Are 18,382 abortions in a single year not enough?

The first question I'd like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: "Why now?" What's convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?

I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I'm finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick's, her party's, or even her gender's favour.

Her decision might, of course, be driven entirely by ideological considerations - by an unwavering conviction that every woman has an incontestable right to do whatever she pleases with, and to, her own body. That would make a sort of sense - providing, of course, she's willing to accept the consequences of making ideology the battleground upon which this issue is decided. What's sauce for the ideological goose must also be sauce for the ideological gander.

Clearly, Ms Chadwick's proposed bill has got me perplexed. I simply cannot see what difference - in practical terms - changing the present legislation would make.

According to statistics supplied by the Abortion Supervisory Committee, there were 18,382 abortions carried out in New Zealand in 2007. That's 12,437 more than in 1980 - barely two years after the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act came into force on April 1, 1978.

Does Ms Chadwick not believe that 18,382 abortions are enough? Does she think there should be more? Has the existing legislation created an unfulfilled demand for abortion which her proposed bill seeks to satisfy?

That seems unlikely, in light of New Zealand's undoubted competitiveness in the international abortion stakes. Among a selection of 12 of the world's low-fertility countries, we jostle with Australia, Sweden and the United States for the honour of recording the highest abortion rate.

We're consistently well ahead of countries in which abortion-on- demand is already legally enshrined.

Could it be that Ms Chadwick is hoping to bring down New Zealand's gold-medal-winning abortion rate?

Now, don't get me wrong, I've no desire to make it more difficult for New Zealand women to access abortion. My position on this matter was decided many years ago when I asked myself whether, given the responsibility, I was prepared to require a woman to give birth to a child she didn't want - and decided I was not. Nor, I realised, was I prepared to delegate the power of decision to anyone other than the woman herself.

When push came to shove - and throughout the 1970s and 80s there was lots of pushing and shoving - I had to come down on the side of those who said that abortion was a choice only the person most directly involved had any claim to make.

But there were hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who did not agree with me - decent, well- meaning people who could not get past the fact that something human always dies when an abortion is performed.

Their passionate contention was, and remains, that there is more than one individual involved in the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and that every person is morally obligated to speak up for those who have yet to attain a voice.

This is the "icky" factor that Ms Chadwick's feminist supporters urge their sisters to ignore. It simply does not help to think too much about the messy mechanics of the abortion procedure itself - let alone what it destroys.

In the words of one blogger calling herself the Queen of Thorns: "Dear anti-choicers: go get yourself a f**king tapeworm already and sit down to a marathon of the Alien quadrilogy and then whinge to me about 'it's no big deal, just wait X months'."

With friends like this, Ms Chadwick has no need of enemies. But enemies she will have if this is the tone of those who carry her spears. And it is here that my misgivings are at their greatest.

How numerous have the enemies of abortion become? The fervent Baby Boomers who marched and petitioned for "A Woman's Right to Choose" have had 30 years to savour the fruits of the war-weary political truce our parliamentarians fashioned into the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act. Very few of them have been sweet.

The Dominion Post