Bait and Switch

Bait and Switch

The Department of Internal Affairs has given $330,000 of Community Organisation Grants Scheme (COGS) funds to anti-abortion organisations.

The money went to two crisis pregnancy counselling centres, Pregnancy Counselling Services (PCS) and Crisis Pregnancy Support (CPS) with various locations around the country. Their purpose, as stated in their founding documents, is to convince people not to have abortions. Most of those involved seem to be religious.

That all seems a bit dodgy. It also seems to be against the rules.

The rules say COGS will not fund services that are duplicated elsewhere. But DHBs offer free counselling for people before and after abortions, provided by unbiased professional counsellors. PCS and CPS use untrained, non-professional volunteers.

The rules also say COGS will not fund services that promote political or religious activities. Is talking people out of getting abortion care political speech? Apparently the answer depends on context: outside abortion services where elderly men with gory signs harass people, those defending the harassment would argue it is political speech, protected under freedom of expression. But when there’s COGS money on the line, it’s apparently not political speech at all. Hmm.

Anyway, how does influencing people’s private medical decisions benefit the community? Who benefits when overly invested strangers stick their noses into other people’s business?

We know who is NOT benefiting: other community groups who could make better use of the money that goes into PCS and CPS coffers. How many school lunches could KidsCan have provided for $330,000?

But let’s cut to the chase.

The report shows these centres lure people in with the promise of unbiased counselling, only to give them the hard sell and guilt trips, using long-disproven myths and lies to try and dissuade them from receiving abortion care, even if that is what they want.

And that is the real problem here: the centres say they are unbiased, but people who have received their counselling, and people who have heard them talking frankly about the counselling they provide, say their stated purpose is to persuade people not to access abortion care. That is not unbiased.

These pregnant people are in a vulnerable place, asking for help understanding their options, but what they get is a classic bait and switch.

To be clear: nobody minds that these centres counsel people to keep their pregnancies. Nobody minds that such centres exist. They have a right to speak freely to those who wish to speak to them. But they should not try to deceive people with promises of unbiased counselling, and they should not receive COGS funds to do so. What’s wrong with being upfront about their beliefs?

Oh right, no one will come through their door if they’re not anti-abortion already.

COGS Funds Anti-abortion Counselling

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa condemned Internal Affairs’ funding of non-professional anti-abortion ‘counselling’, as reported on RNZ this morning.

“How does influencing a private person’s private medical decisions ‘benefit the community’? This is wrong on so many levels,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

“If the rules say COGS grants should not be given for services that duplicate government services, why are these anti-abortion ‘counselling’ groups being funded?

“How many other groups have missed out on funding that would have actually helped people in their communities because the money went to extremist busybodies?

“Pre- and post-abortion counselling, provided by professional, unbiased counsellors, is already available through DHB’s. On that basis alone, these grants should not have been made. But the report says these grants are funding untrained, unprofessional, ‘counselling’ by people with an ax to grind.

“How can we trust them to provide unbiased counselling when the purpose of their organisation is to convince individuals not to access abortion care? The report makes quite clear just how ‘unbiased’ the counselling people receive from these groups is likely to be.

“COGS should not be funding this. They should put the money toward services that benefit the whole community, rather than just a narrow group of people who want to co-opt other people’s decisions about their pregnancies.”

ALRANZ wants to reform New Zealand’s laws around abortion. Under New Zealand’s abortion laws, two certifying consultants must approve every abortion under a narrow set of grounds set out in the Crimes Act. Those grounds do not include rape, nor the most common reasons cited overseas: contraception failure and the inability to support a child.

Poll results show a majority of New Zealanders support the right to access abortion on request.

ALRANZ Analysis of the Abortion Law Reform Bill

ALRANZ Analysis of the Abortion Law Reform Bill

The draft abortion law reform bill has passed first reading, 94 to 23. Yay!
Much of the bill is great! Some if it is not that great.
Let’s start with the things the government definitely got right.

 

Abortion care is out of the Crimes Act for health practitioners

Abortion is now only a crime if it is procured or performed by a non-health practitioner. Self-abortion is no longer an offence.

Self-referral to abortion service

This is so important. Abortion care is time-sensitive medical procedure. Forcing people to get a referral wastes their valuable time and money on a pointless gatekeeper. This way, people who can’t or don’t want to visit their doctor can refer themselves directly to a service.

 

Counselling offered, but not mandatory

Many people find counselling to be helpful in clarifying their decision. But, as the New Zealand Association of Counsellors has pointed out, it’s only helpful if it’s voluntary. This section makes sure counselling is available for those who want it, but does not present another hoop to jump through for those who don’t.

 

No certifying consultants

Instead, the only health practitioner a pregnant person needs to visit is the one that will be providing her termination.

 

Qualified health practitioners can provide service

In the past, only doctors could provide abortion care. Now other qualified health practitioners can do so as well. This is important for ensuring enough providers. Research in the USA has shown nurse practitioners and midwives can provide abortion care safely, with complication rates as low as doctors.

 

No more licensed premises

Clinics no longer need to have a licence to provide abortion care. They will be treated like every other place where health care is provided.

 

Abortion Supervisory Committee disestablished

In the past, they appointed certifying consultants and granted licences for abortion services. They won’t need to do that anymore. Their data collection responsibilities will shift to the Director-General of Health.

 

Under 20 weeks, it’s health care

For pregnancies under 20 weeks, there is no statutory test to apply. These cases are treated like other kinds of normal health care, with the pregnant person consulting a qualified health practitioner.

 

Safe areas

The bill gives the Minister of Health the power to make regulations setting up safe areas of a maximum radius of 150m; within those areas intimidating, interfering, obstructing, communicating with or visually recording people seeking or providing services is prohibited.

That’s a lot to get right. But let’s move on to some of the more questionable bits.

 

A statutory test after 20 weeks

After 20 weeks gestation, instead of two certifying consultants you have one qualified health practitioner applying a statutory test to see if they will give you approval for your abortion care. This person probably does not know you any better than the certifying consultants would have.

The health practitioner must have a reasonable belief that the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. But why should a random health practitioner’s judgment that an abortion is appropriate be of more value than that of the pregnant person?

Women are still being treated like children, incompetent to choose their own medical care.

 

Why 20 weeks?

The bill sets the cutoff at 20, with no explanation why 20 weeks is better than 22. Is there ANY medical, scientific, or rational reason behind it? Nope, it’s more likely New Zealand First’s political pound of flesh for … calling for a referendum anyway?

Less than 1% of abortions in NZ occur after 20 weeks, and they generally happen because a wanted pregnancy has suffered some medical crisis. The last thing families in crisis need it to undergo a legal process to see if they will be allowed to deal with the crisis in the way they think is best for their family.

 

Conscientious Objection

Health practitioners will still be able to refuse service and obstruct access to reproductive health care. But under this bill, in the case of abortion, the obstructing health practitioner must tell the pregnant person how to access a list of providers maintained by the Director-General of Health.

Which still leaves patients wasting time and money on a useless GP visit because they could not foresee their GP refusing them.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to compile a list of practitioners who WON’T provide services? Then, patients could completely avoid asking these GPs for service.

Self-referral means this kind of obstruction will come up less often for abortion referral. But that still leaves contraception or sterilisation services. In those cases, the obstructing health practitioner need only tell the person how to access the contact details of someone else who provides the service. Tell them to Google it and it’s done? Not very helpful.

At the very least, for contraception, the obstructing provider should be required to provide the name and contact details of another provider. In the case of an obstructing pharmacist, the pharmacy should be required to have a person on duty at all times during business hours who will provide all requested services.

The practice of obstructing access to care is still far out of balance in providers’ favour.

 

The Bill will be properly poked and prodded through the select committee process, with a fantastic roster of MPs on the committee. If you were ever going to do something to support abortion law reform, now is the time to make your mark by making a submission to the select committee. Keep your eyes open for submissions parties in your area!

 

Movement on Abortion Law Reform

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa welcomes the news that the government has finalised a draft abortion law reform bill. The bill goes before the legislative Cabinet committee today. It is expected to progress easily.

“It’s great to finally see some movement in this space, although we won’t know how good the draft bill is for people seeking abortion care until we actually see it,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

“It’s also more of a disappointment than a surprise to discover New Zealand First has been responsible for blocking the bill. We understand some members of that caucus are quite pragmatic and well-informed on reproductive issues, others not so much.”
ALRANZ also applauds Justice Minister Andrew Little’s recruitment of Amy Adams to build understanding and support for abortion law reform in National’s caucus.

“That particular job really requires someone with patience, fortitude, and mana. Amy Adams is a great choice,” said Bellamak.

“We have been waiting for abortion law reform for over 40 years. Every day we still wait is an embarrassment and a rebuke to our government.

In New Zealand, abortion is still in the Crimes Act.

ALRANZ wants to reform New Zealand’s laws around abortion care. Under New Zealand’s abortion laws, two certifying consultants must approve every abortion under a narrow set of grounds set out in the Crimes Act. Those grounds do not include rape, nor the most common reasons cited overseas: contraception failure and the inability to support a child.

March and Demonstration to Demand Abortion Law Reform

Victoria University Feminist Organisation and ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa, in conjunction with the VUW Feminist Law Students, Organise Aotearoa, Fem Force, and with the support of VUW Student Association announced they are sponsoring a march and demonstration in support of reproductive rights in Wellington on 23 July 2019 from 11 am to 1:30 pm.

“We wanted to show solidarity with Alabama, whose legislature recently voted to criminalise abortion care and make it inaccessible,” said Tara O’Sullivan, co-president of the Victoria University Feminist Organisation.

“Abortion laws in New Zealand are currently a disgrace. Instead of allowing people to decide their own fate, they require people to beg the approval of two random certifying consultants in order to get abortion care. Abortion is still in the Crimes Act, which perpetuates the stigma around abortion care.”

VUWSA president Tamatha Paul said, “New Zealand law does not respect the bodily autonomy of pregnant people. Abortion care is health care. We support the Law Commission’s Model A, which makes abortion care a matter between a person and their doctor, like every other kind of health care. It is the only option that respects women’s sovereignty over their own bodies.”

“Everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become a parent,” added Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

The march will end at Parliament, where the crowd will hear speeches from Dame Margaret Sparrow, Jackie Edmonds of Family Planning, Terry Bellamak of ALRANZ, Tamatha Paul of VUWSA, and Jan Logie, Green MP and associate justice minister.