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“She should be treated with the greatest tenderness. Usually she is more sinned against than sinning; but she carries all the blame which belongs not only to the man but also to society, which has been guilty of supine acquiescence in the surrender of standards of moral conduct.
“She has to give birth to a child which has the rights of every unborn infant; and she has to re-establish herself in the community…. It is terribly difficult for them afterwards with the child, and they need all the help they can get. It seems to me that some of them must go in sheer dread to the abortionist. My definite opinion is that something more needs to be done.”
In all fairness to the many fine organizations which are helping these girls, the Committee is satisfied that there is no lack of tolerance, sympathy, and helpfulness with them.
If fault there is, it is in the att.i.tude of the general public to this matter.
Some criticism has been directed at the St. Helens Hospitals because they are not freely open to unmarried women, but it is only right that the position should be made clear.
The actual position is that, in the majority of cases, the St. Helens Hospitals, which can only offer accommodation to an expectant mother for the period of her confinement, are _not suitable_ for dealing with single women, who require protection and care before and after their confinements as well.
There are, throughout the country, many admirable inst.i.tutions which are equipped to give this service.
Discussion before this Committee has, however, made it clear that where an unmarried mother can make adequate private arrangements for the care of herself and her infant after confinement, the St. Helens Hospitals are prepared to take her for the actual confinement period.
In regard to the maternity homes which deal with unmarried women, there has also been some criticism of the usual regulations in these homes which call for a period of residence in the home both before and, especially, after confinement.
It should be pointed out, however, that this is a wise and humane provision, entirely in the interests of the mothers and their babies; it ensures for the mother that very period of convalescence which other witnesses have so strongly advocated under other circ.u.mstances, it gives the baby protection in the most difficult early months, and it allows the helpers in the home an opportunity to make provision for the baby’s future.
Here, again, where the mother is able to make adequate provision for herself and her infant, these regulations are certainly relaxed in some of the homes concerned, and we would commend this practice in suitable cases to those responsible for the management of all these homes.
Regarding the obstetrical care given to the unmarried mothers in these homes, the evidence given indicates clearly that it is of a standard equal to that in our other maternity hospitals.
Indeed, whereas the risks of childbirth amongst unmarried mothers the world over is notoriously high, amongst the women who place themselves in the care of these homes in New Zealand the maternal mortality and the infant mortality are both exceedingly low.
In the homes of which the members of the Committee have personal knowledge the same ante-natal care (indeed, since these patients are resident in the home and under close observation, more complete care) is given and the same methods of pain relief are used.
It is only right that these rea.s.suring facts should be made public.
Regarding the provision for the children in these cases, while we are satisfied that the State and the various organisations responsible for their care deal with them in a kindly and sympathetic manner, we agree that every effort should be made to give them a fair prospect in life, to avoid any stigma, and to keep secret their misfortune.
It has been suggested by one witness that the privacy of an unmarried mother’s affairs has been interfered with the present regulations regarding the notification of births. Under the Child Welfare Act as it at present operates there is a duty on the Registrar to inform the Child Welfare Department of every birth, and the register is also open to the Plunket Society for purposes of following up.
Good as the intention of these provisions is in the interests of the babies, the a.s.sertion has been made that in certain cases the knowledge of this lack of secrecy has deterred women from allowing their pregnancies to continue, and has constrained them to seek abortion.
The Committee is not prepared to comment on this complaint, but would suggest that it be investigated, and that, if there is any justification in it, the regulations be amended so that, while fully protecting the child, full secrecy is maintained.
(4) TO MEET CHANGES IN SOCIAL OUTLOOK.
The Committee has concluded that, beyond the economic and domestic considerations already discussed, there are many changes in modern social outlook which are operating in the direction of family limitation, and which, in many cases, lead to the practice of abortion.
Can anything be done to prevent the occurrence of abortion resulting from these tendencies in modern life?
Concerning birth-control the realities of the position must be faced.
There can be no doubt that there is a widespread uncontrolled and ill-instructed use of contraceptives.
As one witness put it, “New Zealand is saturated with birth-control.”
Owing to this extensive half-knowledge there is in many cases an entirely unwarranted dependence on their reliability to the exclusion of any measure of self-discipline whatever.
The Committee is under no illusion in this matter.
With this att.i.tude prevailing in the community and provided with such a weapon–even though it is likely to explode in their own hands–women will continue to limit their families. No social legislation, however generous, will prevent it, nor, as far as the Committee can see, will legal prohibitions do much to restrict it.
Two lines of action are suggested:–
(1) To direct the knowledge of birth-control through more responsible channels, where, while the methods advised would be more reliable, the responsibilities and privileges of motherhood, the advisability of self-discipline in certain directions, and other aspects of the question could be discussed.
It is this view which has led the Committee to the recommendations it has made in the discussion of birth-control.
(2) To appeal to the womanhood of New Zealand in so far as selfish and unworthy motives have entered into our family life, to consider the grave physical and moral dangers, not to speak of the dangers of race suicide which are involved.
We can but urge all those who have to do with the education of our youth and the moulding of women’s opinion to give these matters earnest consideration, and the Committee is of the opinion that it is necessary to develop the education of young people in biology and physiology in our primary and secondary schools as a foundation for a more rational and wholesome outlook on s.e.x matters.
The practice of contraception is a debatable question, and one on which the most varied evidence has been given.
Witnesses opposed this practice, some on moral grounds, some with the plea for a greater natural increase in the population of New Zealand.
Others again, particularly the representatives of women’s organizations, advocated the establishment of clinics for the general instruction of married women in the practice of reliable methods of contraception. They expressed the opinion, and some of them supported their opinions with sound argument and overseas experience, that the instruction of the mothers of New Zealand in the practice of child-s.p.a.cing rather than resulting in a diminution of the birth-rate might well cause an increase in the size of many families, for, in addition to enabling mothers to plan their families, such clinics also specialize in propaganda calculated to awaken women to an appreciation of the privileges and responsibilities of motherhood.
The Committee agrees that the possession of reliable contraceptive knowledge by the married women of New Zealand would tend to augment rather than to diminish further the natural rate of increase of our population, for an additional factor to those given above lies in the large amount of sterility which follows induced abortion, that most unsatisfactory of all forms of birth-control.
The evidence laid before the Committee shows that in New Zealand every year thousands of women imperil, and indeed negate, their future prospects of motherhood by submitting to the induction of abortion.
It has been shown that abortion is a delayed, dangerous, and unsatisfactory form of birth-control, and it can quite logically be argued that if a reliable and simple method of contraception was known to all married people the abortion problem would a.s.sume very small proportions.
This is, to a large extent, true, but it must not be forgotten that both abortion and contraception have various aspects, and that apart from other objections there are practical difficulties which are not easily surmounted. There is no known contraceptive which is simple, inexpensive, and 100 per cent. reliable for the thoughtless, the careless, and the stupid.
Contraception may be considered under three headings:–
(1) The practice of contraception extramaritially, which only needs to be mentioned to be deprecated.
(2) The practice of contraception by married people irrespective of their circ.u.mstances.
Evidence was given by responsible and representative women in support of a mother’s right to say when she will bear her children, and although we agree that this privilege might well be conceded her, we are of the opinion that it is not the function of the State to undertake the dissemination of the knowledge and give the practical instruction necessary to enable the general adoption of this principle.
This general instruction can well be left to the medical profession, who should also undertake the responsibility of impressing the privileges of motherhood upon young women seeking such advice.
In recommending that such general instruction should be left to the medical pract.i.tioners, we are cognizant of the fact that many members of that profession are at a loss to know what methods of contraception can be reliably recommended to lay persons.
A sub-committee of the Obstetrical Society, consisting of members who have made a special study of this problem, has been set up, and the presentation of their report will doubtless clarify the position in the minds of the medical profession.
(3) The practice of contraception by married women who, in the opinion of their medical attendant, should have temporary or permanent freedom from the fact or fear of pregnancy.
Not only are there cases in which severe illness exists making further pregnancies dangerous, but there is also a heterogenous group including all gradations of health and economic reasons.