This week, the New Zealand Media Council partially upheld a complaint against the NZ Herald. The complaint related to an opinion piece by an anti-abortion activist. In it, the author made several dodgy claims, easily rubbished by rudimentary application of Google, which the NZ Herald let stand unchallenged. Sadly, the Media Council did not uphold that part of the complaint.
The Media Council’s lack of concern about the accuracy of statements that perpetuate long-debunked abortion myths, but may sound plausible to non-experts, should concern everyone interested in the abortion law reform debate.
People should be informed, objectively and impartially. But who will take that on? In the States, where the mainstream media is losing money hand over fist, media outlets routinely ‘report the controversy’ by allowing both sides equal time to make their case and challenge the other’s. There may be some issues for which this approach works, but for anything involving actual facts, like evolution and creationism, or pro- and anti-abortion, it leaves out the most important piece – facts.
That is lazy journalism on the cheap.
It is said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. By allowing dodgy data to stand unchallenged, media outlets give up and allow public debate to be derailed by falsehoods.
This creates a false equivalence between the arguments on different sides of a question. If one side has good, peer-reviewed research backing its claims, and the other has biased, misleading research, then their arguments are not equivalent. How many readers will take the next step of Googling the data to discover which is which?
They should not have to. It is a journalist’s job to check verifiable statements for accuracy.
Some media outlets do a great job of this important function. The Irish Times did its country a huge service during the abortion referendum when they decided to fact check the claims made by both sides. In a series of articles, the Times took a recent claim made by the Yes or the No side and examined whether its assertions and implications stacked up with reality. Best of all, they showed their work, so readers could see how they came to their conclusions.
They found many of the No side’s claims were partly or mostly untrue. Very few of the Yes side’s claims were found to be inaccurate.
We hope some media outlet in New Zealand will step up like the Irish Times did, and fact check claims made by both pro- and anti-abortion activists. We welcome such scrutiny.
A Pro-Choice Rebuttal and Response Guide
by Craig Young
For ALRANZ members and other pro-choicers, here’s a handy quick guide to deconstructing anti-abortion propaganda.
(1) Anti-abortionists never use the correct medical terms for prenatal stages of development such as blastocyst, zygote, embryo or fetus. Instead, they use the deceptive and meaningless term “unborn child.” This term is intended to tap emotional resonances that we attach to our already born children and transfer them to prenatal stages of development within a pregnant person’s body.
(2) Anti-abortionists almost never use photographs of early prenatal stages of human development in anti-abortion propaganda. The earlier that it is, the less the embryo/fetus has an identifiable humanoid outline (and the more likely an abortion is to have occurred, according to clinical and statistical data). If they do, it’s based on the faulty and scientifically inaccurate argument that there are immaculate “stages” of prenatal development that “always” occur. This is an erroneous argument.
(3) They always emphasise some stages of prenatal development relative to others. “Life” does not “begin” at fertilisation- instead, as many as two thirds of blastocysts and zygotes fail to implant on a woman’s uterine wall and are flushed out at a woman’s next period. Ever wondered why anti-abortionists stopped campaigning against emergency contraception? Because given the microscopic nature of the blastocyst and zygote, and its appearance, they can’t win that argument.
(4) Later in fetal development, the anti-abortionists obsessively focus on the fetal heartbeat, which begins at about eight weeks of fetal development. That’s one stage, but there are others that pro-choicers can use instead. One is the development of alveolar respiratory development within the lungs, which develops late within the pregnancy, at about twenty-five weeks, long after most terminations are performed. Without this essential organ development, any fetus born beforehand will find it difficult to survive outside a pregnant person’s body. Anti-abortionists will protest that “advances” in premature infant preservation technology “invalidate” this observation. Ask them for proof and call their bluff when it comes to rates of survival and whether such infants survive for long after initial surgical intervention.
(5) Anti-abortionists used to emphasise “fetal pain” within their propaganda. Back in 1984, they were using a propaganda video called The Silent Scream. I then located pro-choice material from the United States, specifically a contemporary statement against this propaganda from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which noted that the necessary fetal neurohormonal development necessary for it to “feel pain” is not in place until the fortieth week of pregnancy- long, long after most abortions have occurred. Members of the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists made similar observations.
(6) It is commonplace for anti-abortionists to use staged photographs of prenatal development which omit any photographs of women from their visual and verbal debate. Remedy this the way that Ireland’s Repeal movement did recently- through bringing women’s personal stories about pregnancy, abortion and childbirth back into the narrative.
(7) The ubiquitous outline of the fetus is used in anti-abortion propaganda, sometimes deceptively. When it comes to fetal abnormality, such photographs are not used. Instead, they try to use the ‘disability cleansing’ argument- despite the fact that with lethal fetal abnormalities, there is little chance that any resultant premature infant born as a result will survive from such anomalies. Moreover, many such late term terminations may be necessary for women’s lives and health. While these are comparatively rare, unfortunately the diagnostic techniques used to establish them cannot be used until late within the pregnancy.
(8) The ‘parental notification and consent’ argument can be dealt with by bringing up the question of incest and child battery in this context. Ask the anti-abortionists why they want to put a child through such trauma and psychological torment. The US National Abortion Rights Action League has useful fact sheets on this which you can use, as does ALRANZ.
(9) Two can play at that game. While abortion is a safe medical procedure, it may be worthwhile to point out health risks from pregnancy, particularly repeat pregnancies, and childbirth.
(10) Ask the anti-abortionists to cite their sources. If the sources turn out to be members of the breakaway anti-abortion US “American College of Pro-Life Obsetricians and Gynecologists”, “American College of Pediatrics”, “Doctors Who Respect Human Life” or any other such anti-abortion front group, go directly to these groups webpages and see whether these ‘medical sources’ are anti-abortion activists.
(11) Another point about anti-abortion sources- have they been cited in proper peer-reviewed medical journals? Do they reflect mainstream medical organisation evidence-based research or are they outliers? Even if they have been published in medical journals, check out the comments page, because this is useful in locating either anti-abortion fellow travellers or rebuttals from mainstream medical practitioners. Cite the rebuttals in any response.
(12) Also be aware if anti-abortionists cite any medical practitioner or scientific source from outside relevant disciplines. What may be standard professional practice within their disciplines may not be applicable outside it.
(13) One tool that can be used against them is any overt religious comments. On the one hand, they’re entitled to their specific religious viewpoints, but they should acknowledge that is what they are and identify them properly. Also note that there are pro-choice Christian denominations and perspectives from other faiths available in this context. There are even dissident Catholics- the much-loved Catholics for Choice, in the United States. Use the Catholics For Choice website against conservative Catholics. The US Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice can be used for other pro-choice religious discourse against other anti-abortion sources.
(14) Also ask that given New Zealand is now a predominantly secular nation, why should specific sectarian religious anti-abortion positions that do not have scientific or medical corroboration be imposed on those who do not share them, whether nonreligious or people of pro-choice religious beliefs? This philosophical argument relies on religious freedom, which is protected within the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990.
(15) Know your opponent. Monitor their websites, track their arguments to their sources and see whether mainstream medical practitioners or scientists have published online rebuttals of those arguments. Cite those in your responses. Always question their assertions and ask what their scientific and medical basis in fact is. Except, it’s usually not.
This is big.
When it comes to reproductive rights, Ireland was the big bad. It was one of the last bastions of medieval Catholic cultural hegemony left in Europe.
Now the bastion has fallen to forces of equality, of modernity. Not for nothing did Martin Luther King Jr famously say the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Ireland was the place of Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, no divorce, no contraception, and clerical sexual abuse with impunity. That terrible legacy is gone now. Soon Irish women will be able to get abortion care in their home country.
All these changes have come within a single lifespan. It boggles.
Most of these changes came earlier to New Zealand. But abortion was the exception to New Zealand’s vaunted progressivism. Our legal regime is older than Ireland’s. It’s less Draconian, but almost as hypocritical.
New Zealand went from illegal abortion, to a single maverick clinic in the early 1970s, to the unwelcome and retrograde legal regime imposed in 1977, to the surreptitiously permissive application of that law while successive governments looked the other way for 40 years.
Now we seem to have a government willing to address the issue of abortion law reform and to bring our country’s laws into the 21c.
Good intentions count for a lot, because they get things started. But between intention and completion lies a lot of ground for political manoeuvring. To get the kind of law reform that puts an end to discrimination against women and pregnant people, that acknowledges our right to bodily autonomy, we must keep pressure on our elected representatives.
Today we celebrate for Ireland. But we dare not be complacent for New Zealand.
ALRANZ congratulates the Republic of Ireland on the repeal of the 8thamendment. The Irish Times has reported exit polls predict a landslide in favour of changing the constitution to permit the government to introduce legislation allowing pregnant people to access abortion care in Ireland.
“After years of scathing criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights, and Amnesty International, years of women being forced to travel to another country to receive necessary health care, and the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar, the Irish government has finally given Irish people a chance to speak. They overwhelmingly said yes to bodily autonomy, human dignity, and the human rights of women and pregnant people,” said ALRANZ National president Terry Bellamak.
“If Ireland can cast away medieval opinion and embrace the reality that women are people, so can New Zealand.”
“The Irish government has promised to introduce legislation providing for abortion care on request up to 12 weeks, with no reason given. When the law is passed, Ireland’s abortion laws will be more progressive than New Zealand’s.”
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.
What: Voice for Life is planning to arrange 12,000 pairs of booties on Parliament grounds in Wellington to represent the number of abortions last year. The demonstration, we are told, will be timed to coincide with the release of abortion data by Stats NZ.
Here is the original article talking about this event.
When: TBD, but probably late July
This counter protest is for a Voice for Life event that has not yet been scheduled. We will update this event page as soon as we know more.
Where: Parliament Grounds, Wellington
How: When it comes to political demonstrations here in New Zealand, whoever is the bigger arsehole wins the arsehole sweepstakes and loses public opinion. Voice for Life has appropriated the idea of empty footwear symbolising loss of life from the YesWeCare shoe project, memorialising suicide victims. The idea or comparing living, thinking, feeling people with relationships, memories, and dreams to human foetuses that have not yet developed the physical structures necessary for thought, feeling, or volition is repulsive. They are winning the arsehole sweepstakes.
Let’s keep them winning by showing up with plenty of positivity. Should we encounter any anger or discord, let’s meet it with patience and a phone recording the video.
It looks like there will be lots of different groups doing their own thing – and that’s awesome! We hope it will contribute to a fun, carnival-like atmosphere.
Watch this space for more information about ALRANZ’s plans.
The Booties organisers have extended the deadline for bootie submissions to 30 June. This tells us their event will likely take place in late July. We will keep you posted about the date.
We have heard from many friends and supporters with fantastic ideas about how to counter protest this event. Different groups are coming together with different themes. There will be humour, and feeling, and Handmaids. ALRANZ will have some Handmaids costumes for volunteers to wear, but if you’re clever with a needle, make your own, so that you’re sure to have one! Check YouTube for DIY videos.
We are still making plans, so watch this space!
Why: Their ‘memorial’ is designed to focus on foetuses and disappear the pregnant people who were carrying them. We need to refocus attention on the pregnant people, and with empathy, not judgment.