For IWD 2019, Abort the Stigma

For IWD 2019, Abort the Stigma

by Terry Bellamak

Another International Women’s Day comes and goes, and New Zealand women still don’t have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to receive abortion care. In the land of Kate Sheppard and Suffrage 1893, women are still not treated as adults capable of making medical decisions for themselves. 

ALRANZ has fought for reproductive rights for almost 50 years. We will continue the fight until women and pregnant people are treated with dignity and equality. Our job just got a bit easier, though.

On Wednesday we launched Abort the Stigma, a Facebook page where people can tell their stories about abortion. 

It might seem like a small thing, just one more drop in an ocean of women shaping their own lives in the face of patriarchal shame and judgment. But these firsthand stories make it harder for the anti-abortion crowd to pretend abortion care is something that just ‘happens’ to women rather than something they seek out for their own good reasons Every new story told, every new voice that speaks up, adds to the evidence that refutes the anti-abortion rhetoric that abortion care only has negative consequences. 

Common sense and experience tell us that’s not true. 95% of people do not regret their abortions. 

What is regrettable is the fact we still need the approval of two random certifying consultants to get health care; we still face delays of 25 days on average from referral to procedure; we cannot access early medical abortions according to international best practice. 

These stories of women who did the best they could for themselves and their families, and are satisfied with the outcome, show the vital importance of people choosing their own lives. 

The government says law reform is on its way, change that will see abortion care treated as the health care it is. It can’t come a moment too soon. Let’s hope next year’s International Women’s Day fulfils the promise of full sovereignty over our own bodies.

ALRANZ Announces New Effort to Combat Abortion Stigma

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa announced a new effort to combat abortion stigma by creating a forum for people to share stories about their abortions anonymously.

The stories will appear on a new Facebook page, Abort The Stigma, and on Instagram at @abortthestigma.

“Abortion stigma is the projection of negative attributes on someone who has received abortion care, as an excuse for treating them badly,” said ALRANZ National president Terry Bellamak.

“It’s how anti-abortion groups justify targeting people for harassment outside abortion services when they are trying to access health care.

“One in four people who can get pregnant in New Zealand receive abortion care. Pretty much everyone knows someone who has accessed care. But people are very careful about whom they tell about their abortions. That is abortion stigma, too. If someone thinks they don’t know anyone who has received abortion care, they should ask themselves why someone might think they were not a safe person to tell.

“The page is a kind of homage to In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. It works the same way.”

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

The Minister 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 care. 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 receive abortion care on request.

Stand with Abortion Providers in 2019

Stand with Abortion Providers in 2019

Providing abortion care is not for the faint of heart. 

Every day, abortion providers work to ensure people are not forced to carry unwanted pregnancies, delivering abortion care with empathy and compassion. For this, anti-abortion activists target them for harassment, along with the people they care for.

Every year, during the 40 days before Easter it gets much worse.

So every year, we remind abortion providers how much we value their courage and commitment by standing with them, thanking them, and showing them some appreciation in the form of treats that everybody likes – like flowers and candy. Last year, thanks to the generosity of wonderful Kiwis like you, we were able to give treats to every service in New Zealand.

Let’s do it again this year!

We have started a Givealittle page so that you can contribute to making abortion providers feel valued and supported, as they deserve. 

The money will be used to buy flowers, candy, and other treats for as many abortion providers as we can, starting with the larger services.

Thanks for your support!

Your friends at ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa

Reproductive Coercion

Reproductive Coercion

by Terry Bellamak

Now that New Zealand is finally discussing abortion law reform, some folk are raising concerns about people being forced to get abortions they don’t want, also known as reproductive coercion. This is a favourite talking point for anti-choice folk.

They might be surprised to learn this kind of reproductive coercion has been a concern of the abortion services for many years. The informed consent process alleviates this concern, as it was designed to do.

Like all medical procedures, people who wish to receive abortion care must give their informed consent. Informed consent is kind of a big deal in medical circles. The Medical Council of New Zealand describes it as: 

… an interactive process between a doctor and patient where the patient gains an understanding of his or her condition and receives an explanation of the options available including an assessment of the expected risks, side effects, benefits and costs of each option and thus is able to make an informed choice and give their informed consent.

That’s a pretty comprehensive approach. The Abortion Supervisory Committee’s (ASC) Standards of Care goes even further, requiring providers to offer people more information about:

  • basic anatomy and physiology as relevant to the length of gestation;
  • the process of abortion and its possible complications;
  • fetal development (which may include showing pictures of the stage of fetal development);
  • Information about the advantages of having an abortion earlier rather than later in a pregnancy and the differences between medical and surgical abortion;
  • products of conception – kai atawhai or disposal options;
  • how people make sense of the loss of conception in abortion, grief and loss processes, and variabilities within a contemporary cultural context in Aotearoa;
  • contraception education

In addition, the ASC requires a psychosocial assessment of each person requesting abortion care to provide more support for those who may be vulnerable.

Doctors who provide abortion care have said they are required to meet with each patient alone, to make sure the people who came with them supposedly to support them are not in fact coercing them.

The Law Commission concluded the current informed consent regime is sufficient, and does not require changes. Given the care taken to identify and help people who might be coerced into an abortion, that seems right.

The National Collection of Independent Women’s Refuges published research on reproductive coercion in October 2018. Their study found roughly 60% of respondents had faced reproductive coercion in the form of a partner sabotaging their contraception in a bid to force them to get pregnant. Roughly half that number, about 30%, faced a partner trying to force them to have an abortion.

If anti-choice folk are worried about reproductive coercion, perhaps they would be better advised to start addressing the bigger part of the problem: forced pregnancy. It will be much tougher than forced abortion, because unlike abortion, people can be forced to continue a pregnancy without seeing any doctors.

Reproductive coercion is a huge problem. Its underlying rationale is sexism, the belief that controlling women is a man’s right. The fight for reproductive rights is the fight for freedom. That’s feminism.

 

The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

by Terry Bellamak

New Zealand is finally discussing abortion law reform. One of the first items of business on the government’s agenda is taking abortion out of the Crimes Act. This promises to make abortion easier to access, reduce delays, and reduce the unwarranted stigma around a procedure that is safe, routine health care.

Some folk have expressed a concern that taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will somehow make abortion less safe for people who decide to receive abortion care. 

In its comprehensive report on law reform, the New Zealand Law Commission considered the matter and concluded that fear was unfounded, for the following reasons:

  • All other health services are sufficiently protected by the health regulatory regime and by general offences in the Crimes Act. There is no reason abortion should be any different.
  • There are two groups of people whose actions are currently criminalised in relation to providing abortion care. Both would still meet with serious consequences for providing abortion care improperly even after abortion is taken out of the Crimes Act.
    • Health practitioners who provide abortion care without being qualified to do so, or who do not meet proper standards of care are subject to professional disciplinary action, and could also be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act. If they are negligent or fail to get informed consent from their patient, they could be charged with a criminal offence.
    • Unqualified people who attempt to provide abortion care can be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act, and their conduct may also constitute assault, injury, or wounding depending on whether the woman suffers actual bodily harm, and thus could be charged under the Crimes Act. 

It’s difficult to see how safety would be compromised if abortion care were regulated the same way as other medical care. Abortion care is very safe, and the earlier it is received the safer it is. Eliminating the delays our current laws promote would enable people to get abortion care earlier and thus more safely.

The report also makes the point that: 

 

Criminal offences are used to punish conduct that causes social harm and is considered morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values.

This treatment is inconsistent with treating abortion care as a health issue. Our current legal regime hypocritically criminalises abortion care while simultaneously fostering the practice of providing abortion in most cases, albeit in a manner that is cumbersome, patronising, and needlessly punitive.

By leaving this ridiculous system in place for over 40 years, Parliament has established it as the status quo. To try and pass off abortion care as morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values, Parliament would be making a liar of itself.

Taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will make abortion care safer, not less so.