Many thanks to Sanda Ramage for allowing us to cross-post from her blog.
by Sande Ramage
Pregnant, yet deep within I knew I couldn’t give this baby life. The decision was made to abort and back then, over 30 years ago, I was unaware of how this experience would influence my spiritual development.
Now in my 60’s I can see how it contributed to the meaning and purpose of my life, an experience that helped me develop compassion for myself and others, and offer a timid act of resistance to the relentless patriarchy of my religious tradition.
Circumstances meant I flew to Sydney for the abortion. Should have been straightforward but mistakes were made and my life was in jeopardy because of an unidentified bleed. A Kiwi nurse held my hand as I was packed full of dressings and hooked up to a continuous blood supply. The next day she went with me to theatre where the internal damage was found and repaired, just in time. How much her connectedness with me mattered.
I remember the way she looked deep into my soul during those days of despair. It was as though God took on female form with compassion, acceptance and love writ large on a nurse’s face and in her ritual, nurturing actions. All done within sight and sound of the patient who told her visitors in self-righteous tones, loud enough for me to hear, about ‘the abortion over there gone wrong’.
Soon I was back home in a New Zealand church attending a baby’s funeral. I cried incessantly, deep wracking sobs. Couldn’t stop and didn’t want to even though I was piggy backing on someone else’s grief and funeral rites. Where was the rite for the remains of the child I had aborted and for the sustenance of my soul? Who decided what was sacramental, or not?
20 years on whilst training to be an Anglican priest, I found myself reliving significant life experiences, including the abortion, and beginning to write Godde instead of God. It was code for the feminine aspect of God, the tiniest act of resistance to the avalanche of male dominated thought about what we might mean by God. Thank Godde for feminist theologians who fuelled my growing discontent.
My life experience as a woman, a priest and now working to integrate spiritual care in a district health board shows me that the stories we live by matter. Furthermore, the stories of that which we hold as sacred, the inspiration to live within the existential nothingness of the void, are mighty stories that carry unspoken layers about who we are and what we might become. They work best within rituals that ground us in the uncertainty of life and offer inspiration, especially in dark times. Imagine what it might be like if there were more Godde stories to help us do this.
I suspect a form of religious fundamentalism drives abortion protesters and stops New Zealand politicians from addressing our outdated abortion laws. Unfortunately, as Marist priest and social anthropologist Dr Gerald Arbuckle says in his book Fundamentalism at Home and Abroad, fundamentalism is an emotional reaction to the disorienting experience of change and fundamentalists are not open to rational discussion. This skews conversation.
Conversations about how we understand life, its beginnings, endings and the messy bits in between are an evolving journey for all communities. Our abortions matter in these conversations because they are so foundational in the mighty stories of our lives. They are excruciating moments that deserve the grounding of creative and compassionate rituals, not the destructive gauntlet of fundamentalist protest.
‘Crisis Pregnancy Centre’ is a term of art. It means a counselling centre that advertises that it provides neutral pregnancy counselling, but anyone unwise or unlucky enough to go there soon discovers it’s a front for an anti-choice pressure group. They bait pregnant people with the promise of neutrality and a cheap pregnancy test, then switch to high-pressure tactics to convince the pregnant person not to abort.
Persuasion has some moral force, because it involves fully informed consent to the conversation on all sides. Coercion has no moral force. Under coercion I would include lies, subterfuge, and scams like crisis pregnancy centres.
Crisis pregnancy centres have to be run as cons. They have to trick women to get them in the door, because everyone knows they are not neutral, not unbiased, and moreover, whoever walks through the door will be subjected to an unpleasant hard sell by people who won’t take no for an answer.
If there were a service out there that listened rather than told, that attempted to persuade respectfully rather than bulldoze, what would that even look like? And who would trust it enough to give it a try? The usual crisis pregnancy centre suspects have poisoned the well.
For those who approach their own discomfort around abortion with kindness, for those who wish to make abortion unnecessary rather than illegal, it must be frustrating to be so poorly served by the authoritarian leaders of the alleged “pro-life” movement.
Anti-abortionists who don’t subscribe to authoritarian tactics should think long and hard about what their movement actually represents: coercing women through force of law to maintain pregnancies they do not want, lying to women about dodgy research, lying to women about their intentions at crisis pregnancy centres, harassing women outside abortion clinics, proselytising women under the guise of counselling. Where is the honour? Where is the morality?
Anyone who can look at that list of coercive actions and think, “well, but it’s OK in the service of our movement”, needs to think long and hard about whether the ends really justify the means.
As for the authoritarians, I wonder whether they are more attracted to the ends or the means.
I noticed something strange about Narelle Henson’s opinion piece in Stuff a few days ago. She seems to blame doctors more than patients, arguing abortion be decriminalised for patients, but criminal for doctors. Of course, if you criminalise abortion for doctors, it’s automatically inaccessible for patients, at least safely and legally. Even stranger, she portrays abortion as something that just happens to women without their input, like a virus or a mugging.
This is bizarre. Abortions happen because women actively seek them out when they do not wish to be pregnant. Abortions are not a injustice perpetrated on women, they are an option women have resorted to for thousands of years, when conditions are not favorable for bearing a child.
For Henson and other anti-choice activists to pretend otherwise infantilises women in a way that serves the anti-choice cause. It portrays women as acted upon rather than acting for themselves. It disappears the reality of women seeking to improve their lives by pursuing education, careers, and financial independence by controlling their own fertility. It justifies government forcing women to remain pregnant and labour against their will on the ground that women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.
It’s like they have never met a woman. And yet Henson is a woman. I can’t explain it.
Pretending women are passive and incapable allows them to pretend restricting abortion, whether through criminalisation or by making it inaccessible, will stop people having abortions. This flies in the face of long experience on planet Earth. Historically, women have risked everything to terminate pregnancies, and continue to do so in places where they are illegal.
Nothing will stop abortion. If force of law, and fear of the consequences of illegal abortion- prison, assault, injury, or death- cannot dissuade women, nothing can. There is no punishment the law can devise that compares to the harm and pain, both physical and psychological, of being unwillingly pregnant, and facing a huge life change you don’t want, even if you just don’t want it right now.
By calling for decriminalisation coupled with restricting access to abortion, anti-choice activists like Henson are demonstrating that they are okay with some women dying needlessly. This says a lot about their attitude towards women, even more than Henson’s calf analogy that seems cast women as livestock. It says a lot about their actual attitude towards actual life.
Kiwis are waking up to the fact that our abortion laws are ridiculous.
Labour, the Greens, and ACT have spoken up and called out the abortion bureaucracy for inefficiency, expense, and denying pregnant people’s right to make decisions about their own internal organs. National is still trying to pretend there is nothing to see here, that the Emperor is not buck naked.
Which is more appalling? The arrogance of the Prime Minister who thinks it’s OK to let his faith determine whether or not New Zealanders have a workable law to provide necessary health care, or the cowardice of his caucus who are desperately trying simultaneously to occupy mutually exclusive positions on the subject?
Mr English insists a 40 year old law that places the needs of patients last, prevents doctors from providing a proper standard of care, and mocks the rule of law itself, has “stood the test of time.” But the caucus claims to be pro-choice while supporting the same legal regime the prime minister supports. At least Mr English acknowledges his hostility to bodily autonomy.
The Prime Minister wins for daring us to call him out, but the caucus wins for lying to our faces.
The Emperor is naked. Kiwis are not going back to pretending otherwise.
In an article today, Amy Adams let fly a blatant, transparent porkie when she alleged New Zealand’s 40 year old abortion laws are working “broadly as intended”.
That whopper disappears much of the history around the Royal Commission that set out the framework for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977. The legal regime it created was intended to make sure the law forced most women to carry most pregnancies most of the time whether they wanted to or not. People at the time disagreed with the Royal Commission. Enjoy online gambling sites– find the best! This is why activists were able to gather 320,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the CSA in 1977-78. The government of the day buried that petition.
Certifying consultants have forced the system to serve purposes it was not designed for. Years of certifying consultants who have taken a broad view of “mental harm” have turned system into something the Royal Commission would not have approved of.
It was a double cross. The Royal Commission screwed pregnant people, and screwed the popular feeling at the time. And certifying consultants screwed them right back. Certifying consultants kept their views unspoken (as the law required) while quietly granting 98% of requested abortions on mental health grounds.
Thus the system evolved to allow abortion in the most disempowering way possible. The decision would not be left with the woman, oh no, that would be terrible. The decision would belong to a rational, fair-minded professional (obviously assumed to be male) who would decide for her, without all that emotionalism that all women are naturally subject to, at least in the minds of the Royal Commission.
All human beings own their own bodies. All human beings have bodily autonomy and moral agency. The question, as with all fundamental rights, is not whether we all possess these rights, but whether our government recognises them. Our government currently does not do so with respect to women, pregnant people, and abortion.