By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

CAPE TOWN, February 13, 2008 ( – The South African Parliament last Thursday passed a controversial bill that would allow girls as young as 12 to obtain abortions without their parents’ consent, provide for 24-hour abortion facilities, eliminate pre-approval processes, and allow all nurses, as well as doctors and midwives, to perform the procedure, Reuters reports.

The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill passed by a vote of 266 to 52 with 12 abstentions, ending a four-year wrangle that saw the original bill struck down by the Constitutional Court.

The bill was initially passed by Parliament in 2004 (see report: Abortion Bill Allowing Abortion by Nurses Passes South African Legislature, The pro-life group, Doctors for Life International, challenged the legislation on the basis that Parliament had failed to involve the public, and did not recognize the constitutional right of medical staff to conscientious objection. The Constitutional Court intervened in 2006 and gave Parliament 18 months to amend the bill and provide for public consultation.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) tried to pass the bill last November but failed because the House did not have a quorum. Last week MPs were recalled from constituency leave for a special sitting of the National Assembly, ANC members being instructed to vote for the bill regardless of their personal position on abortion.

The Democratic Alliance party (DA) allowed a conscience vote, while the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front Plus party and the Federation of Democrats (FD) were opposed.

FD MP Louis Green pointed out the incongruity between a recently enacted law that outlaws kissing in public for adolescents, and the new law that ensures that 12-year-olds can obtain abortions, according to a report by All Africa Business Day. Green also pointed out the incongruity between the new law and another law states that a young woman must be 18 years or older in order to drink alcohol or enter a smoking area.

DA MP Mike Waters criticized how the ANC forced the measure into law, saying, “In yet another example of government’s tendency to steamroller over the opinions of ordinary South Africans, the National Council of Provinces refused to hold public hearings on the bill.”

The abortion amendment bill has been sent to President Thabo Mbeki for final approval.