The ACDP is grateful for the opportunity we have today to speak to this bill which was briefly considered by the Health portfolio committee but given significant airtime by radio stations who facilitated discussion and allowed the public a voice.
Being able to openly discuss these painful issues helps all South Africans feel they are part of nation building and not marginalized or ignored when their beliefs do not support the popular narrative.
As you are aware, the ACDP believes in the sanctity of human life and looks forward to a time when the life of an unborn child will be given the reasonable protection it deserves. This legislative proposal however, does not seek to challenge the constitution but to improve the existing provisions in legislation in line with the constitution.
The amendment aimed to ensure greater protection of a women’s right to apply her mind to relevant facts and information in order to make an informed choice and to ensure through mandatory as opposed to non-mandatory counselling that adequate budgets are made available for this purpose.
Secondly, it aimed to address discrimination against babies conceived by women in low-income families the original amendment - proposed removing social and economic circumstances as a ground for termination after 13 weeks - but later just added a requirement that a social worker and a medical practitioner take the necessary decision together as a social worker is better placed to know whether alternative solutions are available for consideration.
And finally, as the intention of the legislators in 1996 to increase restrictions on termination of pregnancy in line with the development of the baby in the womb is clear, reference to ‘a risk of injury to the foetus’ as a valid reason to terminate an otherwise viable baby after 20 weeks of gestation is not only vague but an excessive response. Every birth could be said to pose a risk of injury to the foetus and provision already exists for the termination of a foetus after the 20th week if the continued pregnancy would result in severe malformation of the fetus.
As you have heard one of the main concerns expressed in opposing the bill is the cost of ultrasound machines. The ACDP is of the opinion that the fact that NOT all clinics - including abortion providing clinics - have access to this basic technology is discriminatory.
We realize that for some the concern is that if a woman sees the developing child within her she will feel pressure not to go ahead with the termination. In terms of research done this does not often result in a change regarding a decision already taken to abort but a percentage of women do change their minds and are grateful they did. Many abortions in South Africa are repeat abortions and the potential for educating women at this time regarding safer sex and future pregnancies is significant.
Pretending a foetus is not a life is misleading and unscientific. In a society where people value freedom to choose they also value transparency and access to information so that those choices are informed choices.
Today we know so much more than we did in 1996 and babies are recognized as viable at 18 weeks into a pregnancy. We also know that unborn babies not only die but suffer excruciating pain. More and more concerns are being raised - in countries providing abortion services -about the number of healthy babies, sufficiently viable to survive outside the womb that are being aborted on 'social grounds'.
I would quickly like to thank legal services for the valuable work done in assisting me with the drafting of the bill and the few members in the committee who expressed the unpopular sentiment that they would have liked the committee to apply their minds further to better serving women who face this decision.
The ACDP’s aim is to ensure that every woman has a genuine opportunity to make an informed choice when faced with this life and death decision.
ISSUED BY: CHERYLLYN DUDLEY MP
4 September 2018