second: objecting physicians not infrequently refuse to facilitate morally contested procedures by referral because they believe that doing so makes them complicit in the act. Demanding that they facilitate abortion by referral is not protective of their freedom of conscience or religion.
Third: if the paper is correct in asserting that no medical grounds exist for “99%” of abortions now taking place in New Zealand, there would seem to be no reason to compel objecting physicians to refer for the procedure.