Just Not True

Just Not True

by Terry Bellamak

At the Abortion Legislation Bill Select Committee’s public meetings, one of the falsehoods anti-abortion extremists repeated most often was that the new bill would “bring in abortion right up until birth for any reason at all.”

There are so many ways in which this notion is inaccurate, misleading, and a travesty that I am devoting a whole article to it. But then, I have to. A big lie can be told quickly, but unpacking the truth takes time and explanation.

As the old saying goes, “A lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots.” So let’s get started.

First, people can receive abortion care right up until birth now. The Crimes Act 1961 states that after 20 weeks people can receive abortion care if their lives, or their physical or mental health, are in serious danger. In 2017, 99 abortions were provided after 20 weeks. Fifteen of them occurred on the ground of danger to the life or physical health of the mother. The other 84 occurred on the ground of danger to the mental health of the mother.

In reality, those 84 abortions happened because the foetus had a fatal anomaly, according to doctors who provide abortion care. Their parents made the hard decision to spare them from suffering a brief, painful life followed by a painful death.

But in New Zealand, abortion is in the Crimes Act, and abortions must be reported to the Ministry of Justice on the basis of the grounds in section 187A. Fatal foetal anomaly is not a ground. So doctors provide, and report, these abortions on the legal ground available: the mental health of the mother.

Incidentally, when the Abortion Legislation Bill was first introduced last August, some anti-abortion propaganda talked about “over 800 ‘late-term’ abortions in New Zealand in the last 10 years for non-medically-related reasons.” It seems to have been referring to the figures for abortions after 20 weeks under the ‘danger to mental health’ ground. But the grounds are an artefact of our antiquated laws. Those abortions happened because of the medical condition of the foetus.

Second, the big lie implies people choose to receive abortion care after 20 weeks. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These were wanted pregnancies suffering a medical crisis. They are endured, not chosen.

As one woman who had to receive an abortion at 35 weeks in the US recalls:

I remember saying, “What can a baby like mine do? Does she just sleep all the time?” The doctor winced when I said that, and he responded, “Babies like yours are generally not comfortable enough to sleep.” That’s when I knew for sure.

Surely the fate of such a pregnancy should be left in the hands of the people with the most love, the parents, and not taken from them and placed in the hands of the state. Some may disagree with the decisions parents make, but in a situation like this, no one can seriously argue they are acting from any other motivation than the best interests of their family, in their best judgment.

Third, the big lie implies it will be easy to obtain abortions at later gestations. With so few abortions occurring at later gestations now, it is no wonder this implication is so easy to pass off. Few people are in a position to know the truth firsthand.

Doctors will tell you, an abortion after 20 weeks is a big deal, because of the crises that give rise to them. While it is difficult to generalise because every situation is unique, they usually involve much consultation, testing and discussion amongst the medical team.

There are very few specialist obstetricians in New Zealand who can provide advice on abortions in these circumstances. So the procedure will likely involve travel to a main centre where care can be provided safely. This is not something people seek on a whim.

Lastly, there is the underlying implication that women, if left to make decisions on their own, would change their minds like fickle children, and decide at 30 weeks that they would rather go on holiday or wear a slinky dress than continue the pregnancy. This one is a bit of a dog whistle; it speaks volumes, but mainly to people who already believe women are not responsible human beings.

The misogyny that forms the foundation of this implication illustrates sexism that is deeply embedded in human culture everywhere. The message is that women cannot be trusted with their own intellectual, ethical, and moral perspectives, but must continue to be dictated to, as they have been over past millennia.

Hostility toward women making decisions for themselves shows up in other ways related to abortions. For instance, harassment of women who talk about their abortions on social media is common and rarely meets with sanctions. Another woman at the select committee’s public hearings shared some of the disgusting things anti-abortion folks have said to her on social media. I will not repeat them; no one should.

We need to trust pregnant people to make their own decisions about their own bodies, both before and after 20 weeks. No one can decide for someone else whether they are ready for parenthood. And in the event of a medical crisis later in gestation, no one is better placed to decide the fate of the pregnancy than the parents.

Dame Margaret Sparrow on Shortlist for New Zealander of the Year

Dame Margaret Sparrow on Shortlist for New Zealander of the Year

Dame Margaret Sparrow, former national president of ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa, is on the shortlist for New Zealander of the Year.

ALRANZ is proud that Kiwibank has recognised Dame Margaret’s ceaseless efforts to empower the people of New Zealand by changing our abortion laws to give effect to their own reproductive choices. We have known for a long time how awesome she is.

Moreover, this honour highlights once again how New Zealand society has changed over the past 50 years. Reproductive rights are no longer spoken of in hushed tones. The majority of us recognise the rights and dignity of pregnant people.

As New Zealand abortion law has fallen farther behind our OECD neighbours in acknowledging the human right of bodily autonomy for all pregnant people, Kiwis have called for change. And change is coming.

At the Wellington March for Abortion Reform last July, Dame Margaret told the crowd at Parliament what it was like to be pregnant and desperate in the 1960s. Your choices were all bad: spend a fortune to fly to Australia for a safe termination; try your luck with a potion from a dodgy source; risk injury or death from an illegal surgical abortion; plead for mercy from the local hospital’s abortion board; or, be incarcerated in a mother-and-baby home where your child would be forcibly taken from you for adoption.

No compassionate person wants to go back to those days. This is why reproductive rights are mainstream.

We salute Dame Margaret, and we salute Kiwibank for this well-deserved honour to a New Zealand legend.

NHS Report on Women’s Health and NZ Law Reform

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has released a report on the state of women’s health in the UK. The report calls for the NHS to take a strategic approach to prevent disease and promote wellness across people’s lifespans.

ALRANZ notes the report recommends measures the NZ Ministry of Health should consider when implementing new abortion law reform legislation, should it pass.

“The report notes that controlling one’s own fertility is a key factor in promoting good health. It calls for easy access to contraception, abortion, and fertility treatment so that pregnancy occurs if and when someone wishes to be pregnant,” said ALRANZ National president, Terry Bellamak.

“The report calls for emergency contraception and oral contraception to be made available on pharmacy store shelves for purchase, and for free over the counter, with no random pharmacist consultation. That sounds like a good start.”

With respect to abortion, the report calls upon the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to make teaching abortion skills part of its core curriculum. ALRANZ believes the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) should follow RCOG’s lead.

“The report recommends a telemedicine service for assessment of those who wish to receive early medical abortions, with the drugs made available at local pharmacies. It also recommends patients be allowed to take both sets of pills at home. This would be a huge benefit in New Zealand because of the long distances people in remote areas need to travel to access health care. Distance is a huge driver of inequity in our current system. We hope the Ministry of Health takes up the idea,” said Bellamak

“We note the report also calls for people to able to access abortion without harassment. Current proposals in the Abortion Legislation Bill around establishing safe areas are ridiculously cumbersome, because they require a separate Order in Council for every clinic that needs protection. Which, let’s face it, is all of them.

“We hope the Abortion Legislation Select Committee and the Ministry of Health consider the report carefully.”

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

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.

More funny numbers

More funny numbers

by Terry Bellamak

On Tuesday, 3 December, the Abortion Legislation Select Committee will consider the petition of Ken Orr, which calls for the rejection of the Abortion Legislation Bill.

The petition has 15,407 signatures.

Of course, the petition of Aimee Wilson earlier this year, calling for abortion to be decriminalised, received 37,856 signatures. 

It’s not the first time a petition has demonstrated large support for the right to receive abortion care.

Everyone has the right to petition Parliament. And the select committee definitely understands basic math.

Abortion Decriminalised in Northern Ireland

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa congratulates Northern Ireland for decriminalising abortion.

“Northern Ireland had some of the most punitive and restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Now, they finally have the same laws as the rest of the United Kingdom,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.

In July, the UK Parliament voted to extend abortion and same-sex marriage laws to Northern Ireland if its devolved government was not restored by 21 October. Unionist parties tried, but were unable to reconvene today when nationalist parties left the chamber.

“This was a long time coming for Northern Ireland. Some activists in the North said they felt a bit left behind by changes in the Republic of Ireland. But now their laws are like the UK’s – much more functional and patient-friendly than the Republic’s,” said Bellamak.

“Abortion will no longer be a criminal offence. Northern Ireland’s abortion laws will finally exit the Victorian era. The activists who have been working to make this happen for many thankless years have a lot to be proud of today.

“Now both countries on the Emerald Isle have better, more modern, and more functional laws than New Zealand. We really need to get on with law reform.”

The New Zealand government has presented a reform bill to select committee.

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

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.