Dominoes + Gravity

Dominoes + Gravity

by Terry Bellamak

 2020 has seen some action on the reproductive rights front. Like decriminalisation:

  • In March New Zealand decriminalised abortion and aligned it with other health care.
  • Argentina just passed a law decriminalising abortion up to 14 weeks. It is widely expected to embolden activists all over Latin America to persuade their countries to do the same.
  • In South Korea, a Constitutional Court ruling from 2019 held that the 1953 criminal code ban on abortion was unconstitutional, if the legislature failed to revise it by 31 Dec 2020, then the provisions that criminalise abortion would become null and void. They failed. So as of today abortion is legal in South Korea.

Every time a nation decriminalises abortion, it makes it easier for other nations to do the same. The norms around reproductive rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQI rights are changing, and every time a nation moves in the direction of greater freedom and equality it shifts the balance further. Bit by bit, the world becomes a fairer place.

There have been other international stories around abortion laws:

  • In Poland, the constitutional tribunal, after being stacked with supporters of the far-right PiS party, ruled that abortion was illegal in cases of fatal fetal abnormality. This ruling created a huge backlash from civil society, the scope of which surprised only the PiS party. The ruling has not come into effect.
  • In Malta, civil society is calling for an end to the farce of Maltese women travelling to other countries and paying top dollar for safe, routine health care, because their laws strictly prohibit abortion care.
  • In the USA, the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has put the brakes on what many horrified onlookers thought would be a forced march to Gilead. The first change is expected to be the demise of the Hyde amendment, which bars the use of federal money to fund abortions through Medicaid, the medical provider of last resort for people in poverty.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic forced places like New Zealand, the UK and some American states to make telemedicine abortions widely available for the first time.

So 2020 hasn’t been all bad. Even so, we look forward to more progress in 2021.

ALRANZ Congratulates Argentina

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa congratulates the people of Argentina for a successful conclusion to their fight for legal abortion.

Abortion will be legal in Argentina up to 14 weeks gestation. Argentina is now the most populous nation in Latin America to legalise abortion, standing with Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and some parts of Mexico.

“We are delighted that 2020 has been a good year for reproductive rights in Argentina as well as here in New Zealand,” said ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak, referring to New Zealand’s legalisation of abortion in March.

“We hope the success of reproductive rights activists in Argentina acts as a catalyst for other countries in Latin America to recognise the bodily autonomy of all citizens. It will undoubtedly inspire activists all over the region.

“Since 1983 more than 3000 people have died from unsafe, illegal abortions in Argentina. In 2016 alone, almost 40,000 were hospitalised due to complications from unsafe, illegal abortions. 6000 of them were under 20 years old. Argentina’s government has finally acknowledged the reality that the law can only prohibit safe abortions – people will always seek abortions, safe or unsafe, for their own good reasons.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

Abortion Care: Equity Not Improving Fast Enough

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa notes with disappointment that the Ministry of Health survey shows improvements to abortion care have not reached all DHBs.

While delays for early medical and surgical abortions have shortened in some DHBs, others still do not offer abortion care at all. Different DHBs do not provide medical abortions, or telemedicine, or abortions post 20 weeks gestation.

“It’s particularly concerning that DHBs that do not provide a service also do not fund their catchment for telemedicine abortion care,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ president.

“The Ministry needs to provide training opportunities for GPs, nurse practitioners, and midwives, and establish workable standards for abortion care outside hospital settings, if they want to improve access across the country. Funding needs to follow the patient, as it does for primary maternity care, rather than get routed through DHB system.

“Providers also need assurance that they and their patients can stay safe from people trying to prevent them from providing or accessing care, by establishing safe areas around places where abortion is provided,” she added.

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

Hopeful Times

Hopeful Times

by Terry Bellamak

2020 was not all bad.

This was the year New Zealand joined the 21st century and decriminalised abortion, making it more accessible and treating it as a part of health care. People who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy will find it progressively easier to access the care they need as the Ministry of Health implements the new law.

Around the world views of abortion care are changing, sometimes amongst the people and sometimes amongst their leaders as well.

Poland’s government is still dealing with the massive blowback that ensued when their highest court attempted to tighten their retrograde abortion laws even further. The outrage has come not only from Poles, but from many other countries and NGOs, and it has been loud and long.

In Argentina, the new president has finally gotten around to proposing a law to make abortion care accessible there. The people of Argentina are ready.

Throughout Latin America, people are demanding change, throwing off the weight of cultural Catholicism and embracing equality for women and LGBTQI+ folks.

In the USA, though the Trump administration has managed to stack the highest court with rightwing hacks, the election of Biden has opened many options for improving access both nationally and internationally in spite of Trump’s toxic legacy. The first step will be to remove the Global Gag Rule as soon as possible, so that NGOs around the world can get back to providing the health care that people need.

Closer to home, soon all the Australian states will have liberalised abortion laws and safe areas as well.

And in Invercargill, when anti-choicers crashed the Santa Claus Parade, they had to do it underhand. The parade’s organisers apologised immediately because people complained. It no longer needs to be explained why advocating for forcing people to continue unwanted pregnancies is a bad thing.

History’s arc is long, but it really does bend toward justice. Treating women as a breed apart, uniquely obligated to sacrifice their bodies, interests, and free will to carry every pregnancy to term, is no longer considered acceptable by the vast majority of New Zealanders.

Around the world younger people are more likely to support equal rights in all forms, including reproductive rights, than their elders. A glance backward into history shows the trajectory of human rights and their increasing acceptance.

There is much reason to expect the future to be even brighter than the present.

Progressive is Normal for New Zealand

Progressive is Normal for New Zealand

by Terry Bellamak


This election was good news for supporters of reproductive rights. The results show that, unlike some places, New Zealand has no time for theocracy.

Parliamentary supporters of the Abortion Legislation Act (ALA) were re-elected in droves. Incumbents showed little inclination to downplay their support for reproductive rights.

Anti-abortion groups put together a not-very-widespread meme that listed those who voted ‘yes’ at third reading, intending it as a badge of shame. That may have backfired. Some probably used it as a handy list of whom to vote for.

On the other hand, those who voted against the ALA did not fare very well (unless they were Labour MPs). Of the 14 National MPs who lost their seats, 12 had spoken or voted (or both) against the ALA.

At worst, the ALA had no effect on the election. At best, supporting the ALA was an advantage in a country whose support for reproductive rights has consistently polled in the upper 60s.

This was bad news for religious ‘traditional family’ types, whose flagship party, the New Conservatives, received a drubbing. So did smaller parties with similar retrograde stances on reproductive rights, gender issues, and modern life in general.

The referenda brought more bad news for social conservatives. The End of Life Choice Act was soundly approved by 65% of voters. Voters shrugged off the ‘no’ campaign’s false claims of wholesale slaughter. The message that people should be able to choose whether or not to use assisted dying based on their own moral values seemed to resonate with voters.

Sadly, the cannabis referendum failed by a whisker – but the close result bodes well for the next time it comes up, which will doubtless be soon.

New Zealand’s socially progressive tendencies likely arise from its resolutely secular character. In 2018, census data showed almost half of New Zealanders, over 2.2 million, said they followed no religion. The next largest group was Anglicans, with a little over one tenth as many adherents as ‘none’.

The results of the election bear this out. New Zealand’s future is progressive.