A nurse walks past a poster on abortion. Contrary to ACDP proposals, the law allows women to request abortions. The legislation, says the writer, is correct as it puts women first. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Jo-Ann Downs’s clarification makes the ACDP’s policy even more obviously girl-unfriendly and women-unfriendly, says Eusebius McKaiser.

Johannesburg - So the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) took offence at my column about their views on women which was published on March 3. I essentially argued that no one who takes women’s rights seriously should vote for the ACDP.

In return, the chairwoman of the ACDP, Jo-Ann Downs, has sought to clarify a few things. (SEE RELATED ARTICLES ABOVE)

I decided, in the interest of debate, to engage their response to me. After all, columnists should not only want to be published and heard, but to engage critical responses to their views too.

First, recall that my major observation was that the ACDP thinks it is regrettable that women are able to access abortion rights because that means that women are allowed to murder people (foetuses).

Even in the case of rape, if a rape survivor was impregnated by the rapist, the ACDP thinks abortion is not morally permissible. The fact that the law allows abortion is a Christian tragedy they wish was not the case.

Now I’m sorry, but I’m rather disappointed. When I saw that Ms Downs had penned an article “clarifying” the ACDP view, I feared what any columnist fears in such situations, “Oh no, I got my facts wrong! I didn’t listen properly?” Turns out that half the response acknowledges that I described their views accurately. So there is no clarification or refutation of my attributions to them.

They really do, as a matter of policy, think that the reproductive rights of women, including their entitlement to make autonomous choices about their bodies, are less important than a Christian-specific view of what the status (and legal interests) of a foetus is.

Worse, and what I had not previously noted, insofar as they do acknowledge that women have interests in decisions affecting their bodies, those interests are simply stipulated to be less important than the interests of an entity whose biological status remains a subject of debate. Ms Downs therefore agrees that I stated their views accurately. What’s the real gripe then?

The first complaint is simply that they have many policies on many issues and that this discussion – which started on radio – is rather narrow. That’s a non-complaint. It’s asking me to change the subject because, well, the current subject is, as we say on Twitter, #awkward.

No, Ms Downs, we can talk education, land policy and economic growth tomorrow.

That’s not incompatible with focusing, in detail, in the first instance, on what you have to offer women and girls.

They make up roughly half the population, and as a woman yourself, I’m surprised you want to rush past “women’s rights” to talk about less jarring issues. Why not show confidence in being able to defend your views on topics like abortion?

Second, Ms Downs says the current law – which allows teen girls to abort without parental consent – “allows the abuser to cover up his crimes”.

Parental consent, furthermore, will allow welfare services for the whole family to be activated.

I’m glad I don’t drink a lot of coffee. If I had a mug in my hand, it would have dropped to the floor and broken into millions of pieces in utter disbelief at such contrarian logic.

The opposite is reality, Ms Downs. If dad rapes his daughter, and mom is scared of dad, the current law allows the daughter, if she is brave, to go ask for an abortion.

The teenage girl is put first; the abuser is not given a chance to block her from aborting the foetus. You want to empower abusers by giving them additional power over victims: vetoing an abortion. What if dad says no to the abortion because he wants the child? Isn’t it cruel to the teenage girl to have to plead with a possible abuser?

Your clarification makes your policy even more obviously girl-unfriendly and women-unfriendly.

Why should parents (who include dads, the perpetrators in some cases) have such an effective veto right over the teenage girl?

I prefer the current law. It is child centred and doesn’t assume that parents are inherently good.

Your position undermines the progress we have made in family law in putting the child’s interests first.

The other part of this logic that is just odd is the assumption that welfare services cannot be made available to the entire family unless parents consented to the abortion.

Why is that so? Why can’t a teen abuse survivor make decisions about her body and, in addition to that, the state have a policy that responds holistically to the underlying factors that resulted in her now being at the clinic or hospital?

So no, don’t tell me to ask you about the economy or land or education, Ms Downs. Talk to me about your unintended protection of abusers, and refusal to let the bodily integrity of women, and interests of teenage girls, be placed at the heart of social policies.

Don’t change the conversation.

* Eusebius McKaiser is the author of Could I Vote DA? which is now available at bookstores nationwide.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star