22 November 2007
R5000 REWARD: WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT AFRAID TO DEBATE TODAY'S ABORTION BILL?
This afternoon, 22 November 2007, the government plans to pass the proposed 'Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill' for the second time without a parliamentary debate. In 2004, ChristianView Network offered a prize of R2000 for anyone who could find a ruling party parliamentarian willing to defend the law on public radio debate. In three years, no one has claimed the prize. Today we raise the offered reward to R5000. ChristianView Network argues that if the government doesn't have courage to debate the Bill and allow a free vote in parliament, then it should not be law.
Political parties will be allowed a few minutes to make statements, but no debate will be allowed. The Bill was returned to parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled on 17 August last year that parliament had not had failed to allow public consultation in the provinces, which the constitution requires.
The Bill, which allows nurses to do abortions and allows abortion at smaller clinics was initially passed in 2004 in the face of opposition from numerous NGO's and the nurses union DENOSA. It was opposed by the ACDP, UCDP, IFP, FF, ID and DA. The ruling party also failed to allow a parliamentary debate and failed to allow a free vote for their MPs. Opposition parties did allow a free vote and most MPs, when allowed that free vote, opposed the bill. Even many MPs who supported legal abortion felt that this law helped no one because it increased the risks of women being injured by abortion.
The parliamentary health committee sadly rejected all the amendments proposed by a group of interested NGOs calling for women to be given mandatory counselling and information to mothers; conscientious objection rights for healthworkers; protection for infants born alive after abortion; parental consent for minors and criminalisation of partial-birth abortion.
Mr Steve Swart, ACDP MP said "The theme of parliament for 2007 is 'deepening the debate'. This goes against this aim. By silencing debate on abortion, they are not going to get rid of the issue.".
In 2004, ChristianView Network offered a reward of R2000 for anyone who could find a ruling party parliamentarian willing to defend the bill in public radio debate. CapeTalk/702 agreed to host the debate and Radio Tygerberg and Rainbow FM also agreed to air it. They could not find a parliamentarian willing to defend the Bill. Despite wide publicity in the press and on radio, no one has yet claimed the prize or accepted the challenge to debate. In their closing statement in parliament on the issue in 2004, the ANC said that they would promote public debate on any issue, but would not promote 'abuse of public debate'. In 2004, university students also staged a street protest outside parliament against the refusal to debate the issue. A Research Surveys poll showed that at least 86% of South Africans oppose nurses being allowed to perform abortions.
On 18 August 2004 ChristianView Network asked the ruling party whether their parliamentarians would be allowed a free vote according to their conscience on the issue. The chief whip referred the question to the health committee chairman, Mr James Ngculu. His answer was ambiguous. First, he denied that the ANC had ever forced their MPs to vote for a bill, but said that other parties such as the Democratic Alliance had done so. Then when asked if he could be quoted as saying a free vote would be allowed on the proposed new abortion law, he said "What is a free vote? I don't know anything about this in my life. The ANC is 92 years old. It is an organisation of principles. It has never betrayed the people of South Africa. This law is meant to empower the women of South Africa. Parliament will sue you if you misquote me". Then he hung up.
ChristianView Network asks whether South Africa is really a democracy when such an unpopular law can be passed without a free vote, without a parliamentary or even the government defending it in a broadcast debate.
Further comment: Philip Rosenthal, Director, ChristianView Network, 082 6768966.