12 January 2018
– by Cheryllyn Dudley, MP and Whip

In 2007, Cheryllyn Dudley, ACDP Member of Parliament in the National Assembly since 1999, put forward proposals for a private members Bill to amend the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, and in 2010 she proposed legislation to amend the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996.  The first proposal was to include the right to life of the unborn child in the constitution and the second was to ensure a more fully informed choice is possible regarding the termination of a pregnancy.

Both bills found no support from any political parties in Parliament other than the ACDP and were rejected.

Hon Dudley said, “The reality is that until Pro-life voters are in the majority in South Africa and they decide to vote for a party who understands their concerns – the life of an unborn child will not be given reasonable protection.

One of the many things that occurred to me through the experience of working on the first two private Members bills was the choice I had.  A choice to either draft an obviously unconstitutional bill expressing the desires of the more serious Christian community only, knowing it would not get any support and nothing would actually change – or I could carefully contemplate and research what could in fact be improved on within the ambit of the constitution and do what can be done as opposed to sabotaging any improvements just because they may not be perfection.” 

Working on this premise Hon Dudley has since proposed Labour Law legislation which actually passed in the National Assembly on 28 November 2017.  This is the first Private Members bill and the first opposition party members bill to be passed by the National Assembly.  The legislation provides for parental and adoption leave.

During 2017, Hon Dudley has also introduced the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill, 2017, in Parliament.  This legislation – which is not about whether or not abortion can be condoned for any reason – challenges the present situation which facilitates abortion on demand in the broadest sense.

“I will be arguing that 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 clearly illustrated, yet overly broad and vague clauses appear to have been slipped in and contradict and nullify this intention.

The amendment aims 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 aims to ensure through mandatory as opposed to non-mandatory counseling that adequate budgets are made available for this purpose.

Discrimination against babies conceived by women in low income families or in challenging social and financial circumstances is addressed by adding a social worker’s experience and opinion to that of a medical practitioner in the second trimester; and the deletion of the reference to ‘a risk of injury to the fetus’ as a valid reason to terminate an otherwise viable baby after 20 weeks of gestation is deemed necessary as it is vague and an excessive response, especially since every birth could be said to pose a risk of injury to the fetus.

Some European countries are now considering tightening their abortion laws. For example, in Norway, midwives have voiced concerns about the number of healthy babies… sufficiently viable to survive outside the womb… being aborted on ‘social grounds’ beyond the usual 12-week limit. Their intervention in this traditionally liberal country has led to a change in the law.

Across Europe, many liberals are increasingly coming to regard late abortions where babies are often born alive and have to be left to die, as barbaric.  And more women ministers in socialist countries are also rejecting the argument that limiting late abortions is anti-women.

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 during dismemberment abortion – a cruelty that rips arms and legs off a helpless child.  It seems to me that in 2018 we stand a far better chance than ever before of having meaningful and respectful interactions across hard and fast positions in order to improve existing legislation without imposing or trampling on peoples freedom to choose.  Wanting to protect people from serious consequences is natural but it does not give us the right to decide for them.

The amendments in the Private Members proposal 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 life will take root in our cultural perspective. There is also the possibility that some through accessing relevant information and help will not feel they have to take the life of their child.”

Hon Dudley says, “Some Christians have expressed heartfelt concern that this approach is a compromise, which of course it is.  We live in a diverse society and compromise for the sake of living in relative peace and harmony is a given, keeping in mind that when a majority of people in SA decide to stand up for ‘the right of an unborn child to life’ and vote in line with their convictions, the compromise will more meaningfully reflect this view. 

Fortunately many of those who reacted negatively, reconsidered when they were asked if they were saying the life of one child was not worth saving if we cannot save the lives of all babies.

The majority of voters are presently pro-choice, if not directly pro-abortion, and of those, many are vociferous defenders of super liberal abortion laws.  While I understand their concern and suspicion that these amendments will significantly undermine choice, I do not believe they need be concerned.  The worst that could happen is that women, given the opportunity to consider the truth about what is happening in their body will decide to access options or help available to them and choose to bring their child into the world alive.  In terms of research done this will not often be the case – but a percentage of women do change their minds and are grateful they did.”

Summary Points

  • Currently a pregnancy may be terminated from the 13th up to and including the 20th week of the gestation period if a medical practitioner, after consultation with the pregnant woman, is of the opinion that the continued pregnancy would significantly affect the social or economic circumstances of the woman. The amendment modifies this clause to include the opinion and experience of a social worker, in this decision.
  • The amendment provides for the deletion of section 2(1)(c)(iii) which currently allows that a pregnancy may be terminated after the 20th week if a medical practitioner…is of the opinion that the continued pregnancy would pose a risk of injury to the fetus.
  • The amendment provides that facilities at which terminations may be undertaken give the pregnant woman access to ultrasound equipment and ultrasound examinations to accurately determine the gestation period of the fetus and also access to counselling.
  • The amendment provides for mandatory (as opposed to non-mandatory) counselling.
  • The amendment stipulates the kind of information that must be made available to?a pregnant woman during counselling to assist her in making an informed choice and to assist her in giving informed consent prior to the termination of her pregnancy.
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