As delegates from around the world meet in Poland today to debate Amnesty International’s position on safe and legal abortion, ACDP Member of Parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley, who championed the ACDP’s Choice of Termination on Pregnancy Amendment Bill of 2017, was invited on air to share her thoughts on SAfm this morning.

Below is an excerpt of her comments on the subject matter.

“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.

The amendments in the ACDP’s private members proposal recently aimed to provide for a greater degree of consideration and protection for both women experiencing a crisis pregnancy and for the child they are carrying.  The hope is that a greater appreciation and respect for women and for life will take root in our cultural perspective without violating freedom of choice or freedom of belief.

Not only has science progressed but, in South Africa, our democracy has too. We are in a better space today to have meaningful and respectful interactions across hard and fast positions in order to improve existing legislation without imposing or trampling on peoples freedom to choose.  Creating opportunities to diffuse the divisive situation where countries feel ‘super liberal’ ideas and policies are being imposed on them and that people are being demonised for holding beliefs that differ from these liberal ideas, we need to bridge a growing divide which impacts on freedom of belief on both sides or we will continue to see a backlash of equally extreme reactions.

Section 12(2)(a) of the Constitution provides that “everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to make decisions concerning reproduction”.  The ACDP amendment provided for mandatory counselling precisely to enhance this constitutional right so that women are in fact equipped to make an informed choice. In a society where people value freedom to choose they also value transparency and access to information so that those choices are informed choices.  Information not only about the foetus growing inside them but about support available would include access to relevant social grants, safe-housing and information on contraceptive measures, etc.  This would not be for the purpose of taking away choice but providing all information needed before such a life-changing decision is taken.

With over 100,000 recorded abortions a year in South Africa and many of these being repeat abortions, more information could only help women make better choices regarding contraception and safer sex.  Many estimate the actual stats to be closer to 200,000 abortions a year as a result of the department’s policy on abortion pills being dispensed and girls then returning when miscarriages occur.

To address discrimination against babies conceived by women in low income families or in challenging social and economic circumstances the original amendment proposed the deletion of the clause removing social and economic circumstances as a ground for termination after 13 weeks. However, having considered the many submissions and the potential for possible unintended consequences it was decided that by adding a social worker’s experience and opinion to that of a medical practitioner in the second trimester, access to alternative solutions would be available for consideration.

Today we know so much more than we did in 1996 and babies are recognised as viable at 18 weeks into a pregnancy.  We also know that unborn babies not only die but suffer excruciating pain during dismemberment abortion. This is motivating more countries to consider tightening abortion laws.  In Norway, for example, midwives voiced concerns about the number of healthy babies sufficiently viable to survive outside the womb that were being aborted on 'social grounds'. Their intervention led to a change in the law and their health minister, Anne Grethe Erlandsen, in 2014 saying “Abortion should not happen in foetuses who have the possibility of being able to live”.

With this in mind, the ACDP had proposed the deletion of the reference to ‘a risk of injury to the foetus’ as a valid reason to terminate an otherwise viable baby after 20 weeks of gestation, as it is vague and an excessive response, especially since every birth could be said to pose a risk of injury to the foetus.”

6 June 2018