Busting Some Myths

Busting Some Myths

New Zealand may be on the verge of having a grown-up conversation about abortion. After forty years, we are ready.

For this conversation to produce light as well as heat, New Zealanders will need to keep their critical thinking skills sharp. Whatever else it may be, abortion is a public health issue. Public health decisions must be based on the best available evidence.

There are a number of myths about abortion Kiwis are likely to hear repeated over the course of this conversation. This may be because anti-choice types wish they were true. Here is a sample, with research that debunks them. I have restricted myself to one citation each, to limit word count.

MYTH: Abortion is dangerous

In 2016, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said abortion had a greater than 99% safety record and is one of the safest medical procedures. It also said abortion has no impact on future fertility.

MYTH: Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer.

In 2014, the American Cancer Society said there is no scientific evidence showing abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, or any other kind of cancer.

MYTH: Abortion leads to mental illness.

In 2011, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges found abortion does no harm to mental health.

MYTH: People regret their abortions.

In 2015, the University of California found 95% of people who get abortions do not regret their decision.

MYTH: Late term abortions will increase if they are unregulated.

In 2015, the Canadian Institute for Health Information estimated only 0.59% of abortions occurred after 21 weeks. Abortion in Canada has not been regulated since the 1980s.


New Zealand has a reputation for being one of the most secular countries in the OECD. If anyone can conduct an evidence-based discussion of abortion, we can.

Pro-choice Certifying Consultant Keeps Her Job

The Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) has decided Dr Helen Paterson can keep her appointment as a certifying consultant in spite of her pro-choice views on abortion.

In July, Dr Paterson informed the ASC she believed abortion should be a matter between a woman and her doctor. The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 directs the ASC to regard such views as incompatible with the Act.

ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak welcomed the ASC’s decision not to dismiss Dr Paterson.

“Certifying consultants have freedom of thought just like everyone else in New Zealand,” she said.

“The Bill of Rights Act guarantees everyone freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethical belief and political opinion. The ASC rightly recognised sacking a certifying consultant on those grounds would violate their human rights.

“Certifying consultants need no longer hide their views for fear of losing their appointments.”

Under our 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.

Waitemata DHB Denies Woman Abortion

The Wireless has revealed an Auckland woman says a North Shore hospital counselor prevented her from accessing abortion by refusing to refer her to see certifying consultants. The woman was 18 weeks pregnant. She said she was so traumatised she considered suicide.

ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak questioned the legal basis for the DHB’s actions.

“The law makes a distinction between abortions before 20 weeks and after. On what legal basis does the Waitemata DHB unilaterally restrict North Shore women to abortions under 18 weeks?” she asked.

“This case demonstrates how vulnerable a woman’s access to abortion is under the current legal regime that the government has somehow called ‘broadly satisfactory’.

“If DHB’s are allowed to interpret the law inconsistently, how will people who need an abortion know what their rights actually are?

“One of the purposes of having law is to make the rules of society predictable. This arbitrariness in the implementation of abortion law puts that kind of benign predictability out of reach. It makes a mockery of the rule of law.

“Where is the Abortion Supervisory Committee? What are they doing about these unjust inconsistencies?”

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.

“Broadly satisfactory”

“Broadly satisfactory”

by Terry Bellamak

Bill English on abortion law: “It seems to operate in a day-to-day way that is broadly satisfactory, and so I support the current law.”

What happened to a woman in Auckland recently demonstrates how current abortion law is not “broadly satisfactory”.

The Wireless reports a woman came to the Waitemata DHB with an unwanted pregnancy. She wanted an abortion, and was within the time limit. She had the right to have her case determined by two certifying consultants, and a third if the first two disagreed. But according to the story, a social worker employed by the DHB prevented her from having a consultation with any certifying consultants.

Under the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act, doctors refer their patients to certifying consultants. There is no provision for gatekeeping counsellors to prevent that consultation.

And yet that is what is said to have happened. Enough time was wasted to put the woman out of time for an abortion in New Zealand.

What is it like to be so vulnerable that one person’s seemingly trivial action can change the course of the rest of your life? Ask any woman who has had to beg a certifying consultant for a signature that gives her back her health, her future, her education, her career, her dreams for the future. A signature that saves her from poverty, depression, and beneficiary-bashing bureaucrats. A signature that can cut her tie to an abusive partner.

Just wanting to be free of an unwanted pregnancy is not enough. She needs the abortion bureaucracy to turn in her favour and make the right people available, in order for her to put her request to them.

What is it like when one person in a position of power over you by virtue of their role in the abortion bureaucracy decides not you, not today? You don’t know why. You can ask, but they don’t have to tell you. They can refuse your plea, and send you away. If this embarasses their boss, they may get a letter in their employment file. They may get sacked. You will get a child, and a life change you never wanted.

This is what happens when women do not have the right to an abortion: it means someone else has the right to refuse them. No one should have that much power over another human being.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill wrote the rule of law requires the law be certain and accessible, not arbitrary or discretionary, and that everyone must be equal before the law. Our abortion laws and their inconsistent application violate all these principles. A pregnant person’s fate is determined by an act of discretion by two certifying consultants. What the law is and how it is applied depends on where the pregnant person lives. That is not equality before the law.

This outrageous situation has continued for 40 years. It is well past time for change.

Come to the book launch!

Come to the book launch!

You are warmly invited to the launch of

Risking Their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900–1939
by Margaret Sparrow

at Unity Books
6pm–7.30pm, Thursday 28 September
in honour of International Safe Abortion Day.

This launch is kindly supported by ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa.

Risking Their Lives is the third book in a series recording the history of abortion in New Zealand. It fills the gap between Abortion Then and Now: New Zealand Abortion Stories from 1940 to 1980 and Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-Century New Zealand.

Abortion has always been a fraught political issue in New Zealand, from the draconian laws of the 1860s, when most abortions were illegal and clandestine and society’s emphasis was on punishment, to the turbulent abortion rights protests of the 1970s. In the early years of the 20th century, abortion came to be recognised not just as a crime but also as a major public health problem. In response to an embarrassingly large number of deaths from septic abortion, the government in 1936 appointed a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the issues. This was a turning point in people’s attitudes to abortion and women’s reproductive health in general.

Risking Their Lives features many previously untold stories salvaged from the coroner’s reports and newspaper reports of the day. The narrative is grim, but this is an honest retelling of our past, primarily letting the stories speak for themselves. As those who fought to make abortion safer and easier for women grow older and there are fewer people who remember what it used to be like, such stories become increasingly important to ensure that history does not repeat itself.