ALRANZ Co-sponsors National Day of Action

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is co-sponsoring a National Day of Action – Our Bodies, Our Choices, with Fem Force, Victoria University Feminists Organisation, NCW, and HELP.

“Now is the time for people who care about women and pregnant people to come out to the National Day of Action and show the politicians we need change. We will not stand for any more passing the buck. Failure is not an option,” said ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak.

She added, “New Zealand has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the OECD right now. It’s an embarrassment for a country that likes to think of itself as progressive. People overseas have told me they look at our record for being the first Western nation to recognise women’s right to vote, and then look at our abortion laws, and ask ‘what happened to New Zealand?’

“If the new bill passes as it stands, New Zealand will still have comparatively strict abortion laws. Even in the age of the #metoo, both current law and the new bill specifically allow health practitioners to refuse emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors on the ground of ‘conscience.’

“Politicians have taken women and pregnant people for granted for too long. It is time to demand change to reproductive health laws.”

Find out more about the events nationwide:

Auckland  https://www.facebook.com/events/2712230342161194/

Wellington https://www.facebook.com/events/494218631306305/

Christchurch https://www.facebook.com/events/849052715509125/

Dunedin https://www.facebook.com/events/462662961058821/

See ALRANZ’s analysis of the post-select committee bill here: http://alranz.org/the-abortion-legislation-select-committee-reports-back-bismarck-vindicated/

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

ALRANZ wants to reform New Zealand’s laws around abortion. Under New Zealand’s current 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.

ALRANZ Welcomes Select Committee Report

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa welcomes the Abortion Legislation Select Committee’s report, released today. 

The select committee made a few significant changes to the bill.

“A section had been added creating a positive duty on the part of the Minister of Health to ensure reproductive health services and related counselling are available in every part of New Zealand. That is very positive,” said ALRANZ  National president, Terry Bellamak.

“Decriminalisation is crucial, but without good access in all areas of the country, the inequities we see now between urban and rural, wealthy and struggling, will continue.”

Bellamak also noted some changes for the worse.

 “This version of the bill increases restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks, requiring another health practitioner to be consulted, and adding elements to the test. This is an unnecessary burden on people with wanted pregnancies that are in medical trouble, that may lead to unnecessary delay. No one chooses an abortion at later gestations.

“They have also added a five yearly review to examine whether sex-selective abortions are happening in New Zealand. There is no evidence that they are, so that seems like a waste of time and money.

“But the worst part is adding a section explicitly allowing conscientious obstruction in cases of health practitioners supplying contraception after sexual assault. This stigmatises sexual violence even more, and puts survivors on notice that their health and wellbeing is secondary to the psychological comfort of health practitioners in the eyes of the government.”

On the whole, however, ALRANZ believes the statutes the bill is amending are so flawed that it would be irresponsible for Parliament to fail to pass the bill.

See ALRANZ’s analysis of the post-select committee bill here: http://alranz.org/the-abortion-legislation-select-committee-reports-back-bismarck-vindicated/

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

ALRANZ wants to reform New Zealand’s laws around abortion. Under New Zealand’s current 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.

 

The Abortion Legislation Select Committee Reports Back: Bismarck Vindicated

The Abortion Legislation Select Committee Reports Back: Bismarck Vindicated

by Terry Bellamak

According to Bismarck, you should never watch sausages or laws being made, because it will gross you out. He’s got a point.

The Abortion Legislation Select Committee has reported back. It has made a few changes to the bill. Not all the changes it has made are positive.

Let’s start with the good. 

Section 20A creates a positive duty on the part of the Minister of Health to ensure reproductive health services and counselling related to reproductive health are available throughout New Zealand, and are provided in accordance with the Standards of Care. 

This is really good stuff. Some countries, like Canada, have had liberal legal regimes for reproductive health care, but access has been a problem in remote places. Hopefully, that will not be the case here in New Zealand.

Section 15(3) improves the test for ‘prohibited behaviour’ in safe areas. Now, instead of having to prove the offender intended to cause distress, it’s enough to show either that the offender obstructed the person ‘with the intention of frustrating the purpose’ for which they were at the medical clinic, or ‘in a manner that an ordinary reasonable person would know would cause emotional distress to a protected person.’ 

This is much more sensible and focused.

Moving on to the merely meh. 

Section 17(3) says safe areas are to be reviewed after five years, to see if they are still necessary. Remember, the bill requires abortion providers to get an Order in Council to establish a safe area. The government has consistently handled safe areas as though they were radioactive, and this addition continues that approach. 

Is the government waiting for something terrible to happen so that the political will for a sensible, practical approach to safe areas will materialise? Look closer – it’s here already. Nobody wants to see abortion providers and pregnant people treated as collateral damage, nor their distress regarded as regrettable but necessary to establish the need for an Order in Council to create a safe area.

Section 20C(2) gives abortion providers the option of not being listed on the list of abortion providers the Director-General is required to maintain. This means that people seeking abortion care will not know about all of the choices available to them, including some that may be easier for them to access. It means the government anticipates some providers may not want it generally known that they provide abortion care. 

Why would that be? That wouldn’t have anything to do with harassment outside abortion services, would it? Too bad the legal system can’t do anything about that without an Order in Council.

And now we arrive at the just plain bad. 

Section 11(2) adds more restrictions around abortion after 20 weeks gestation. People forced to contemplate abortions at later gestations were thrown under the bus when the government gravitated to Model C, so perhaps the select committee figures another bit of gravel won’t matter. In a move that conjures up the ghost of two certifying consultants, the health practitioner now must consult another practitioner. They must have regard to professional standards and the gestational age of the foetus, in addition to the other criteria.

The good news is that this will not change the actual practice followed in the less than 1% of abortions that occur after 20 weeks, abortions which result from medical necessity rather than choice. The bad news is, the select committee believes they could not progress this bill without a sop to MPs who really believe women are intellectually and morally inferior to men, and can’t be trusted with bodily autonomy after 20 weeks. The terrible news is, they might be right.

Section 20F requires the Director-General to report on sex selective abortions every five years. There is no evidence sex selective abortions are occurring in New Zealand. I suspect it will be a short report. 

But the requirement wastes time and money on some MPs’ fertile imaginations.

Section 19, conscientious obstruction of access to reproductive health care, still does not require disclosure of the intent to obstruct before the service is requested. That is too late – people will still be required to pay for a consultations from which they derive no benefit, and may be subjected to an offensive lecture about their sexual morality.

According to the bill, a health practitioner’s ‘conscience’ still outweighs a patient’s right to make an informed choice whether to continue a professional relationship with someone who intends to leave them in the lurch.

And finally, a change I can hardly believe.

Section 5 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 is amended to specifically allow conscientious obstruction in cases of sexual assault, bringing it in line with the rest of the bill. You read that right.

With this section, the government puts sexual violence survivors on notice that their health and wellbeing is secondary to the ‘right’ of health practitioners to refuse them emergency contraception. 

To be clear, this does not change current practice – health practitioners can already refuse to help survivors with emergency contraception. That is precisely the problem.

Sexual violence survivors are already in terrible situation. They should not have to run around from pillar to post trying to find someone who will provide emergency contraception so that they do not face an unwanted pregnancy, which they will then have to decide whether to terminate.

The bill should set out that cases of sexual violence are medical emergencies, which means conscientious obstruction rules do not apply. Section 19(3) requires health practitioners to help people in a medical emergency. 

And fair enough – emergency contraception is extremely time-sensitive, and must be taken within 72 hours. If the goal is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, then this is a medical emergency. 

 

The Abortion Legislation Bill is far from perfect. Our current abortion law is one of the most draconian in the OECD. The new one would still leave us on the strict end of the scale. But it is such a major improvement on the ridiculous and dysfunctional system we now have that it would be unconscionable for Parliament not to pass the bill. 

On Tuesday 18 February, we will be giving this message to Parliament, loud and clear. Come join us for the National Day of Action – Our Bodies, Our Choice. See you there!

Safe Areas

Safe Areas

No one’s exercise of free speech should make another feel less free.

— Moana Jackson

One aspect of the Abortion Legislation Bill that got a lot of airtime at the select committee, but not so much in media commentary, is safe areas.

Safe areas are zones where people going to a medical centre for abortion care (or any other kind of care, for that matter), and people going to work to provide that care, can be free from targeted harassment by anti-abortion extremists.

What kind of behaviour are we talking about?

Most of us have seen what I mean: people with bloody pictures on signs getting up in people’s faces with pamphlets or offers of “counselling,” ostentatiously declaring they will pray for you, loudly exhorting people to not receive the health care they came for, calling them murderers or sluts or sinners.

This is not protest – it is harassment. These extremists are not addressing Parliament, or the DHB, or all the world with principled statements about what they believe. They are targeting specific people, not politicians or public figures, who are just trying to go about their day. Their message is not political; it is not about their opinion of abortions or the current state of the law – it is their judgment of a specific person’s decision to get health care. They are not expressing their opinion; they are trying to bend a stranger to their will.

Basically, they are sticking their noses into other people’s business.

You might ask, why don’t people just ignore it? Why not just walk on by?

For one thing, it’s unfair to put the onus on the people being harassed to just avoid it, instead of addressing the behaviour of those doing the harassment.

If you’ve been bullied or harassed you already know how difficult and ineffective it is just to pretend it is not happening. The majority of people seeking abortion care are women, who are likely all too aware of the heart-pounding terror of having a man scream at you on the street. Trans and nonbinary people often face even more harassment in their daily life, and research clearly demonstrates that abuse like that has very real negative impacts on mental and physical health.

The fact that harassment is common doesn’t mean that we should accept it as an inevitable opportunity cost of existing with a uterus in our society.

“But what about freedom of speech?” you might ask.

The conflation of harassing people with freedom of expression is a study in misogyny.

It is an example of terrible behaviour that women are just expected to put up with, because the powers that regulate public behaviour, like the law or the police or Parliament, don’t consider the dangers, indignities, and microagressions women and gender minorities endure on a daily basis to be as important as traditionalists’ right to inflict them.

We need safe areas to ensure that people can go to their doctor’s appointments without being harassed. If someone wants to engage with anti-abortion activists, they can go talk to them – they would only be 150 meters away. But those who don’t wish to engage deserve to be left in peace.

Many people do not realise how daunting harassment can be. People who speak to me about their abortions almost always remember their fear of being harassed. It looms large in the imagination because of the stigma that still surrounds abortions. We as a society perpetuate that stigma when we decide that the right of people to express their views via harassment is more important than someone else’s right to seek medical care safely.

One problem with the bill is the high bar for establishing a safe area. It requires an Order in Council on the recommendation of the Ministers of Health and Justice. To create just one safe area around one facility.

These ministers are already extremely busy. Let’s be honest – how are they going to be able to consider requests of this nature from all the clinics and surgeries likely to be affected? Not to mention the doctors, nurses, and other staff of clinics and surgeries who will have to spend time advocating for their right to go to work without being harassed, instead of providing medical care.

To improve access to currently underserved areas, the Ministry of Health will likely try to persuade trained GPs and nurse practitioners in local surgery settings to provide early medical abortion care. But how many local surgeries will sign on to that if they cannot be protected from harassment unless they manage to get their very own Order in Council?

How will applicants for safe areas be required to demonstrate they satisfy the criteria? Will they be able to apply pre-emptively, so that they can be protected as soon as they start offering some form of abortion care? Or will they, and their patients, have to suffer actual pain, humiliation, and abuse for the minister to be able to consider their application? Has the government given up on preventing harm?

It is not acceptable to treat patients and providers as collateral damage on the path to establishing a safe area.

Another problem crops up when trying to hold someone accountable for violating a safe area. People engaging in intimidating behaviour can only be held accountable if both limbs of the statutory test are satisfied: 1) the suspect intended to cause emotional distress; and, 2) a reasonable person would find their behaviour emotionally distressing.

How do you prove a person intended to cause emotional distress? Ask any old geezer yelling “keep your legs closed” outside an abortion service what his intent was, and he will tell you all about “sidewalk counselling” and “loving them both.”

Since no anti-abortion protester is likely to admit they intend their actions to cause distress, the first limb of the test will never be satisfied. Unless that “and” becomes an “or” you might as well delete the whole subsection.

The government is on the right track with making safe areas possible. But they need to be much more realistic about implementing them. It’s unjust to expect people to suffer pain, humiliation, and harassment while they wait for the government to decide their rights are worth protecting too.

Sorry, Not Sorry

Sorry, Not Sorry

by Terry Bellamak

In news shocking to no one who has received abortion care, longitudinal research from the states reveals that after five years 95% of people who decided to receive abortion care mainly felt relief. They did not regret their decision.

Wow. It’s almost like women and pregnant people know what they want. Like they can make decisions about their own lives that turn out well for them.

What about that tiny percentage of outliers? I would like to see research that studies the extent to which their conflicting feelings relate to the stigma they faced, or to a later conversion to a traditionalist religion that strongly encourages them to see their past abortions as sinful, and reinterpret their previously positive experience in negative terms.

I hope this research makes an impression on any MPs who were unconsciously influenced by the well-debunked myth that most people regret their abortions, and that New Zealand’s abortion laws should somehow reflect that falsehood through mandatory counselling, mandatory stand-down periods, or mandatory parental notification.

Everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become a parent.