Sat, Nov 11, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Women's rights activists fight abortion proposal

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Women's rights activists have promised to fight proposed amendments to the Birth Health Law (生育保建法), formerly the genetic health law, which will mandate a three-day wait for women seeking to obtain abortions.

Having been approved by the Cabinet, the amendments will now go before the Legislative Yuan.

In addition to the waiting period, women will also have to undergo counseling and inform their husbands of their decision if they are married, although his permission is not required.

Opponents have characterized the "reconsideration" period as an attack on women's autonomy while the bill's supporters described it as an advance for fetal rights and a move that is conducive to women's well-being.

"We try to stay neutral in the fight between the women's rights groups and religious groups," said Wu Shiou-ing (吳秀英), deputy director general of the Bureau of Health Promotion of the Department of Health. "The pro-life activists wanted seven days. In the end we settled on three."

However, Luanne Li (李佳燕), formerly of the Commission on Women's Rights Promotion (CWRP) felt blindsided by the Cabinet's decision.

"Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) promised that the CWRP would have a say in the drafting process of the amendment," said Li, "but Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) chose to stonewall us right up to the approval of the amendment."

Li resigned her position on the CWRP in protest.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) has put together a competing draft proposal without the wait period to go before the legislative yuan.

"There's only one other instance of the law interfering with a patient's right to self-determination -- mental illness" said Chang Chueh (張玨), an associate professor at National Taiwan University's Institute of Health Policy and Management, criticizing the proposed amendment.

In addition to violating women's autonomy, said Chang, the proposed amendment also passes value judgement on which pregnancies should be allowed to continue.

"Pregnancies resulting from rape or where the fetus is suspected of carrying genetic defects are exempt from the three-day wait," said Chang, "but those cases are precisely the ones where the issues are the most complex."

Supporters of the amendment reject the charge that the proposed amendments infringe upon women's rights.

"Women might be pressured to go to a doctor by family or the man in a relationship. This is a final chance for them to get more information and make their own decision" said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yang Li-hung (楊麗環).

"Being better informed increases rather than decreases autonomy," Yang said, adding that she has known many young women who later regretted their choice.

"Even though they do not have the ability to express themselves, each fetus is a life," she added.

"Those Women's Rights groups should really be called elitist feminists' groups," said Georgie Hsieh (解慧珍), president of Women For Life. "Is three days too much to ask for such an important decision?"

Although Georgie Hsieh is also the founder of Christian Salvation Services, a children's charity, she is adamant that the concern for unborn life cuts across religious lines.

"There are too many temples all over Taiwan dedicated to unborn babies' souls," she said.

Georgie Hsieh said that conservative estimates of abortion rates in Taiwan run from 200,000 to 300,000 every year, "but the true figure could be far, far higher."

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