Today there are celebrations all over New Zealand, marking the anniversary of one of the achievements that stokes the greatest pride in our country: first to recognise women’s right to vote.
There are other firsts that engender less pride, like the world’s highest rate of domestic violence.
Equality for women is a promise that has not yet been fulfilled.
This year the coalition government has taken steps to rectify New Zealand’s dismal 40 year record for not trusting women to decide for themselves whether they will carry a pregnancy to term. The PM and Minister of Justice have called for abortion to be treated as a health matter, rather than a criminal matter.
We welcome these steps, and hope they will lead to real change that will stand the test of time.
Women cannot be free or achieve equality unless they, and other pregnant people, can control their fertility. Pregnancy and childbirth come with serious consequences, physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Forcing these consequences on the unwilling is no longer acceptable.
Here at ALRANZ, we will raise a glass to Kate, then get back to work.
ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa (ALRANZ) congratulates the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCW) for reaffirming its commitment to reproductive rights by strengthening its position on abortion law reform at its annual conference in Auckland on Saturday.
NCW voted decisively in favour of the ALRANZ-sponsored remit to bolster its support for abortion law reform by calling for abortion to be “a standard part of health care – safe, legal and accessible”.
“ALRANZ welcomes NCW’s commitment to abortion law reform as part of its long-term plan to foster gender equity in New Zealand,” said ALRANZ National president Terry Bellamak.
“People cannot achieve gender equity without being able to control their own fertility. And gender equity is impossible in a country where pregnant people cannot make their own decisions about their own bodies.
“NCW’s new remit echoes the government’s commitment to treat abortion as a health matter. It’s a position that is worthy of the first country to recognise women’s right to vote.
“ALRANZ looks forward to working with NCW to achieve abortion law reform at long last.”
NCW was founded by Kate Sheppard in 1896. It is one of New Zealand’s largest women’s organisations.
In New Zealand, abortion is still in the Crimes Act.
The Ministry of Justice, Andrew Little, has asked the New Zealand Law Commission to review the country’s abortion laws with the intention of treating abortion as a health matter rather than a criminal matter. During the election campaign, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to reform New Zealand’s abortion laws, making abortion care available as a matter of right.
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.
Amanda Marcotte’s article on a 2007 decision of Brett Kavanagh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, reveals the beating heart of the anti-abortion movement is all about choice, not abortion.
When Kavanagh was a judge on the US Court of Appeals, DC circuit, he filed the decision in Doe Tarlow v District of Columbia. In this case, two disabled women sued the DC department responsible for their health care for forcing them to abort pregnancies they wanted to keep. The court held they did not have a right to be consulted in the decision to terminate their pregnancies.
It was a ruling against bodily autonomy, the bedrock human right that forms the foundation of the right to choose abortion. It was a ruling in favour of controlling women’s reproductive capacities. Kavanagh is saying even if the state actor decides against maintaining the pregnancy, it’s okay as long as it wasn’t the pregnant person deciding.
It’s easy to be jaded about hypocrisy coming from the states. But anti-abortion groups have placed Kavanagh on high like the Second Coming of Antonin Scalia. There is not the slightest chance they will revisit their support because of this decision. That is because this debate was never about abortion; it was always about control.
And then there is the fact these were disabled women being denied bodily autonomy. Once again, it falls to the reproductive rights movement to stand up for the rights of disabled people to make their own decisions about their sexuality. Which we will always do.
I used to sometimes cringe a bit when I heard the phrase ‘pro-choice movement’ because it sounded like a euphemism. I am proudly pro-abortion for everybody who wants one, in the same way I am proudly pro-airbag for everyone in a head-on collision. Its counterpoint, anti-choice, seemed to perpetuate the euphemism.
Now I see ‘anti-choice’ was exactly right. Literally.
Labour MP Ginny Andersen’s member’s bill amends the Holidays Act 2003 to include bereavement leave for the “unplanned end” of a “confirmed pregnancy by way of the death of the foetus”.
There is a problem here.
The bill creates a hierarchy of lost pregnancies, some of which gain the benefit of three days leave, while others do not.
Pregnancies that terminate spontaneously are treated differently from those that are terminated by medical means, whether or not they were wanted pregnancies.
Under this bill, even wanted pregnancies that must be terminated to save the mother’s life would not merit bereavement leave. The cases of Savita Halappanavar and Valentina Milluzzo come to mind.
This creates a false and unkind hierarchy between spontaneous and induced miscarriages.
What is the justification for this difference in treatment? People who lose wanted pregnancies all grieve equally.
Andersen said she would have liked to extend the measure to include terminations for medical necessity, but feared it would be too controversial because it touches on abortion. Andersen wants to help as many people as possible, even if she cannot help them all.
There is another problem.
If the bill is changed to allow bereavement leave for those whose pregnancies are terminated for medical reasons, that would set up a hierarchy between those whose pregnancies end for medical necessity and those that end for other reasons.
Choosing to end an unwanted pregnancy is different from losing a wanted pregnancy. The vast majority of abortions (94%) occur before the 14thweek, and the vast majority of people who receive abortion care (95%) do not regret their decision. The vast majority (over 99%) also suffer no long-term physical or psychological effects.
But even some people who feel they have made the right decision to terminate nevertheless feel sad and stressed about their situation. Such feelings are more likely for people whose family and friends are unsupportive because of abortion stigma.
They would benefit from three days leave as well. But they would miss out because their reasons were not the ‘right’ ones.
There is still another problem.
Look for the anti-abortion fringe to come out in support of amending this bill to include bereavement leave for all those who receive abortion care. Family First has already done so. Why?
Because they know language matters. Conceptualising recovery from abortion of an unwanted pregnancy as ‘bereavement’ allows them to strengthen stigma around abortion by implying people who have them should be grieving, and by implying the aborted fetus was a fully-fledged person for whom one could feel the grief one feels when someone dies whom one has known, who has been part of one’s life in a way a fetus never could.
Even better for them, anti-choicers could end up on the same side as pro-choicers. Who wouldn’t agree that a few days to recover from a medical procedure, even one as safe and routine as abortion, would be a good thing, whatever it is called?
Through no fault of the sponsors, this bill is a minefield of stigma.