Incompatible Perspectives

Incompatible Perspectives

by Terry Bellamak

When considering people requesting abortion care, I have always thought that, even as the women knew they were lying to the certifying consultants, the certifying consultants also knew they were lying and helpfully pretended to believe them. But that might not actually be the case.

I was at the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Conference in Nelson, presenting a talk on abortion law.

At one point I referred to the unexceptionable fact that women have told me how they had to lie to certifying consultants to get abortion care.

This was met with incredulity by some certifying consultants, who could not believe their patients were lying to them, even in face of the patients’ obvious motivation to do so, and the statistical unlikelihood of 98% of pregnant people who need abortions suffering from mental illness in the usual sense of the term.

Self-delusion or doublethink?

The result of this disconnect is an interaction that looks one way from the perspective of the certifying consultant, and completely different from the perspective of the person who needs an abortion.

Certifying consultants approach their task with certain definitions in mind, like the WHO standard for mental health, which is:

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

They ask the patient questions, prompting responses aimed at assessing the validity of her reasons for needing abortion care. A certifying consultant’s sole reason for being is to decide whether the patient meets the legal grounds under the Crimes Act. Once the patient has said enough to satisfy that standard, the certifying consultant can approve the abortion with a clear conscience, knowing the law has been satisfied, the patient has been satisfied (she gets her abortion), all the boxes are ticked, and they have done their job in accordance with the abortion bureaucracy.

From the perspective of a person who needs an abortion, however, she has to lie. She does not know the details of the standard the certifying consultant is using. She knows what mental illness is, and she knows she is not mentally ill. The certifying consultant asks her leading questions that hint at what the certifying consultant wants to hear. She says what they want to hear, and gets her abortion.

Sometimes, a patient struggles with the lies she has to tell, and tries to say, no, I made this decision because it is the best decision for my life right now, not because I am mentally ill. But under the sensitive, prompting questions of the certifying consultant, she caves in, as she must. And it feels like a betrayal of herself.

She believes the certifying consultant is trying to help her get the abortion she needs in the only way it can be done here in New Zealand. That’s sort of true: the certifying consultants is trying to get to the place where they can say, yes, she meets the grounds. Both respect the law, and struggle mightily to satisfy its demands.

The law itself is not respectable. It demands women sacrifice a tiny sliver of their integrity to get the health care they need. They do it willingly. They would do much more, as history shows. The alternative is childbirth.

The certifying consultants have made a sacrifice too, but I don’t think some of them realise it. They have unwittingly done their patients harm by forcing them to testify falsely against themselves.

40 Days of Gratitude

40 Days of Gratitude

by Terry Bellamak

“40 Days for Life” is the time of year when anti-abortion folks try to make life harder for people who need abortion care, and for people who provide it. This usually takes the form of increased harassment of people entering and leaving abortion services, be they clients or medical staff.

Most years, ALRANZ counters the negativity as best it can. This year, ALRANZ has received even more support than we have in previous years, both from our supporters, and from the greater community.

Like last year, ALRANZ marked the occasion by taking up the #40daysfortruth project. This is the project where we post and tweet actual facts about abortion in New Zealand and around the world, with citations, to counter the falsehoods often bandied about by anti-abortion folks.

This year, we have had lots more community engagement with these posts. They have started conversations in many quarters, and we are delighted about that.

Last year, as in previous years, ALRANZ set up a funding page to give treats to some of the larger providers of abortion care in the main centres. We sent them flowers, and sometimes chocolates and other treats to thank them for the excellent care they provide their patients, in the face of so much bogus criticism.

This year, our funding page got such a huge response, with over $1000 donated, that we were able to send flowers, or flowers and treats, to every abortion service in New Zealand that we knew about. We are very grateful to our supporters, who gave generously, and even volunteered to deliver the treats to some of the 19 services. The professionals who provide abortion care are unjustly vilified in some quarters, so it was wonderful to be able to do something nice for them.

Last Sunday in Wellington, an ALRANZ supporter organised a counter protest to show our support for those who provide abortion care and those who need it. Around 70 people came, chanted, displayed signs, and waved to all the many cars that honked in support. It was a pleasant ending to what was supposed to be the season of strife, which turned out so differently.

I can only conclude that as people are paying more attention to abortion now that law reform is on the new government’s radar, they are following through with increased support for law reform. For that too, I am grateful.

ALRANZ Thanks Abortion Providers During 40 Days Protests

ALRANZ has sent flowers or treats to all abortion services in New Zealand, to thank them for the fine work they do all year.

“This time of year is especially difficult for abortion care providers, because of the increased harassment during the ‘40 Days for Life’ protests,” said ALRANZ National president Terry Bellamak.

Anti-abortion organisations in New Zealand started the annual protests several years ago, imitating American anti-abortion groups.

“In past years, we were able to treat some of the bigger abortion services. But this year we got a fantastic response to our Givealittle page. We raised over $1000, which we are using to send flowers and other treats to every abortion service in New Zealand,” Bellamak continued.

“We feel very grateful to the folks who provide abortions care, and very grateful to all our supporters who have enabled us to show them all how much New Zealand appreciates the work they do.”

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.

Diagram Shows How Complicated NZ Abortion Is

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa has released a diagram on its website, showing how complicated the process for getting an abortion in New Zealand is for people trying to access the procedure.

The page shows a stark comparison between seeking an abortion in present-day New Zealand and seeking one in the USA in the 1980s.

“We chose to compare New Zealand’s process with the relatively straightforward process common across almost all of the states in the 1980s, rather than the situation in the US today. This is because years of politically driven assaults on reproductive rights in the states have made the process in places like Texas or Alabama look a lot more like New Zealand’s,” said ALRANZ National president Terry Bellamak.

“Other states, like Oregon and New York, use almost the same process now as was common in the 1980s.

“It’s a clear and compelling illustration of how difficult it really is to access abortion here, and of how dysfunctional our abortion laws are.

“Accessing abortion does not need to be this difficult.”

New Zealand’s complicated, time-consuming legal requirements leave abortion seekers vulnerable to various hassles, also discussed on the page.

“New Zealand’s abortion provision system is unusual in its complexity, and the stress and dysfunction fall much more heavily on those who and lack the money to overcome them, and on those who live far away from urban centres.”

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.

New Zealand’s abortion regime is 40 years old. In February the Minister of Justice, Hon Andrew Little, asked the Law Commission to review New Zealand’s abortion laws, so as to treat abortion as a health matter.

ALRANZ Welcomes Law Commission Review

ALRANZ welcomes Justice Minister Little’s call for a Law Commission review of New Zealand’s abortion laws. The Minister said abortion should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal matter.

ALRANZ National President Terry Bellamak agreed with Minister Little, and said decriminalisation must include getting rid of certifying consultant approvals based on the grounds for the 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.

“The Law Commission has the opportunity to eliminate much of the time-consuming box-ticking exercise pregnant people must go through to access abortion, by modernising the law,” said Bellamak.

“New Zealand’s current legal framework imposes restrictions that place the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the hands of doctors the pregnant person has likely never even met before. That is ridiculous. The pregnant person should be able to choose and access abortion as a matter of right.”

Bellamak said ALRANZ believes the Law Commission should not preserve other restrictions that overmedicalise a safe, routine medical procedure that one in four New Zealanders capable of becoming pregnant will access during their reproductive lives.

“We hope the Law Commission will take international medical best practice into account, backed up by peer-reviewed research.

“The bottom line is this: trust pregnant people to make the best decisions they can, for themselves and their families.”

Poll results show a majority of New Zealanders support the right to access abortion on request.