Waitemata DHB Denies Woman Abortion

The Wireless has revealed an Auckland woman says a North Shore hospital counselor prevented her from accessing abortion by refusing to refer her to see certifying consultants. The woman was 18 weeks pregnant. She said she was so traumatised she considered suicide.

ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak questioned the legal basis for the DHB’s actions.

“The law makes a distinction between abortions before 20 weeks and after. On what legal basis does the Waitemata DHB unilaterally restrict North Shore women to abortions under 18 weeks?” she asked.

“This case demonstrates how vulnerable a woman’s access to abortion is under the current legal regime that the government has somehow called ‘broadly satisfactory’.

“If DHB’s are allowed to interpret the law inconsistently, how will people who need an abortion know what their rights actually are?

“One of the purposes of having law is to make the rules of society predictable. This arbitrariness in the implementation of abortion law puts that kind of benign predictability out of reach. It makes a mockery of the rule of law.

“Where is the Abortion Supervisory Committee? What are they doing about these unjust inconsistencies?”

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.

“Broadly satisfactory”

“Broadly satisfactory”

by Terry Bellamak

Bill English on abortion law: “It seems to operate in a day-to-day way that is broadly satisfactory, and so I support the current law.”

What happened to a woman in Auckland recently demonstrates how current abortion law is not “broadly satisfactory”.

The Wireless reports a woman came to the Waitemata DHB with an unwanted pregnancy. She wanted an abortion, and was within the time limit. She had the right to have her case determined by two certifying consultants, and a third if the first two disagreed. But according to the story, a social worker employed by the DHB prevented her from having a consultation with any certifying consultants.

Under the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act, doctors refer their patients to certifying consultants. There is no provision for gatekeeping counsellors to prevent that consultation.

And yet that is what is said to have happened. Enough time was wasted to put the woman out of time for an abortion in New Zealand.

What is it like to be so vulnerable that one person’s seemingly trivial action can change the course of the rest of your life? Ask any woman who has had to beg a certifying consultant for a signature that gives her back her health, her future, her education, her career, her dreams for the future. A signature that saves her from poverty, depression, and beneficiary-bashing bureaucrats. A signature that can cut her tie to an abusive partner.

Just wanting to be free of an unwanted pregnancy is not enough. She needs the abortion bureaucracy to turn in her favour and make the right people available, in order for her to put her request to them.

What is it like when one person in a position of power over you by virtue of their role in the abortion bureaucracy decides not you, not today? You don’t know why. You can ask, but they don’t have to tell you. They can refuse your plea, and send you away. If this embarasses their boss, they may get a letter in their employment file. They may get sacked. You will get a child, and a life change you never wanted.

This is what happens when women do not have the right to an abortion: it means someone else has the right to refuse them. No one should have that much power over another human being.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill wrote the rule of law requires the law be certain and accessible, not arbitrary or discretionary, and that everyone must be equal before the law. Our abortion laws and their inconsistent application violate all these principles. A pregnant person’s fate is determined by an act of discretion by two certifying consultants. What the law is and how it is applied depends on where the pregnant person lives. That is not equality before the law.

This outrageous situation has continued for 40 years. It is well past time for change.

Come to the book launch!

Come to the book launch!

You are warmly invited to the launch of

Risking Their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900–1939
by Margaret Sparrow

at Unity Books
6pm–7.30pm, Thursday 28 September
in honour of International Safe Abortion Day.

This launch is kindly supported by ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa.

Risking Their Lives is the third book in a series recording the history of abortion in New Zealand. It fills the gap between Abortion Then and Now: New Zealand Abortion Stories from 1940 to 1980 and Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-Century New Zealand.

Abortion has always been a fraught political issue in New Zealand, from the draconian laws of the 1860s, when most abortions were illegal and clandestine and society’s emphasis was on punishment, to the turbulent abortion rights protests of the 1970s. In the early years of the 20th century, abortion came to be recognised not just as a crime but also as a major public health problem. In response to an embarrassingly large number of deaths from septic abortion, the government in 1936 appointed a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the issues. This was a turning point in people’s attitudes to abortion and women’s reproductive health in general.

Risking Their Lives features many previously untold stories salvaged from the coroner’s reports and newspaper reports of the day. The narrative is grim, but this is an honest retelling of our past, primarily letting the stories speak for themselves. As those who fought to make abortion safer and easier for women grow older and there are fewer people who remember what it used to be like, such stories become increasingly important to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Evidence based and patient-focused

Evidence based and patient-focused

Finally, after 40 years, a New Zealand politician has the courage to admit what many of us have known all along: New Zealand’s abortion bureaucracy is not fit for purpose.

It’s a good start. Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward solving it.

But merely taking abortion out of the Crimes Act is not enough to transform the abortion bureaucracy into a patient-friendly system. Theoretically, it’s possible to take abortion out of the Crimes Act and keep the certifying consultants, and everything else that makes the system a waste of time and money.

Assuming the next government achieves abortion law reform, perhaps no one will want to touch it for another 40 years. We had better make sure Parliament comes up with a system we can live with, one that is responsive to changes in technology and best practice.

Any new system must be evidence-based and patient-focused. This is because abortion is health care. It should be regulated just like other forms of health care. No more, no less.

For any given proposal for a rule or regulation we should be asking ourselves: does the best evidence support this regulation? Is it based on reality or misogynist stereotypes? Is it based on evidence or emotion?

New Zealanders have had enough of abortion law based on old prejudices that were falling out of use even as the Royal Commission of 1976 was writing its reporton abortion. It is time to trust women to decide what is best for themselves and their families.

Norms have changed since the 1970s. Most people no longer believe women are inferior or incapable of making decisions for themselves.

It is incumbent on those who do not trust women to say why they do not find women trustworthy. And provide evidence.

Labour Party Supports Decriminalisation of Abortion

Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern called for the decriminalisation of abortion in the second leaders’ debate of the 2017 election season.

When debate moderator Paddy Gower asked if Ardern would take abortion out of the Crimes Act, she answered unequivocally, “Yes.” The audience gave her an enthusiastic ovation.

She said “It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act,” and “People need to be able to make their own decision.

ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak welcomed Ardern’s commitment to finally reforming New Zealand’s abortion laws.

“New Zealanders have waited forty years to hear a leader on the threshold of the Prime Minister’s office acknowledge our abortion bureaucracy is not fit for purpose,” she said.

“Our laws breach people’s human rights by forcing them to lie to get the health care they need.

“Ardern is right. Those who oppose abortion are free not to choose it. Those who need abortion should be able to access it freely, without having to get the approval of two certifying consultants.”

Prime Minister Bill English, a conservative Catholic, maintained his view that New Zealand’s abortion laws are working and should not be changed.

Under our 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.