Dr Morison was not able to be present to deliver her speech in person, so we present it now.
Kia ora koutou katoa,
Sometimes the unthinkable happens. You say to yourself, “This can’t be. Surely not. This could NEVER happen”. The morning I woke up to find out about the supreme court document leak and that Roe v Wade was in danger of being overturned, I thought “No. Surely not!” In such moments, there is a temptation to sit back and think “it will be OK. It won’t happen, that is unthinkable”.
Why do I say unthinkable? Quite frankly because the overturning of Roe v Wade will invite tremendous suffering, and even deaths. Suffering for women who are unable to support a pregnancy for a range of reasons, especially for poor women, women of colour, and all those who struggle already to access sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US, including members of the rainbow community.
We cannot sit back, close our eyes, and cross our fingers. We cannot wait and hope that good will prevail. The recent past has shown us that the unthinkable can and does happen—we need only look around at how climate disruption and COVID have changed our world. We know that sitting back and hoping does not change anything. So, today is about more than hopes and prayers. Today is about speaking out. Today, we join with countless others to implore the governments of the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand to act on the fundamental freedoms of women and other people who may experience pregnancies they cannot support. We urge them not to allow the overturning of Roe v Wade and to stop the injustice that will ripple out across the globe.
On that note, I want to use this opportunity as a reminder that a large proportion of the world still does not allow abortion on request. And, even in countries that do, the right to abortion does not always translate into access or into access for all. We have watched as state-imposed restrictions on abortion care have proliferated over the years in the USA, rolling back access, and undoing decades of struggle. The US situation highlights how the “plethora of convoluted laws and restrictions surrounding abortion do not make any legal or public health sense” (Berer). This issue is primarily about power and control over women and other marginalised groups, and we must widen the focus as to consider WHY this may be happening in the US and in the rest of the world.
The USA joins several other countries in rolling back access to abortion, most lately El Salvador and Poland. We heard recently how in Poland, Ukrainian refugees who have been raped cannot access abortion services. What do such moves against bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom say about the place of women and other minority groups in society at this moment in history? And, importantly, how do we respond to what appears to be a global backlash against the gains made for reproductive rights?
We are mistaken if we think that this is an isolated problem. The attack on Roe v Wade may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, however. If women’s rights and minority rights can be brazenly rescinded in a country that has long considered itself a beacon of democracy and a leader of the free world, what can this mean in other countries that consider themselves free and democratic? What can this mean in countries that don’t?
Some may accuse us of being alarmist, but history has shown us time and again that the unthinkable can and does happen. Having the U.S. follow the conservative trend of reducing abortion access is deeply worrying, because of the global influence that it enjoys. The USA is a powerhouse in the policy arena, as we have seen with the Global Gag Rule, an anti-abortion policy that risks the health and lives of millions around the world. The USA also powerfully shapes values and views across the globe. Could the US restriction on abortion rights embolden conservatives here in New Zealand, and in other countries? It’s unthinkable, but it’s not improbable. We have very recently seen the influence of conservative US faction to home. The recent “Freedom” convoy protests held at parliament buildings and beyond were fuelled by US-produced anti-vax sentiment and social media content and rife with pro-Trump and other right-wing US paraphernalia.
But this isn’t only a matter we should be worried about because of how it could impact our own country. As Audre Lourde, the mighty African American activist-scholar, famously declared: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” We, here in Aotearoa NZ today, enjoying our second year of abortion law reform, are not free. We are not free while our sisters and siblings in the USA face this egregious assault on their reproductive freedom. We are not free while places like Poland and El Salvador ban abortion. We are not free while abortion is still considered a crime in the UK and heavily restricted in much of Africa and South America. We are not free when women are promised reproductive freedoms by the Left hand and robbed of these by the Right.
So today, we take note of the situation in the US as a call to action. We speak out, standing in solidarity with those who are unfree. We oppose the threat posed to United States citizens’ fundamental civil and human rights by those supporting the severe and unreasonable curtailment of access to abortion services. We call upon the United States government to protect the fundamental right to bodily autonomy by allowing anyone to end a pregnancy if they so wish. We call upon the government of Aotearoa New Zealand, to join us in condemning this attack on fundamental human rights.
Thank you to each and every person and organisation who stood in solidarity and signed our Open Letter, and to each and every one of you here in support today. Join us as we proceed to the US Embassy where we will hand over the letter urging action and providing some recommendations to the US government.
We hope that you will continue to support us as we watch the situation in the US unfold and as we continue to advocate for reproductive rights here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and beyond.
Alutua conitua – the struggle continues!