Not the Standards We Were Promised

by Terry Bellamak

Refresh my memory – didn’t New Zealand reform its abortion laws a few months ago?

Wasn’t there something in there about qualified health practitioners (not just doctors) being allowed to provide abortions? 

And something about changing the rules so early surgical abortions, which are safer than getting your wisdom teeth removed, didn’t have to be provided in expensive, scary, full-on surgical theatres suitable for open heart surgery?

You wouldn’t know it from reading the Interim Standards for Abortion Services in New Zealand. This is the rulebook for providing abortions. Section 16 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 gives it the force of law.

They read like someone did a cut-and-paste job on the old Standards, and deleted the bits about the Crimes Act and certifying consultants. Law reform was much more than that. 

Among other things, it enlarged the circle of people who can provide abortion care from doctors-only to qualified health practitioners, which includes properly trained nurse practitioners and midwives. Research has demonstrated qualified health practitioners can provide care with the same excellent safety record as doctors.

The new law also removed the requirement that early surgical abortions be provided in full-on surgical theatres, which is unnecessary. Experience in other OECD countries, like Australia the USA, shows early surgical abortions can be provided safely in settings like community health clinics and doctors’ surgeries. New Zealand’s experience during the Covid-19 crisis shows early medical abortions can be provided safely at home, via telemedicine.

But these interim standards do not mention anyone but doctors providing abortions. It sets no rules or standards for medical competency for any providers except doctors. They do not set out requirements for places where abortion can be provided, except to reiterate the old standards, i.e. full surgical theatre.

This is tantamount to making early surgical abortion unlawful unless provided by a doctor in a full-on surgical theatre. Wasn’t that one of the things that was supposed to change under the new law?

Granted, the Ministry of Health has been pretty busy of late. But New Zealand has medical professionals, experienced doctors and nurses, capable of doing a much better job revising the standards, even at short notice. Why were they not allowed to be of service? Is this patch protection on the part of the Ministry of Health?

The main problem we have with the interim standards is this: they do not follow the law. This is not the law reform New Zealanders fought for over 50 years for.

If you agree that this isn’t good enough, let your MP know.  

The Future for ALRANZ

The Future for ALRANZ

For almost 50 years, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa was all about reforming New Zealand’s abortion laws.

Now, we have law reform. So where do we go from here?

Let’s talk about a vision for our organisation’s next steps. This discussion is open to all our friends, members, and supporters. It will help us set the stage for ALRANZ’s AGM.

Come with your ideas about the future of reproductive health and rights in Aotearoa.

To get tickets to this event, go here.

The Legacy of Norma McCorvey

The Legacy of Norma McCorvey

by Terry Bellamak

Norma McCorvey was ‘Jane Roe’, the plaintiff in Roe v Wade – the landmark US Supreme Court case that recognised Americans’ constitutional right to choose to receive abortion care. 

In the 1990s abortion opponents hailed McCorvey’s supposed religious conversion to evangelical, born-again Christianity. They trotted her out in front of audiences, congregations, and cameras to sell their anti-choice message. She was a trophy – if Jane Roe no longer supports reproductive rights, then…

But it turns out McCorvey’s religious conversion was actually her retirement plan. In a ‘deathbed confession’ she admitted to filmmakers that she did it for the money – almost half a million dollars.Was it cynical? Of whom? McCorvey says anti-choice leaders were well aware that her ‘conversion’ was a fantasy. CNN writes: ‘Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who worked closely with McCorvey, said she was “coached in what to say” and was paid because there was concern that she “would go back to the other side. What we did with Norma was highly unethical. The jig is up,” Schenck said in the documentary.’

They were happy to use her name and image to sell domination and control over pregnant people’s bodies as the moral high ground, knowing full well they paid her off to pretend her born-again conversion, and had to keep paying her off to keep her on message.

That is the anti-choice movement in a nutshell – tricking people into wasting time in ‘crisis pregnancy’ standover centres, pushing long-debunked myths about abortion causing breast cancer or mental distress, trying to frame bullying and harassment outside clinics as ‘sidewalk counselling’, crying over ‘full-term abortions’ as though they weren’t a result of medical crisis. Selling propaganda using melodrama, even when they are paying to stage-manage it. 

But in spite of the harm McCorvey’s actions did to the cause of reproductive rights in the USA, I can’t find it in my heart to condemn her. She had a hard life, and suffered insecurity from poverty, discrimination as a lesbian in the 1960s, and alleged sexual abuse in her family. Bottom line, she needed the money. That’s capitalism for you.

At least she came clean in the end. In so doing, she set the record straight – she always believed in the right to choose abortion care. 

Rest in peace, Norma.

Telemedicine Abortion Care Comes to New Zealand

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa congratulates the Ministry of Health for offering telemedicine abortion care for early medical abortions to same patients during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“The Ministry of Health has designated abortion care as an essential service, and fair enough. Abortion care is time sensitive. Abortions are very safe, with less chance of complications than getting your wisdom teeth removed. But the earlier you access care, the safer it is,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

“Telemedicine has been used for seven years in Iowa, and has proven safe and effective, with complications occurring in less than 0.5% of early medical abortions provided that way.

“Health practitioners are able to provide all relevant advice, offer counselling, and obtain informed consent over the phone, and courier the pills to the patient. This allows the patient to stay within their bubble. For people who live in remote areas, it saves them a long trip by car.”

Before the law changed, early medical abortions required two trips to the clinic to take the two medicines, taken 24 – 48 hours apart on clinic premises. The most dangerous part of the abortion was literally driving to and from the clinic.

“If people need abortion care, they should ring their DHB. DHBs have a responsibility to ensure patients in their catchment area are able to receive the services they need, even if the DHB does not provide them. In those cases, the DHB may organise care with another DHB.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws last month. Abortion is now available without restrictions up to 20 weeks. ALRANZ and others fought for abortion law reform for over 40 years.


The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

by Terry Bellamak

 Last week, supporters of reproductive rights in Aotearoa had an historic victory. Parliament voted to reform our abortion legislation to recognise a pregnant people’s right to bodily autonomy up to 20 weeks, and to streamline abortion care, bringing it into line with international best practice. This is a change campaigners like Dame Margaret Sparrow have been working towards for over four decades.

These changes are a huge step forward for New Zealand. Pregnant people will be able to refer themselves to an abortion service without having to go through their GP as a gatekeeper. Early medical abortions can be completed at home. The Director-General of Health will be responsible for ensuring equitable access to abortion care and emergency contraception across the country.

The bill is not perfect. Health practitioners will still be allowed to refuse contraception without warning or notice. Safe areas did not make it into the bill, which may dissuade health practitioners from providing abortion care in small communities.

But the perfect should not be the enemy of good. We will continue fighting for improvements to our law, but this victory will do more than just change New Zealand.

The passage of the Abortion Legislation Bill is part of a larger story. It’s a story of change on an international scale. Around the world, nations are recognising the rights of women and pregnant people to refuse pregnancy. Each law change is another stone in the pond sending ripples across the globe.

When the Republic of Ireland succeeded in changing its constitution to allow for abortion law reform, it created a lot of ripples. Countries like New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina noticed that suddenly Ireland – Ireland, of all places! – had more sensible and liberal abortion laws than we did. Suddenly our longstanding legislative compromises did not look as reasonable or necessary.

Now, the change we have made to our old, retrograde laws has sent out new ripples. An editorial in a Jamaican newspaper has cited New Zealand’s decriminalisation to argue for abortion law reform there. And so it continues.

The Rev. Martin Luther King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. If he is right, and I hope he is, then abortion law reform in Aotearoa will give rise to many more celebrations around the world, as the human right of bodily autonomy is recognised more and more widely.