ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa
27 January 2017
NZ MUST STEP UP FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH – IN FACE OF IRRESPONSIBLE US POLICY
New Zealand should take the lead in the bid to promote women’s health around the world, after the killer blow delivered by US President Donald Trump, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa says.
The Trump Administration has announced it will reinstate the so-called Mexico City Rule – which bars American foreign aid being given to international organisations that advocate for abortion access.
The “Global Gag Rule” also targets NGOs that provide counselling or referrals for abortion.
ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa President Terry Bellamak says it is an “ill-conceived, ill-advised” policy – which could see women die because of illegal abortions or dangerous pregnancies.
The Netherlands is assembling a group of nations to restore funding to these NGOs to close the gap. Belgium has joined the effort. Ms Bellamak says New Zealand should do the same.
“Responsible developed nations like New Zealand should take the lead in counteracting this irresponsible policy of the Trump administration,” Ms Bellamak says.
Population Action International (PAI), a global family planning advocacy organisation, called the move “the beginning of the Trump-Pence administration’s agenda to punish women everywhere.”
“If NGOs affected by the rule cannot replace the funding, women needing reproductive health care in developing nations face increased mortality rates,” Ms Bellamak says.
“Many of these organisations also offer services like contraception advice and women’s health care.
“Prime Minister Bill English is on record opposing women’s right to choose abortion for themselves – but good reproductive health services like contraception reduce unwanted pregnancies.
“New Zealand needs to step up and show it is a country committed to women – wherever in the world they live.”
21 January was the day women around the world marched for their fundamental human rights. They marched in solidarity with their sisters in the states, who face an uncertain future with a self-confessed serial harasser in the White House. But in every city, every nation, every place, women have cause to march for themselves. There is no inhabited place on the face if this planet that is not disfigured by misogyny. Like racism, sexism is a political force. And like racism, its purpose is to maintain the privilege of the privileged, and to enforce the status quo through violence, on a spectrum ranging from microaggression to murder. Here in New Zealand we like to remember ourselves as the first western country to officially recognise women’s right to vote. But misogyny lives here, too. Two thirds of listed companies on the New Zealand stock exchange have no women directors, or only one. For years we have had one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world. Sexual assault rates are extremely high, and conviction rates extremely low. Abortion is still in the Crimes Act, only legal if you get approval from two certifying consultants. Over 200 women were denied abortions in 2014, denied their basic human right to bodily autonomy. We have work to do. This will not be the year when we tell ourselves things aren’t that bad. This will not be the year we keep quiet for fear of making the situation worse. This will not be the year we wait for a better prime minister. This is the year we see the world as it is, and stand up and fight for our basic human rights. Millions of women around the world, marching in solidarity with each other, is a most auspicious start. No one is going to save us. We will save ourselves.
What is conscientious objection in medicine? It’s where the law permits doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to refuse to perform lawful services that are part of their specialty without penalty. It is a privilege very few working people enjoy.
Conscientious objection calls to mind courageous soldiers of WWI who refused to kill the enemy on moral grounds. For that, army authorities persecuted them without mercy. They paid a high price for their courage.
Medical conscientious objection is different. It is not a courageous moral stance. Objecting health care providers ARE the persons in authority. It is patients who are forced to make sacrifices for their doctor’s conscience, using their own time, money, and effort. The doctors themselves face no personal disadvantage.
Before 2010 the Medical Council of New Zealand required objectors refer their patients to other doctors who would give them the care they needed. But in 2010 a group of anti-choice doctors in New Zealand tested the limits of conscientious objection by seeking judicial review of the Medical Council’s requirements around abortion referral. The court found that objecting doctors should not be required to refer abortion patients to a doctor who could help them – they only had to inform them that abortion was available elsewhere. The Medical Council considered appealing this decision, then dropped their appeal.
The current situation is unfair to patients. The patients are not doing anything wrong, and yet the law places the burden of their doctors’ conscience on them to navigate the system, and endure humiliation, expense, and delays in receiving care, all without redress.
Why shouldn’t the cost be borne by the person with the objecting conscience? The providers, not the patients, are deviating from the norm in refusing services that would normally be considered part of their job. Only the existence of s 46 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 shields them from the consequences of their refusal.
The way the current system apportions the cost of conscience implies patients are doing something wrong by seeking contraception or abortion. Surely our country has moved beyond judging people for having sex.
Some have suggested providers should be compelled to provide the services associated with their specialties, or find another job. But would you REALLY want to get a vasectomy or an abortion from someone who does not want to perform one?
Moreover, compulsion is a blunt instrument that does not take note of nuance among objectors. Some will perform abortions up to the 12th week, some to the 24th week, and others have other idiosyncrasies. Are they all equally culpable?
It would be fairer to require providers to alleviate the harm they have caused. Providers should be required to compensate the patients to whom they deny service. This should take the form of automatic monetary compensation for each instance of refusal, directly to the person who was refused service.
Compensation should take into account efforts the providers make to alleviate the harm they cause. Compensation should be reduced for doctors who refer their patients to a doctor who will provide service. If the provider makes a genuine effort to notify patients and potential patients what services they will or will not provide, compensation should be reduced accordingly.
The purpose of monetary compensation is two-fold. First, it compensates patients for trouble, inconvenience, hurt feelings, and injury to their dignity. Second, it penalises providers who selected specialties they cannot completely honour.
It restores the expectation of reasonable behaviour on the part of health care providers, and defines that behaviour as providing services to patients, rather than passing judgment on them.
 Hallagan v Medical Council of NZ HC Wellington CIV-2010-485-222, 2 December 2010.
Nearly a thousand New Zealanders have signed a petition calling for an end to anti-abortion protests outside Thames Hospital, after increasing intimidation of women accessing services there.
The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) has submitted a petition to Thames Coromandel District Council, the Police and Waikato District Health Board.
“We’re asking the Council to withdraw permits for Voice for Life, and for ALRANZ too – because we believe that’s only fair,” ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak says.
“Alternatively, we’ve asked for the permitted days to be changed to any day but Friday, which is the only day of the week abortion services are offered at Thames Hospital.
“This would allow protesters their full rights to express their opinion, while allowing patients their rights to be left alone on the street, and access health services without distress and intimidation.”
Voice for Life has staged protests outside the hospital for many years, and the Council permits them to do so as long as they are peaceful and do not intrude on passers-by.
But ALRANZ believes that line has been crossed, with video being released of a Voice for Life protester behaving aggressively towards a pro-choice protester.
Thames Coromandel District Council has so far refused to withdraw Voice for Life’s permit.
“We believe the local community in Thames supports our position, and wants an end to the protests,” Ms Bellamak says.
“Voice for Life are intimidating not only women accessing abortion services, but others attending the hospital, who may have had abortions in the past.
“We hope the Council will consider this option carefully – and whatever its decision, explain it to New Zealanders.”
For several years in Thames, the busybodies from Voice for Life have intruded on the privacy of patients of the Thames Hospital abortion service. Every week, they showed patients of the service how they judged them and found them wanting, by waving gory signs and passing around plastic foeti.
Since August, supporters of women and pregnant people’s right to be left alone when seeking abortion in Thames have counter protested.
On 11 August 2016, Thames Coromandel District Council granted both ALRANZ and VFL permits to hold demonstrations each week. The permits allow holders to “peacefully demonstrate” at the specified time and place, provided the demonstration is at all times “non-violent and non-intrusive”. If those conditions are not met, TCDC has the right to withdraw the permit at any time.
ALRANZ has honoured the conditions of its permit.
In the past few weeks, the protests and counter protests have taken a disturbing turn. A pro-choice protester writes:
Here’s what happened to me 2 weeks ago:
I spent 2 hours standing beside one of the men, who is about 6 foot tall, and much bigger than I am, while he spent most of the 2 hours trying to push me off the footpath onto the road, by consistently leaning his body against mine. I asked him several times to move out of my personal space, he responded by closing his eyes, speaking to Jesus, and leaning harder. I had to be supported by another woman to not fall from the footpath onto the road.
At one point, when I stumbled a little, he moved his foot over to where mine had been and ended up with his leg between mine at the back, still pushing trying to unseat me. He only stopped doing that when one of our people filmed him in action (which we have if you want to see it.) Most of the 2 hours his whole body was pressed firmly against mine, while he either muttered in prayer, talked about how “the worst guards at Auschwitz were the women guards and how cruel women can be” or talked about how he’s talked with “abortionists” who told him how they “rip the arms and the legs off, and then they mush up the torso and sell the body parts to science.”
The following week, another man of their group paraded around in front of us with a little zip lock bag with 4 tiny baby doll heads in it saying “they rip the heads off their babies…..with heads or without heads…”
Follow the LINK to our Facebook page to see the video taken at the tail end of the incident.
The Crimes Act 1961 defines assault as “…the act of intentionally applying or attempting to apply force to the person of another”.
The video evidence shows the VFL protester appears to violate the terms of its demonstration permit. His actions appear to breach the requirements that the protest be non-violent and non-intrusive, and follow all applicable laws.
Allowing VFL’s behaviour to continue or escalate would be a danger to ALRANZ protesters and members of the public.
ALRANZ has written to TCDC, asking them to do their duty and enforce the conditions of VFL’s demonstration permit by withdrawing VFL’s permit. We are waiting to hear from TCDC.