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  • Added June 22nd, 2012
  • Filed under 'Articles'
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Politics and moral issues

By Laura Black in Articles

commentary on government control of the reproductive rights of individuals

The government has recently engaged in two important and contentious questions in the public sphere: the reproductive choices of beneficiaries and the ongoing childbearing of convicted child abusers.

Both of these topics have complex moral issues associated with them! The reproductive rights of beneficiaries touches on the personal right to manage one's own body (which is a right to privacy), the nature of the social contract between society and the individual, the complex and contributory issues associated with poverty, and the very human right of free access to medical care (which was accidently acknowledged by the government as not being present for most beneficiaries).

The issue of ongoing childbearing of convicted child abusers of course raises the fundamental natural justice question of whether someone can be prejudged for actions not yet taken on the basis of past history. To what extent do we afford someone a second chance (after a bad bout of post-natal depression say) and to what extent are we willing to risk the health and welfare of a child to do that?

Yet this is not the landscape that either of these debates ranged through.

Instead these debates have largely been conducted via talk back radio - in actual fact, the debate on the childbearing rights of convicted child abusers was started by the Minister on Michael Law's radio live programme.

Both left and right managed to ignore the voices of those they were talking about.

The actual policy change on beneficiary access to contraception - when it came - was so underfunded as to only reach 5% of the target population. And it turns out that Child Youth and Family already has the powers to remove children from parents likely to abuse again; and uses it well.

These, then, were not debates for the greater good, not designed to resolve complex moral and social issues, not started in order to make any kind of realistic change.

They were designed, I submit, to ginger up a portion of the population who respond to this kind of dog whistle politics. They were designed to categorise, dehumanise, and diminish another portion of the population who are a soft political target, without a voice of their own.

There is of course a considerable, short-term, political advantage for any government that kicks off this kind of media storm: they get a poll boost. They get to distract media attention from other issues, and they get to "own" the news cycle for another few hours.

However, there is a corrosive long-term effect that robs us all of some part of our humanity; that pushes our isolation from each other; that reduces the meaning and value and impact of being a society.

And that effect comes from our willingness to let go unchallenged the idea that other people can be talked about, rather than to, can be pushed and pulled and prodded and stripped of their dignity, that any/other people can be objectified for the sake of political advantage.

I remind you of Hannah Arendt's description of the banality of evil, as I ask you to reflect upon the Edmund Burke's belief that in order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.

The creep of these "little evils" into our public life as a nation should, and must, not stand unanswered.
Laura Black