It’s not law yet. But it should be. It’s the Abortion Funding Conscience Act. Any MP in our Parliament could submit it as a members bill. Indeed any political party that values freedom of conscience could introduce such a bill. The question is – will they?
As noted in my last blog, our current system means MPs who affirm the sanctity of human life are forced to support abortion funding because it is packaged within vote Health in the budget. Tax payers are likewise forced to fund via their taxes the “choices” of others that they may wish to have no part in. However it doesn’t have to be this way. And it won’t be when we have the Abortion Funding Conscience Act.
This legislation would do two things. Firstly it would require public funding for terminating the lives of unborn children to be separately identified in each year’s annual budget appropriations. That funding would be ring-fenced and required to be voted on separately from the rest of the budget. MPs would thus have the freedom to express their conscience on the matter – either way. In particular Government MPs would not be forced to vote through abortion funding simply because it is part of their party’s Health budget.
This is not about the legality (or otherwise) of the vast majority of abortions being undertaken in our country. That is a separate issue. This is about how it is all funded. If Parliament decides not to provide public funding for abortion then those who wish to make that “choice” would simply have to pay for it themselves. There are plenty of other health services which are not publicly funded in New Zealand – all of them far less controversial than abortion. Think of dental work, drugs not funded by Pharmac, or long term dementia care for those with assets.
The second key feature of the Abortion Funding Conscience Act would allow all New Zealanders, not just MPs, to express their conscience on the issue. Because even if Parliament decides to publicly fund abortion, there will remain a large proportion of of tax payers who hold profound ethical objections to having their taxes used for this purpose.
In recognition of this the Act would establish an on-line register held by IRD where such tax payers could record their conscientious objection. There would be no cash or financial implications, just a simple registering of opposition. This would not be mere token symbolism . It would be a legally recognised declaration of deeply held conviction.
Of course there are many publicly funded activities which individual MPs and tax payers may find objectionable. It would be inappropriate and impractical to make conscientious allowances for them all. In most cases it is simply a matter of accepting the outcome of the democratic process. However when it comes to the sanctity of human life there is a line which no-one should be forced to cross against their conscience. This is a matter of honouring and respecting the values and beliefs of many New Zealanders on a foundational ethical question.
Will we ever see the Abortion Funding Conscience Act in our nation? We will if our Parliamentarians put into practice what it truly means to be an “Honourable Member”.