This week the Vote Choice Series is featuring the leader of the Labour Party, David Cunliffe, and his views on abortion law reform. While Mr. Cunliffe has not to date subjected himself to the Bob McCoskrie/Family First show, he did make a brief comment on abortion as part of the Labour leadership race last year. Thanks to Young Labour, spearheaded by the great Jessie Lipscombe, all leadership candidates were asked about law reform. This is what Cunliffe had to say:
“I want to see a woman’s right to choose protected. The current law hasn’t been reviewed for many years and I think that is now urgent. The Law Commission would be best placed to undertake this review as it is a conscience issue which splits across parties”.
The statement starts off on a positive note, with Cunliffe touting his pro-choice credentials. However he then makes a deft political move of side stepping the issue and placing it into the hands of the Law Commission. Regardless of the possible merits of the Law Commission route, in this instance it seems to be a both a conciliatory act and an easy out on the part of the would-be leader. Specifically, a review by the Law Commission will not shift the ability of MPs to vote their conscience (i.e its recommendations are unlikely to change the views of the dyed in the wool antis), but it does have potential to provide legitimacy to what is presumed to be a review that would change the law for the better. (Remember how well that went in the 70s with the Royal Commission, which we can safely blame for the confusing and useless law we currently have.)
It kind of sounds like we’re not even satisfied with what is overall a pretty positive statement from a potential Prime Minister. However even Brendan Malone (Pro-Life NZ) in his blog the Leading Edge thought this statement reflected Cunliffe’s desire to appear moderate (we don’t often agree so that is a momentous statement!). And it is this attempt at moderation that irks; no woman’s sexual and reproductive health should be subject to political game playing. Cunliffe is certainly not alone or the worst at side stepping the issue by deferring it to other institutions. As we know a similar approach worked in Victoria, Australia in 2008 and the outcome there was a law that allows abortion up to 24 weeks.
A look at Cunliffe’s previous voting record does further contextualize what we acknowledge was a one off statement at the time he was seeking to make himself palatable to the Labour Party members. Unlike Key, Cunliffe did not support any of the amendments in favour of parental notification in 2004. He has also consistently voted for candidates for the Abortion Supervisory Committee that are relatively liberal in their views, and against those who are supported by the antis.
Overall we’d be pretty positive about David Cunliffe’s position on abortion law reform and give him the pro-choice tick from ALRANZ. However we would like to see greater leadership from him on the issue. If he truly wants to see a woman’s right to choose protected then more than a pro-choice side step is needed; change will come when politicians do not feel compelled to cower behind judicial organizations to be effective.