Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Various Aspects of the Problem of Abortion in NewZealand Part 9

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I. The Committee is convinced that the induction of abortion is exceedingly common in New Zealand, and that it has definitely increased in recent years.

It has been estimated that at least one pregnancy in every five ends in abortion; in other words that some 6,000 abortions occur in New Zealand every year.

Of these, it is believed that 4,000, at a conservative estimate, are criminally induced either through the agency of criminal abortionists or by self-induction, either of which is equally dangerous.

It is clear that death from septic abortion occurs almost entirely in such cases.

Such deaths have greatly increased in recent years, and now const.i.tute one-quarter of the total maternal mortality: in some urban districts it amounts to nearly half of the total maternal mortality.

New Zealand has, according to comparative international statistics, one of the highest death-rates from abortion in the world.

II. The Committee, after taking evidence from witnesses representing all sections of the community, has formed the conclusion that the main causes for this resort to abortion are:–(1)Economic and domestic hardship; (2)changes in social and moral outlook; (3) pregnancy amongst the unmarried; and (4) in a small proportion of cases, fears of childbirth.

These matters are fully discussed.

III. Consideration has been given to the possible remedying of these causes.

(_a_) In so far as economic hardship is the primary factor, certain recommendations have been made regarding financial, domestic, and obstetrical help by the State.

(_b_) To lessen any fear of childbirth where this exists, it has been recommended that the public should be informed that New Zealand now has a very low death-rate in actual childbirth and that relief of pain in labour is largely used. At the same time the Committee has advocated that further efforts in the direction of pain relief should be explored.

(_c_) For dealing with the problem of the unmarried mother, the Committee considers that the attack must be along the lines of more careful education of the young in matters of s.e.x, prohibition of the advertis.e.m.e.nt and sale of contraceptives to the young, and a more tolerant att.i.tude on the part of society towards these girls and their children.

(_d_) The Committee believes, however, that the most important cause of all is a change in the outlook of women which expresses itself in a demand of the right to limit–or avoid–the family, coupled with a widespread half-knowledge and use of birth-control methods–often ineffective. These failing, the temptation to abortion follows.

The Committee can see only two directions in which abortion resulting from these tendencies can be controlled:–

(1) By the direction of birth-control knowledge through more responsible channels, where, while the methods would be more reliable, the responsibilities and privileges of motherhood, the advisability of self-discipline in certain directions, and other aspects of the matter would be discussed.

The Committee believes that it is through the agency of well-informed doctors, and, to a certain extent, through clinics a.s.sociated with our hospitals, that this advice should be given.

It is not, however, considered that this is a matter for the State except to a limited degree.

(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.

This, it is considered, is a matter for all women’s social organizations to take up seriously.

IV. Certain further measures of a more general nature came under the examination of the Committee.

The prohibition of the promiscuous advertis.e.m.e.nt of contraceptives, and of their sale to the young; the licensing of the importation of certain types of contraceptives; the restriction of the sale or distribution of contraceptives to practising chemists, doctors, hospitals, and clinics; the prohibition of the advertis.e.m.e.nt, or of the sale, except on medical prescription, of certain drugs and appliances which might be used for abortion purposes; these measures are recommended.

The specific legalization of therapeutic abortion (by doctors for health reasons) as a safeguard to doctors was fully examined but is not recommended.

The Committee is satisfied that the present interpretation of the law is such that, where the reasons for the operation are valid, the doctor runs no risk of prosecution.

The risks of an alteration in the law are great.

Legalization of abortion for social and economic reasons was also put forward. The Committee has discussed the matter, and strongly condemns any countenancing of this measure.

Though it may be conceded that legalized performance of the operation by doctors in hospitals might reduce the incidence of surrept.i.tious abortion and deaths from septic abortion, we do not accept this as any justification of a procedure which is a.s.sociated with grave moral and physical dangers.

With regard to sterilization, the Committee adopts the same view as towards the specific legalization of therapeutic abortion.

It is believed that, where the reasons for the operation are in accord with generally accepted medical opinion, there is no bar to its performance.

We see, however, tendencies in the direction of extending this operation far beyond the bounds of this accepted medical opinion.

For this reason we do not recommend any alteration in the present position.

The failure to obtain the conviction of the criminal abortionist, even in cases where the guilt seems beyond all doubt, has been discussed as a matter of serious concern, and the Committee can only bring before the public its responsibility, as represented by members of juries, for the virtual encouragement of this evil practice.

Finally, the Committee, while fully conscious of its inability to place before you a complete and certain solution of this grave problem, or one which will satisfy all shades of opinion, believes that a definite service will have been done through this investigation if full publicity is given to the facts of the situation as here revealed, and if the public conscience is awakened to the fact that, although State aid and legal prohibitions may do something to remove causes and to deter crime, the ultimate issue rests with the att.i.tude and action of the people themselves.

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