The decision of the USA’s Supreme Court to overturn Wade v Roe and the nationwide “constitutional right” to abortion has been met with dismay and outrage by many people, both in the USA and beyond. Many are understandably upset at the winding back of what they consider an inalienable woman’s right: the right of any woman to end any unwanted pregnancy with an abortion.
The public and political rhetoric in the USA and in New Zealand has tended to be quite one-sided, with an emphasis on women having autonomy over their own bodies and about abortion being simply a women’s health measure.
We acknowledge that many women who seek an abortion do so with distress, because they feel alone or abandoned, or because they feel it is too difficult for them to proceed to birthing and raising their child.
The claim, however, that abortion is purely is a woman’s health measure is clearly untrue. Abortion can never be just a woman’s health measure, because abortion invariably involves another person, an unborn human being whose life is being deliberately ended by those who have already been born. Whatever the law of any country may say or allow, abortion remains a profound ethical issue. Particular societies, ethicists, and individuals may weigh differently the competing rights of women and unborn babies, but the moral issues are not in any way erased by legal and parliamentary decisions, or by the pronouncements of politicians.
New Zealand’s previous abortion legislation at least tried to balance the rights of women and the unborn. In practice, however, we ended up with something very close to abortion on demand. New Zealand’s new abortion law in 2020 was passed by the margin of 68 to 51. Sadly, the new law contains no recognition at all of the rights of an unborn child. Politically, the new law may endure. But the deep ethical issues around abortion continue, and public discourse needs to more generous in acknowledging that.