Abortion Decriminalised in Northern Ireland

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa congratulates Northern Ireland for decriminalising abortion.

“Northern Ireland had some of the most punitive and restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Now, they finally have the same laws as the rest of the United Kingdom,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

In July, the UK Parliament voted to extend abortion and same-sex marriage laws to Northern Ireland if its devolved government was not restored by 21 October. Unionist parties tried, but were unable to reconvene today when nationalist parties left the chamber.

“This was a long time coming for Northern Ireland. Some activists in the North said they felt a bit left behind by changes in the Republic of Ireland. But now their laws are like the UK’s – much more functional and patient-friendly than the Republic’s,” said Bellamak.

“Abortion will no longer be a criminal offence. Northern Ireland’s abortion laws will finally exit the Victorian era. The activists who have been working to make this happen for many thankless years have a lot to be proud of today.

“Now both countries on the Emerald Isle have better, more modern, and more functional laws than New Zealand. We really need to get on with law reform.”

The New Zealand government has presented a reform bill to select committee.

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

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.

Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is delighted our president, Terry Bellamak, has been named as a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards, in the Community Hero category.

This honour recognises her hard work in the fight for reproductive rights for all New Zealanders. But in 2019, it means a little more than that.

After 40 years in the trenches, 40 years of setbacks trying to change the status quo, and 40 years of political cowardice on the part of successive parliaments, New Zealand, following Ireland’s example, is finally in the process of reforming its antiquated abortion laws. And not a moment too soon.

This change has come about, not because the politicians are suddenly so different, but because New Zealand is different. We no longer accept laws that treat adult citizens as virtual children, incapable of deciding on their own whether to terminate a pregnancy.

New Zealand women, and New Zealanders everywhere on the gender spectrum, are waging the fight for equal rights on many fronts – domestic and sexual violence, equal pay, and equal representation on corporate boards. The right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy is one thread of a tapestry we are all in the process of weaving.

For Terry to be named a finalist demonstrates that reproductive rights are mainstream.

And other facts confirm it. Polls show about two thirds of Kiwis support the right to receive abortion care under any circumstances. The new conventional wisdom holds that everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become parents.

We are so proud of Terry. And we are proud of New Zealand – ready to take the next step towards recognising the equality of all people.

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

The Abortion Legislation Bill Select Committee meetings have turned up a ridiculous idea that keeps coming back: sex selective abortions in Aotearoa, and how we can prevent them.

This is ridiculous on several grounds.

First, there is no evidence sex selective abortions are happening here in New Zealand. Sex selection is usually stereotyped as members of certain ethnicities preferring boys over girls. But in 2017, according to StatsNZ, roughly 97 boys were born for every 100 girls.

Some anti-abortion folks cite a 2018 LaTrobe University study on gender bias in birth rates to try to make a case for putting restrictions into the law. But the authors of the study disagree that their data has any bearing on abortion at all:[1]

“Our study did not cover abortions or abortion legislation,” she said.

“We do not make any recommendations in relation to abortions based on our findings.

“Instead we emphasise that measures to address male-biased sex ratios should address the root cause of son preference and the social, economic and symbolic position of females.”

Obstructing the bodily autonomy of women and pregnant people is the wrong way to address the root causes of sexism.

Second, how would a law prohibiting sex selective abortions be enforced? Would the trained health practitioner providing abortion care simply ask the person if they wanted an abortion because of gender? New Zealand legislation is easily available online, so anyone who wanted to abort because of gender would know to say, “Nope, that’s not the reason!”

Aren’t we trying to reform our abortion laws right now so that people don’t have to lie to doctors anymore? And aren’t we trying to move away from the present situation where people have to provide a reason, as if it were anyone’s business but theirs? Wouldn’t this be a step backwards?

Or would this section of the legislation be one of those ‘send a message’ sections that clog up the law books in some places, intended as a sop to those who think people look to Parliament for their moral code? A kind of legislative performance art?

Third, who would be responsible for enforcement? Would trained health practitioners face legal consequences if they didn’t dob in those they suspected of aborting for reasons of gender? Wouldn’t that lead to racial and ethnic profiling of their patients, because sex selective abortions are thought to be just an Asian thing?

The Human Rights Commission might have something to say about such blatant discrimination.

Apart from the fact that the suggested solution to this non-problem is unworkable, there are other consequences to consider.

If there really were people who wanted abortions for reasons of gender, and the health system denied them, wouldn’t that create a black market for gender-selective abortions? With all the historical cruelties and dysfunction that even our imperfect legal framework has alleviated?

Those who call for restrictions on sex selective abortions are the same folks who oppose decriminalisation full stop. Some of them are on record as wanting to ‘abolish abortion’. In light of those objectives, the focus on sex selection seems mischievous, a mere pretext to waste the select committee’s time.

The select committee’s work is too important for them to fall for such a ploy.

 

[1] Samantha Maiden “Key La Trobe study ‘misrepresented’ in NSW abortion debate ‘gendercide’ claim: Authors” The New Daily <thenewdaily.com.au>.

Freedom of Expression and False Equivalence

Freedom of Expression and False Equivalence

by Terry Bellamak

One of these things is not like the other ones. Let’s see if you can pick out which one.

  1. A 13 year old student protesting the Vietnam war by wearing a black armband.
  2. Protesters supporting the occupation at Ihumatao singing in Parliament’s Gallery.
  3. Anti-abortion protesters singing hymns in Parliament’s Gallery.
  4. Protesters yelling at a patient going to a doctor’s appointment.

If you guessed number 4, give yourself a gold star.

The other three are examples of symbolic or explicit protest, directed at people in public, doing public things. The first is a protest by a student, directed at all teachers and students in school, a setting designed for the free exchange of ideas. The second and third are protests by citizens, directed at their representatives in Parliament, and at the Government itself. They are all directed at a class of people, not a specific person.

The fourth is directed against a private person engaged in private business – that is, a person seeking medical care.

The purported purpose of the unwanted attention is to dissuade the person from receiving medical care they have a right to receive. Some would say its true purpose is to punish them for seeking abortion care through public shaming. In other words, harassment.

Some human rights are absolute, meaning their breach can never be justified, like the right not to be tortured, and the right not to be enslaved. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right. It can be subject to a balancing exercise against the rights of others. The prohibition against shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, for instance, is not a breach of anyone’s freedom of expression. Neither are laws against harassment. 

Freedom of expression is also self-reflective. This means your right has been properly exercised when you have said your piece, or carried your sign – it does not require the state to supply you with the audience of your choice.

The state has a valid interest in protecting people from harassment while they are going about their business. That includes the business of seeking health care. It seems self-evident that people visiting a medical facility should not have to run a gauntlet of elderly men with gory signs yelling accusations of murder at them.

Would preventing this kind of harassment be controversial if the people bearing the brunt of it were not women seeking health care that society has spent years stigmatising? Let’s try another one: how are these two things different?

  1. Protesters yelling at someone going to receive abortion care, calling them a murderer.
  2. Protesters yelling at parents taking their children to be vaccinated, saying they must hate their children.

If it sounds ridiculous to expect parents to put up with strangers questioning their medical decisions, but the pregnant woman should just toughen up, you should probably take a hard look in the mirror.

Everyone has a right to seek medical care free from harassment, even if you disagree with their choices.

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.