News flash: 46% of Kiwis are WRONG. Stop the presses.
Family First commissioned a poll asking whether respondents agreed with the following incorrect statement: “Women who have abortions risk harming their mental health as a result of the abortion.”
The poll found 46% of Kiwis thought the statement was right, 33% knew it was wrong, and 22% realised they did not know.
The press release on Scoop included links to old, discredited research and a poll Family First commissioned in 2011.
You could probably find a percentage of the population who would agree with statements like “climate change is a hoax” or “the earth is flat”. Doesn’t make it so.
My story starts when I was twenty-one… or maybe that’s when it ended, depending on your point of view. I grew up extremely religious in the fundamentalist Christian church. Both my parents were preachers, and all their parents were preachers too. My mother was even a pro-life activist. You could say I come from a long line of extreme anti-abortionists. When I was sixteen I received a letter from my grandparents threatening to disown me if I were ever to be in a de-facto relationship.
So when I found myself pregnant halfway through my first year of tertiary it was literally a nightmare scenario. I became an atheist in my early teens and developed strong feminist politics before I even got to art school so I was long divorced from the ideals of my family, but that left me the lone black sheep in a large family of fanatical Christians. I didn’t even have any non-Christian friends until I was about fourteen and due to media restrictions in my childhood I knew very little pop culture – age fourteen was also when I found out who Michael Jackson was. Thus socializing was quite difficult for me and like many young adults, I threw myself into the party scene when I moved to another city to study. The sexual repression of my family only fuelled my drive to explore my own blossoming sexuality.
I considered myself a well-informed, sexually empowered young woman at the time, and frequently availed myself of the services provided by the drop-in family planning nurse at my campus. We received five boxes of condoms every time we saw her, so I had no excuse except drunkenness and youthful idiocy for not using one the night I got pregnant.
I remember going to that same nurse for the blood test to confirm what my dizziness, nausea, cramping and missed period had already told me. I didn’t cry when she told me the test was positive, or made arrangements for follow up. I didn’t cry when I walked back to my studio and blurted out the news to some of the older female students who were hanging around. I didn’t even cry at my first ultrasound appointment even though the technician made me feel terrible for wasting her time by not arriving with a full bladder (which no one had told me to do).
I did finally cry at the second appointment where they successfully found the heartbeat needed to book me for a termination. Understand the need for this process but it felt unusually cruel at the time – being forced to listen to the heartbeat of the child I didn’t want, even being offered a keepsake CD of the ultrasound. I had no one to go with me to that appointment. I held it together until I got to the bus stop to take myself home, then let myself sob like the infant I couldn’t possibly have.
There had never been any question of me keeping the baby. I had never wanted children, fearing my own Clinical Depression/Generalized Anxiety Disorder would be passed on – it had already begun to be wildly exacerbated by my pregnancy hormones. I also knew having a child out of wedlock would rock my family. I estimated that only my mother would have stood by me without question but she had disappeared the year before to save her failing mental health, escaping to India where I kept in contact by occasional email. At the time I felt burdening her with my pregnancy would threaten her mental condition so resolved to keep it from my family entirely.
The father was my flatmate who had since gotten into a relationship with my good friend. When I told him about my pregnancy and desire to terminate, he said very little. I was angry about his lack of reaction and eventually got him to reveal that he didn’t believe it was his at all and didn’t care either way. In the end the only people I had any support from were my best childhood friend and people I had studied with for just a handful of months.
It was one of these tenuous new study friendships that helped me the most – my closest female classmate offered to drive me to the hospital for my appointment. This was no small offer, for whatever reason this service wasn’t offered in our city so it required driving to a hospital an hour and half away. Without the help of my friend I would have had to figure out a complex bus scheme to make it to my 9am appointment. She even let me stay the night prior at her house so we could leave directly from her place. She stayed with me when I had to take a pill to soften the cervix first, and then wait in a grim room full of comfortable armchairs occupied by uncomfortable women. Some were young like me, others looked old enough to have had a few grown children. It was understood we were all there for the same thing, but none of us spoke to each other. It wasn’t a community any of us wanted to belong in.
The surgical process itself was quick and painless, with the most unpleasant part coming when antibiotic suppositories were administered with only the briefest of warnings. I remember the doctor confirming the estimated conception date, which I luridly imagined resulted from him counting limbs or some such.
Afterwards I was offered the option of keeping the remains, which I declined. I saw other women from the same group with brown paper bags, which are apparently the standard for concealing the containers. The social worker, who had briefly spoken with me at the beginning of my appointment to confirm my mental incapacity, kindly told me that the hospital would cremate my foetuses remains and bury them under some kowhai trees. This became a symbol of my pregnancy to me, and in my stray thoughts about might-have-beens I sometimes name my never-was baby Kowhai.
Even though it felt like a fait accompli from the minute I learned of my pregnancy, I still had a lot of hesitation and regret. This is never a decision that is made lightly, whatever pro-lifers accuse us of. I was not equipped financially, physically or mentally to carry any baby to term at that stage of my life and I truly believe I would have killed myself before the foetus ever became viable. Still, for many years after I found myself looking at children who matched the age of my not-baby. I even quit a babysitting job because the three-year-old girl was too close to the mental picture I had built up of my own imaginary child.
I told my mother a few years later. She expressed support and regret that she hadn’t been there for me – although she insists she would have raised a child for me, not quite understanding I couldn’t have ever survived that baby. She is still staunchly pro-life and has given me grief occasionally over my reproductive choices (IUDs are the same as abortions, in her view). I have told only one of my siblings, I’m still not sure how the others will react.
My expected due date was March 17th, Saint Patricks Day. All of my mothers grandparents were born in Ireland, so it would have been quite an apt birthday. I still don’t know whether to mark this date as special in any way – I don’t feel entitled to grief. A lot of people would consider me a murderer, I don’t know if I think so myself but I feel like this silent grief is my punishment. I’ve thought about getting a Kowhai tattoo to commemorate that little life, but it feels somehow selfish. Maybe one day I won’t feel this weird mixture of guilt and relief and will be able to openly claim my story. Writing this down is the first step.
ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa
13 March 2017
PRIME MINISTER’S IGNORANCE ON ABORTION LAW SHOWS NEED FOR REFORM
The Prime Minister’s support for New Zealand’s outdated abortion laws is deeply disappointing and shows how badly reform is needed, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa says.
Bill English and Labour leader Andrew Little showed how vast the gulf between National and Labour is on abortion law reform in interviews given today.
Mr English believes abortion laws had “stood the test of time” and he confirmed he is comfortable obstructing any change to the 40-year old legal regime.
The current law frames abortion as a crime and forces pregnant people to lie that their mental or physical health is at risk if they want to end their pregnancy.
“Mr English either supports forcing people to carry pregnancies they do not want, or he wants them to go through a degrading, complicated, and expensive process,” ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak said.
“That strikes us as a strange position for a former Finance Minister.”
Meanwhile, Mr Little says abortion laws in New Zealand need to be reviewed and upgraded.
Recent polling by Curia Research, commissioned by ALRANZ, shows a majority of New Zealanders support the right to access legal abortion if the pregnant person wants one.
“Our research shows Mr English’s extreme stance does not reflect most Kiwis’ views,” Ms Bellamak says.
“ALRANZ calls upon all political parties in New Zealand to commit to supporting a Law Commission review of our laws around abortion with a view to law reform.”
Today ALRANZ posted some stories from people who have experienced the abortion bureaucracy in New Zealand. One sticks out – it demonstrates exactly what is wrong with section 46 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.
The writer visited a doctor to get a referral for an abortion. Instead she got “lectured about God by a female GP” and asked to leave. She waited “at a bus stop bawling my eyes out, totally alone.”
In what universe is it acceptable for a doctor to verbally brutalise a patient? Oh yeah, the one in which reproductive health care is so stigmatised the law specifically allows doctors to refuse to care for patients with impunity. This one.
Strangely enough, that doctor probably considers herself a good Christian, standing up for a clump of cells by tearing down a living, breathing woman and making her cry.
Did she go to med school in order to find occasions to show her patients how much more moral she is than them? Why does she think she has anything to say about anybody else’s morals when she herself is so willing to act so unkindly?
And then the story gets worse.
The writer gets shown the door by another doctor who refuses to treat her. Twice more.
This is how ‘conscientious objection” leads to delays and shortages of time-sensitive health care. The doctor’s display of sanctimony wastes the patient’s time and money, and delays their access to the care they need. The patient may end up having to undergo a more complicated and expensive procedure because of it.
We must put an end to this farce.
I think about my abortion in 2006 as an incredibly positive choice I made for my life. Everything I had read or heard made me feel like it would haunt me forever, but this is a decision I am proud of and do not regret in the slightest.
I was 21 at the time, living in Christchurch and had just split up from my partner. We had a stable relationship and the break up was a big shock for me. A few weeks after the split, I started feeling nauseous. I was confused – I had been on birth control since I was 16, and getting pregnant was something that had never crossed my mind. I took a test, was in total physical shock, and called my mum.
She asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted an abortion. Instantly I knew it was the right decision and I was surprised that I would so confidently blurt it out. I was alone in a city where I had few friends and zero support network. I was young, I made minimum wage and I had no plans for the future.
I talked to my ex-partner and he made it clear this was a situation he would have no part of. So I made an appointment with a doctor in my neighbourhood, which I thought would be the easy part. I had no idea that medical professionals are free to refuse care for you. I found this out the hard way, by being lectured about God by a female GP, being asked to leave and waiting at a bus stop bawling my eyes out, totally alone. That doctor, and the two more that followed, were more than happy to tell me how immoral I was, but gave me no viable second option, no ideas or advice on how to care for a child as a young single mother. Finally, as I was leaving the last clinic, the receptionist followed me out and gave me the name of a doctor who would refer me to an abortion clinic. I don’t know how she knew what was going on but I was so grateful for her and the kind words she gave me. I found a doctor who would refer me, and I started the process.
Being 21 and not knowing how this system worked, I was blown away to find out that abortion is not technically legal in New Zealand. I felt as though to get an abortion I was declaring myself unfit to ever be a mother. There are set reasons to be able to access abortion services, and I didn’t feel like I fit into any of those, and so I had to lie. And I had to lie to two separate doctors.
Those doctors, as well as the reception staff, nurses and counsellors at the Lyndhurst Clinic in Christchurch, without any doubt or exaggeration, saved my life. The wait for an abortion was weeks long, and I ended up in hospital three times with severe dehydration and hyperemesis. I was severely depressed, and if I didn’t have that light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t know how I would have been able to deal with that depression in a system that has very little support for women in this situation.
My mum travelled to Christchurch to be with me on the day, but when I think about the actual procedure I think the biggest support and help I received was from the staff themselves. These professionals have a job that cannot be easy, is not glamourous but a job that is so important. The procedure went by in a flash, and was the easiest part of the process for me. I don’t remember much because I was lightly sedated, but I didn’t experience much pain if any, and had some medium to light bleeding and cramping for a few days afterwards. But it was all nothing compared to how relieved and grateful I was. I felt well, instantly like myself again and I 100% knew that what I did was the right thing.
Since then, I try to be open about my abortion. Not being able to find relatable stories was something I struggled with at the time, and I felt like I knew no one who had ever had one. But I found out my mother, another close family member and a few of my friends have all had one. Their reasons and experiences were all different to mine, but they all made the right choice for themselves and I don’t know a single person who regrets that choice.
This is a health service that should be legal in this country, and I am a huge supporter of ALRANZ and the work they do, from helping to make people aware that the laws around abortion need reforming, that parental notification isn’t always the best idea for minors, and taking action by counter-protesting at abortion clinics. They are an organisation that focuses on supporting women and their rights and I am thankful for the the people working to help women like me own their decisions and feel safe in doing so.