An examination of the relationship between public opinion and public policy in South Africa : the case of abortion

Van Zyl, Hester Nicolette (2003-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: A democratic political system grants unimpaired opportunities for all citizens to have their preferences weighted equally in the conduct of government regardless of content or source. However, governments in democratic political systems frequently disregard public preference. But all governments, not only popular governments, are dependent on the 'will of the people' if the system is to remain viable. This study investigates the relationship between public opinion and public policy in South Africa, using the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act as case study, as it provides a practical example to illustrate this complex relationship. The study used a longitudinal approach to investigate shifts in public opinion over a period of five years, using secondary survey analysis. Attitudes towards abortion are cross-tabulated by demographic variables, religion, interest in politics and democratic norms. The study found that the most significant shifts in public opinion occurred within demographic groups previously discriminated against by the 1975 Abortion and Sterilisation Act. In 1994 South Africa emerged from a lengthy anti-apartheid struggle and human rights were of paramount importance to many South Africans. The restrictive abortion legislation of 1975 was vestige of discriminative apartheid legislation and was not in line with South Africa's exemplary 1996 Constitution. Consequently, progressive abortion legislation was ratified, amidst significant public indifference, in order to promote equal citizenship of women. It is argued that abortion constitutes a basic democratic right, in the context of reproductive health rights, and although South African citizens predominantly support a democratic political system, few made the ideological connection with abortion as a democratic right. Therefore, the study infers that the South African electorate is ill informed of the ideological norms surrounding democracy. The significance of this study is that it investigated abortion not as a legal or moral issue, but as a politicised issue in South Africa. The African National Congress (ANC) was strongly committed to advancing progressive abortion legislation in South Africa. The ANC elected to vote on a party platform on the proposed abortion bill. When a majority party, which holds 252 seats of 400 in the National Assembly, elects to vote as a block on proposed legislation, it is likely that the legislation will be passed into law. This conduct of the ANC raises fears that South Africa is a de facto one-party dominant state, where free and fair elections are held, but no rotation in office occurs. Both the 1994 and 1999 elections led to landslide victories for the ANC, and they are assured that the 2003 elections will yield the same result. It is extremely damaging to any democratic system when competition but no contestation occurs. Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between state and party interests. The study concludes that in the case of progressive abortion legislation in South Africa, the people did not rule. It is the view of this study that the enactment of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act did not represent democratic conduct. It illustrates that the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was, by implication, "bulldozed" into law by the ANC.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: 'n Demokratiese politieke stelsel vergun gelyke geleenthede aan elke burger sodat hul voorkeure gelyk opgeweeg word in die optrede van 'n regering, ongeag die bron of konteks daarvan. Nogtans minag regerings gereeld openbare voorkeur. Nie slegs populêre regerings nie, maar alle regerings is afhanklik van volkswil, as slegs dan die stelsel lewensvatbaar sal bly. Hierdie studie ondersoek die verhouding tussen openbare mening en openbare beleid in Suid-Afrika. Die Wet op Keuse oor Beëindiging van Swangerskap van 1996 word gebruik, omdat dit 'n praktiese gevallestudie bied om hierdie komplekse verhouding te illustreer. Die studie maak gebruik van 'n langsdeursnee aanslag om die verandering van openbare mening oor vyf jaar te ondersoek en maak gebruik van sekondêre meningsopname vraelys analiese. Lewenshoudings oor aborsie is kruis getabuleer met demografiese veranderlikes, geloof, intriseerdheid in politiek en demokratiese grondregte. Daar is gevind dat die mees aanduidende veranderinge in openbare menings te vinde was in demografiese groepe waarteen gediskrimineer was deur die Wet op Vrugafdrywing en Sterilisasie van 1975. Suid-Afrika het in 1994 uit 'n wydlopende anti-apartheid stryd getree en mense-regte was van oorwegende belang vir die meeste Suid-Afrikaners. Die 1975 Wet op Vrugafdrywing en Sterilisasie was 'n bewys van diskriminerende apartheid wetgewing en was nie in lyn met Suid-Afrika se nuwe Grondwet nie. Dus is progressiewe aborsie wetgewing bekragtig, om vroue in Suid-Afrika gelyke burgerskap te gee, te midde van deurslaggewende openbare ontevredenheid. Die studie veronderstel dat aborsie 'n grondreg van demokrasie vorm, binne die konteks van reproduktiewe gesondheids-regte. Alhoewel Suid-Afrikaners 'n demokratiese politieke stelsel steun, het weinig die konneksie tussen aborsie en demokratiese ideologiese grondregte gemaak. Die studie maak dus die gevolgtrekking dat Suid-Afrikaners swak ingelig is in verband met die ideologiese grondregte van demokrasie. Die inhoudsbelang van hierdie studie is dat aborsie ondersoek word as 'n politieke vraagstuk en nie as morele of wetregtige vraagstuk nie. Die African National Congress (ANC) was sterk verbind tot die totstandbringing van progresiewe aborsie wetgewing in Suid-Afrika en het besluit om op 'n party-platform te stem in Parlement aangaande voorgestelde progressiewe aborsie wetgewing. Wanneer 'n meerderheidsparty, wat 252 setels van 400 in die parlement beslaan, besluit om as 'n blok te stem oor voorgestelde wetgewing, dit redelik seker is dat dié wetgewing bekragtig sal word. Hierdie gedrag van die ANC gee aanleiding tot vrese dat Suid Afrika 'n de facto een party dominante staat is, waar vry en regverdige verkiesings voorkom, maar geen afwisseling in ampstermyn nie. Dit is skadelik vir enige demokratiese stelsel wanneer kompetisie maar geen betwisting paasvind nie. Gevolglik word dit al hoe moeiliker om te onderskei tussen party-en staatsbelange. Die studie sluit af dat die publiek nie regeer het in hierdie geval nie. Dit is die siening van hierdie studie dat die bekragtiging van die Wet op Keuse oor die Beëindiging van Swangerskap van 1996 nie goeie demokratiese optrede weerspieël het nie en dat dit, by implikasie, deur die ANC deur middel van intimidasie bekragtig is.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/53262
This item appears in the following collections: