The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 26) - A major moral issue has surfaced in Papua New Guinea this week. That is abortion.

Ever since Mr. Justice Cannings remarked that seven years incarceration for a mother attempting to induce an abortion seemed outdated, the press has been inundated with comment from those who regard abortion as morally, ethically and spiritually wrong.

There is another side to this issue.

We find it astonishing that a well-known private lawyer, who has supposedly been "advocating human rights... since his university days" appears to have a blind spot when it comes to the human rights of the mother of an unborn child.

Let us put forward a hypothetical case.

Assume that a refusal to abort an unwanted child -- say one conceived as the result of that common PNG crime, gang rape -- resulted in the death of the mother by suicide?

There are a number of well-documented cases of this tragic happening.

Does the anti-abortion lobby see ethical, moral and spiritual justice in the death of that woman?

Was she not as innocent as the fetus in her womb?

Harricknen also demands that leaders should be actively involved in "protecting the sacredness of life and humanity."

Presumably that admirable statement does not extend to the life of a mother carrying an unborn and unwanted child.

We do not think that women who wish to terminate their pregnancy for reasons of "convenience" --- the word used by both Harricknen, and in an earlier statement by the Catholic Archbishop of Port Moresby - are representative of the majority of women seeking abortions.

What is clear is the absolutism of those who form the anti-abortion lobby.

To them, the "life" of the child is the only consideration, and not the life of the mother.

Critics of abortion under any circumstances conveniently ignore another issue.

That is the question of when a fetus can be reasonably considered to be a human life.

Some would say from the moment of conception.

Others would suggest the point at which the fetus begins to assume human characteristics.

In both cases, the unborn child could not survive outside of its mother’s womb. It is a "life" entirely dependent on the life of the one that shelters and nurtures its very existence.

Can that unborn child be regarded as "a human life?"

A third group would not regard the unborn child as human until it takes its first breath.

The point is that this is a subject for rational adult discussion, not an issue to be drowned in a sea of thunderous adjectives.

Lawyer Harricknen is wrong to label the call for change in the law as "simply ridiculous, absurd and inhuman."

It is none of those.

It is at the very least a rational alternative to the thousands of women in PNG who have died at the hands of unqualified abortionists, or who have in desperation taken their own lives.

Justice Canning’s remarks were mild indeed.

In many other countries, abortion has been the subject of violent public debate for a generation, and recent polls in the USA showed that the population is split more or less evenly over the issue.

It is certainly a matter that should be publicly debated in PNG, especially since this week’s revelation that some 7,000 women each year seek or obtain an abortion in this country.

It is worthwhile remembering that those who label abortion a sin also regard suicide as a similar "moral, ethical and spiritual outrage."

And we would challenge the assertion that the call for consideration of change in the abortion laws is a matter of a "social agenda and convenience being perpetrated by a certain circle of people."

Harricknen should specify the membership of that "certain circle of people," so that the public may be in a better position to make informed judgments.

Those who have so rapidly rushed to defend the anti-abortionist battlements would do well to take a more reasoned and logical approach to the subject, and at least acknowledge the obvious - that there are circumstances under which the termination of a pregnancy is highly desirable.

We encourage our readers to air their views on abortion, and any other moral issue currently the subject of criminal law.

August 27, 2004

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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