Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill: hearings

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Health

02 August 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

HEALTH PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
3 August 2004
CHOICE ON TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS

Chairperson: Mr L Ngculu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill (B72-2003)
ChristianView Network submission
Human Life International submission
Human Life International PowerPoint presentation
Pro-Life South Africa submission
Evangelical Alliance of South Africa submission
Healthcare Christian Fellowship submission
Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa submission
Choices Pregnancy and Help Centre submission
Africa Cares for Life submission
SA Catholic Bishops submission
Doctors for Life submission
UCT Students for Life Society submission
UCT Students for Life Society PowerPoint presentation
Commission on Gender Equality submission
Doctors for Life: CLA Amendments

SUMMARY
The public had the opportunity to present oral submissions on the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill. The twelve interested bodies represented were; ChristianView Network, Human Life International, Pro-Life South Africa, Evangelical Alliance, Health Care Christian Fellowship, Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa, African Christian Action, Crisis Pregnancy Centres in South Africa, South Africa Cares for Life, South African Catholic Bishops, Doctors for Life and Students for Life - University of Cape Town. Issues raised related to; conscientious objection, the qualifications needed to perform terminations, the absence of adequate counseling, the increase in the number of facilities providing termination and the devolution of power to the Provincial Minister and the MEC.

MINUTES

ChristianView Network
Ms J McGill looked at the issue of termination of pregnancy from the interests of the unborn, God, health professionals and mothers. She said the Bill would mean more lives would be lost and this killing was against the will of God. The automatic designation of facilities to carry out terminations, the increased pressure on health workers to perform terminations, allowing registered nurses to do terminations and the absence of statistics were highlighted. ChristianView Network called for a repeal of the current law. If this was not done, the organisation asked for the introduction of: a conscientious objection clause, informed consent for mothers, protection of "born alive" babies, parental consent in the case of minors, the criminalisation of partial-birth abortions and a review of a doctor's ability to override relatives' decisions in the case of an injured mother who was unable to make a decision.

Discussion
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked the presenter to elaborate on the statement that pro-abortionists were starting terminations and pro-lifers were expected to complete them and her statement that abortions were like AIDS - no one dies from it. She also referred to the Gender Equality Commission's written submission that supported the Bill. It stated there would be greater access to abortions for women and hence the right to life would be given to many women who were previously dying from back-street abortions. She asked the speaker to comment on the accuracy of this statement. The Commission also referred to the "rights of women to reproductive care" which in her understanding suggested that there is life. Could the killing of children be referred to as "reproductive"?

Ms McGill said that women were given medicine to induce labour and told to return to a facility when contractions commenced. Pro-life staff on duty was then placed in an ethical dilemma if they were forced to care for the patient.

Abortion was like AIDS because no one in South Africa was reported to die of AIDS but from related illnesses. It was the same with abortions where complications were listed as the cause of death. Ms McGill said it was very difficult to say how many women were dying of illegal abortions. In the USA it had been found that since the legalisation of abortions, illegal abortions had increased because women said that if the law condoned it, it was all right for anyone to do an abortion. Ms McGill agreed with Ms Dudley that abortion was not part of reproduction and should not be included under the right to reproductive care.

The Chairperson said the presentation had not specifically stated what changes, additions and deletions were needed in the Amendment Bill under discussion.

Ms P Tshwete (ANC) asked if Ms McGill could, if at a later stage, provide details on the Umtata students who had been forced to do abortions.

M Madumise (ANC) asked how many women were dying from legal and illegal abortions.

Ms McGill said that a study done before the legalisation of abortion in South Africa had found that about 400 women per year were dying from illegal abortions and a recent Pretoria News article said about 500 women per year. Both study methods were not very sound. It could be that because more women had access to abortions, more were now being exposed to the dangers.

Mr Ngculu said that the keeping of reliable statistics was a very important point that the speaker had raised.

Human Life International (HLI)
Father G Charnock, a Catholic priest stated his organisation's belief in the right to life from conception and called for a repeal of the abortion law. He said the amendments would further increase violence to women. The areas of the Bill that Human Life International were opposed to were the permitting of registered nurses to perform abortions and the transfer of authority from central to provincial government. His organisation also called for a conscientious objection clause, parental consent in the case of minors, informative and compassionate counseling for the mother, the protection of born-alive infants and the banning of partial-birth abortions.

Mr Ngculu said he wanted to clarify that the Amendments were under discussion and not the principal Act. He also said the issue under discussion was not abortion but the choice of termination of pregnancy. South Africa was not a religious or Christian state but a secular state.

Discussion
Ms Dudley asked Father Charnock to comment on the Gender Equality Commission's statement that "women should be free from violence, coercion, intimidation and abuse when making decisions about their reproduction". She asked Father Charnock to comment on the procedures used and how they related to violence and abuse of women. She asked for grounds for the statement "most South Africans are opposed to abortion". In her understanding, termination could apply to natural birth and hence she used the word abortion.

Father Charnock said that the phrase "termination of pregnancy" was a euphemism and that the procedure seen before God was abortion. He said they were painfully aware South Africa was not a Christian state but other religions in South Africa would agree with them on the abortion issue and there was very good dialogue with Jews and Muslims in this regard.

Father Charnock said that one's body belonged to the Lord and one did not have the right to do whatever one liked with it. A referendum was needed to see if most South Africans were opposed to abortion.

On the issue of abuse and violence on women, a spokeswoman for HLI said in every abortion there were two people involved and there was nothing more violent and abusive than the murder of an unborn human being. In terms of gender equality she said it must be borne in mind that at least 50% of babies killed are females and she did not see what this did for gender equality. She said that procedures used were "diabolically horrific" and encouraged Members to inform themselves on this issue. She explained the procedure of a partial-birth abortion and said there was nothing more violent than that. She added that in South Africa 70% of the population were professed Christians.

Mr Ngculu reiterated that the thrust of the legislation was to give women a choice. He said procedures used were not under discussion. He referred to the Amendment's definition of "registered nurse".

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) pointed out that powers had to be devolved as National government could not oversee everything. She asked if it was not important for provincial MECs to take responsibility. She said if nurses felt burdened there was a Public Serve Administration to take care of them. In South Africa there was so much incest. Mothers wanted children to be quiet about it so a choice had to be made to terminate such a pregnancy.

Ms Madumise said registered nurses u

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