For the past two years, ALRANZ has been working on a project to bring a complaint to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) about how New Zealand’s abortion laws breach the human rights of pregnant people.
We chose this route for several reasons.
First, complaining to the HRC is free. Taking a case to the High Court is expensive, and unlike some anti-choice groups, we do not have a pro bono QC on speed dial.
Second, it’s not a great stretch to frame our case against our current abortion laws in terms of discrimination, which is the only breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act the HRC can consider. So even though we believe our abortion laws breach other civil and human rights, we can only talk about discrimination. It’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible.
Third, we are not doing this alone. Several people, whose experiences with New Zealand’s abortion bureaucracy range from the semi-functional to the horrific, have joined us in making this complaint. Their stories demonstrate how the discrimination of which we complain affects people’s lives, resulting in hurt feelings, loss of dignity, and cruel, degrading, and disproportionately severe treatment.
We complain that people seeking abortion care receive different and demonstrably worse treatment than other people seeking health care. This is because:
- no one else needs the approval to two certifying consultants to get health care;
- no one else can be denied health care because their reasons for seeking it are not the ones listed in the Crimes Act;
- no one else is forced to lie to their doctors about their mental health status if they want to receive health care;
- no one else is subject to arbitrary and unpredictable withholding of health care;
- only people seeking abortion referral or contraception can be refused service on the grounds of the provider’s ‘conscience’ with no warning and no recourse.
Our complaint now rests with the Office of Human Rights Proceedings. That office will decide whether it will represent ALRANZ and friends before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
Our complaint is important because the current laws do not protect your right to your own body, or your inherent right to decide for yourself whether to receive abortion care.
Abortion law reform, as promised by our current government, may change the situation. It may cure the discrimination of which we complain. We hope that it does. To whatever extent it does not, ALRANZ will continue to fight.
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.