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The Prime Minister’s support for New Zealand’s outdated abortion laws is deeply disappointing and shows how badly reform is needed, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa says.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.
I was 24 when I got pregnant. I was in a long-distance relationship, was on the same pill I had been on since the age of 16, and mostly used condoms. I was not some stupid kid who didn’t know the risks. I wasn’t sleeping around. I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t uneducated. I am up to date with my cervical smears and regularly get sexual health check-ups. I take iron supplements, I eat well, and I don’t smoke. I had a good job at a university teaching biology (ironically). I was in the process of buying a house. I was just unlucky.
Let me just say now that the worst part of my abortion was having to say that I would be seriously harmed emotionally, in order for it to be legal.
That’s not true, I just didn’t want it.
I had other priorities. I like my life how it is. I have a dog, and he is enough baby for me. It wasn’t even that I was in a bad relationship, I had a great time with my boyfriend; we had a healthy, respectful relationship.
I was in a good position financially, plenty of money to raise a child if I felt that way inclined – but I didn’t, and still don’t.
I was in a good position in terms of my job too, I had a generous maternity plan in my permanent job. I just didn’t want it.
I had a supportive family who would have welcomed a new addition. But I still didn’t want it.
Sensing a theme here? I didn’t want it and I think that’s okay. I have no regrets. It was the right decision.
If you’re thinking that I’m not particularly maternal, or a selfish person, that’s not true either. I am a feeder, I compulsively offer to help people I’ve just met, and I spend most of my expendable income on my little sister.
It’s 2017 and I would love to see attitudes change in our conversations around abortion and motherhood. In NZ 1/5 of women don’t have children in their lifetime and we should stop shaming them.
I told my sister, my best friend, my boyfriend (obviously), and a close friend at work. I didn’t tell my parents even though they are pro-choice, mainly because abortions are sad and I wanted to spare them. When I told my boyfriend he initially refused to tell me what he wanted to do because he wanted me to decide how I felt with no pressure from him. This is the ideal situation that all women deserve. I told him I wanted an abortion and he said he fully supported my decision and that he knew it would be sad for both of us.
Now on to the technical details… I knew I was pregnant almost immediately. I had done a home test which came up positive and my period was late. I had small amounts of cramping but no blood. I googled these symptoms and identified ‘implantation cramps’ as being the most likely. I went up to Auckland Family Planning (I was living in Tauranga but am from Auckland) for my initial appointment to talk to a GP and to do another stick test. I talked to the GP and she asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted an abortion and she asked me a few questions and talked me through the process.
I then went for a blood test and yep, preggers. A side note here is that the people at the Labtests NZ did not know I was getting an abortion and asked questions like “is this your first?” and “what do you want, a boy or a girl?” I went along with it because they meant well and I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.
A week later I had my scan to date the pregnancy, the people there were lovely and turned the monitor off so I wouldn’t have to see or hear anything. I found out I was 5 weeks pregnant. This was a week after my initial at-home stick test.
I then went back to family planning to have a sexual health test done (because if you have a surgical abortion they don’t want to risk infection). I said I would rather have a medical abortion since it was so early in my pregnancy and I was referred to the Epsom Day clinic.
Now it was Christmas time and everything was a bit delayed at all of the clinics because everyone was taking leave so I was told that the wait time would be longer than normal. I developed debilitating morning sickness, fainting, dizziness, fatigue, to the point where I would sometimes throw up 10 times before lunch. I was essentially bed ridden and any strong smells were intolerable.
At Epsom they said I would be lower priority on the wait list because they were so busy and there were other women who were closer to the legal cut-off point and that they would be booked in first. This made complete sense even if it was a nightmare. I was prescribed anti-emetics for my nausea and luckily was off work because Uni holidays! Lucky me!
I am well aware that there are thousands of women out there who had a much worse time than me and are in much tougher circumstances. I am so sorry for them.
At Epsom they asked me if I would like to see a counsellor, I said nah I’m good. They asked me a lot of questions, and I told them the standard ‘I wasn’t ready’ blah blah. The security there is heavy and this made me feel very safe. Also the waiting room is really open, which I liked because nobody is trying to hide.
In the end I got booked in for a surgical abortion at 11 weeks, 4 days. Nightmare! Two months of morning sickness so bad I lost 7kg. The hardest part of my abortion emotionally is that it feels very self-destructive.
Hours before the procedure, you take some pills. One pill relaxes your pelvic muscles to make the whole process easier on you physically, and one stops the heart of the embryo. This was the hardest part, you quietly swallow these pills like you would for a headache, knowing you are stopping the process your body working so hard for.
Then you start to feel a bit drunk because of the muscle relaxants. A nurse comes to get you, you’re in disposable underwear and a gown and you are walked to the operating room. There seems to be a nurse whose job it is just to hold your hand and tell you that you’re okay, you’re doing well. This is the sweetest thing.Then you get up into stirrups like when you get a smear and you really can’t see anything. They insert a speculum and then widen your cervix which feels like intense pressure and cramping – this made me feel a bit faint. They insert a tube and to be honest it reminded me of those old plastic surgery shows where someone is getting liposuction? They push the tube around like they’re vacuuming. Meanwhile a nurse is holding my hand and stoking my hair and saying I’m very brave. I think I cried a bit. It sucks, but the pain wasn’t any worse for me than bad period cramps. The whole thing was over in less than 5 minutes I reckon.
Then they help you to get up and walk back to your room; walking was fine for me, just a few cramps. You go and have a lie down and they monitor your bleeding (they ask you to rate the amount of blood in your underwear). When your bleeding has slowed down enough you are allowed to go home. I bled very little and was allowed to go home after an hour. I haven’t mentioned my boyfriend so far because I told him to stay down in the South Island where he lives. Really he wouldn’t have been much help and would draw too much attention to it when I was staying with my dad. Instead I got an old friend who was living in Auckland to drive me. He had to come up to reception to collect me as you are not allowed to leave alone. He was a bit late but brought me a muffin, “gotta keep up your blood sugar mate!”
I went home, told my dad I felt sick and went to sleep in the room I shared with my sister, while she did her homework. The next few days were like having a heavy period but oh my god, the nausea was better! I felt like myself again. In the following months I had a few issues; namely my follow up pregnancy test a few weeks later was positive (!?) due to leftover hormones, and I didn’t trust the pill anymore. I eventually got a Mirena inserted and have felt safe and protected ever since. The Mirena is 1000% the best decision I have ever made. My boyfriend and I broke up due to distance and I went back to work. I hardly ever think about it and when I do I just feel grateful for all the medical practitioners who helped me, and I wish I could have told the truth about just not wanting it.
*For donations for treats for AMAC, please head to https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/40daysforchoice*
We aim to raise money to send flowers and messages of support to the three clinics currently being targeted by the anti-choice campaign ’40 Days’. For background and more details, please read on.
Click here to donate.
This year’s ’40 Days for Life’ campaign against abortion services runs from 1 March – 9 April, and targets providers in Tamaki Makaurau (AMAC in Auckland), Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Hospital in Wellington) and Otautahi (Christchurch Hospital in Christchurch). Anti-choicers will be protesting at these sites, and pro-choice advocates are also organising some counter-protests.
If you can’t be present at a counter-protest, or want another way to show your support for abortion providers, and for the rights of people to access abortion care free of harassment, you can do so via this cause.
WHERE THE MONEY WILL GO:
Funds raised will be used to present a gift to the staff of the clinics which are being targeted by harassment. Most likely a big bunch of flowers and some sweet treats! We want to balance out the vitriol and stigma perpetrated by the anti-choice ’40 Days’ campaign.
You can add a message with your donation that will be passed along to the clinic or provider.
Anything over $300 will go toward sending support to other clinics and providers in Aotearoa New Zealand, starting in the south at the Waihopai/Invercargill service, and moving north as funds allow.