by Dame Margaret Sparrow
Valerie Scott (88), journalist, artist, interior decorator, Samaritan, was a long standing member of ALRANZ.
I first met Valerie in 1970 but before that I already knew of her through her regular columns as the “Dulux” lady. I then got to know her much better as a volunteer for the Family Planning Association and as a Director of Samaritans. In her weekly shopping column for the Evening Post, which she compiled for 25 years, she always managed to promote one good cause or another. I will just mention three topics that I shared with her – emergency contraception, abortion and sex education.
In 1972 I was one of the first doctors in New Zealand to prescribe an early method of the “morning-after” pill to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Valerie appreciated the benefits of this well before many of my medical colleagues did. She introduced me to her long time friend and journalist Cherry Raymond who interviewed me for one of her “Speaking Frankly” articles in the Woman’s Weekly. It was published on 13 November 1972 with the arresting headline “The Morning-After Pill is Not Illegal”. Not used to publicity at that stage of my career I was mortified to see the story advertised not only on the cover of the magazine but also on large billboards!
Valerie also ensured that those who came her way via Samaritans were given “morning-after” pills when needed. (That was before the name was changed in 1995 to “emergency contraception”.) In a number of cases to save embarrassment and preserve confidentiality she would use her own name and address to meet the legal requirements for a prescription drug. Valerie often laughed that if anyone had audited the records she would have had a lot of explaining to do. Her willingness to do this was in sharp contrast to her very respectable and gracious public image.
In the early 1970s Valerie was equally helpful over abortion an unmentionable topic in polite circles and even among medical colleagues. Through her work in Samaritans she knew of young women who had committed suicide rather than face the stigma of an unplanned pregnancy. Until the Auckland Medical Aid Centre opened in May 1974 women had to travel to Australia for a legal abortion, either to Melbourne or Sydney. Valerie and I decided that instead of being given a number to ring on a scruffy piece of paper women should have the dignity of carrying a letter of referral as in any other case where professional services were sought. Through her Samaritan network Valerie had excellent contacts with the law and police and using them she ascertained that this would be regarded as legitimate. However I was still very apprehensive when I was rung late one evening by a disapproving doctor telling me that one of my letters had been intercepted and was in the hands of the police. Valerie however was reassuring and it was a relief to me that nothing eventuated. We continued to improve our abortion referrals.
For six and a half years Valerie dispensed sensible advice as a panellist on the TV weekday show “Beauty and The Beast” with Selwyn Toogood, (which started in 1976 and ran through to 1985.) In 1982 her experiences as an agony aunt and also her work through Samaritans and Family Planning, led to a six-part series on sex education for parents published in the NZ Times newspaper entitled “What do I tell my daughter?” The articles were very popular and reprinted by the newspaper as a booklet. In 1984 there was a sequel “What do I tell my son?” and in 1985 the two series were published as “What do I tell my children?” Six years later, in 1991 the advice was updated, expanded, illustrated and published as “Telling It: How, when and what to tell your children.” Single and childless, although a favourite aunt of her many nieces and nephews, Valerie was always generous in acknowledging the help of others in preparing these eminently reassuring booklets.
In the New Years Honours 1998 Valerie received the Queen Service Medal for Community Service a tribute to the many years of service to various community groups. As a JP and marriage celebrant she touched many lives. She was a Patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and in recent years supported Action on Elder Abuse, an organisation to protect the rights of the elderly. She will be remembered for her compassion for those in need, for her sense of fairness and justice, her dignity and style and permeating all her relationships a delightful sense of humour.
28 September 2016 (International Safe Abortion Day)
In honour of International Safe Abortion Day, Wednesday, 28 September 2016, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is screening the award-winning documentary, TRAPPED.
TRAPPED tells the story of how clinics in the states are responding to new abortion restrictions that anti-choice legislators pretend are designed to protect patients from abortion providers, but in fact, exist to make abortion more expensive and harder for patients to access.
New Zealanders who have accessed abortion (that would be one in four people with uteri of childbearing age) are familiar with restrictions that lack any scientific or medical basis, but rather exist solely to make abortion more time-consuming and unpleasant. Restrictions like:
- requiring the approval of two certifying consultants
- requiring patients to allege grounds specified in 187A of the Crimes Act to access the procedure, usually that their mental health would be affected, even if they just don’t want to be pregnant
- requiring patients to get ultrasounds that are not medically indicated, and counselling above and beyond what the patient wants or needs
- requiring patients to spend weeks running around getting all the necessary bureaucratic approvals, while enduring the physical discomforts of early pregnancy like morning sickness
There is one difference between the situation in the USA and in New Zealand. In the USA these TRAP laws are a new phenomenon. But pregnant New Zealanders have been dealing with the same pointless restrictions, and getting the same pointless runaround, for almost 40 years.
Back when the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act was passed, Parliament was openly trying to discourage abortion, giving patients as little control and freedom as they could get away with while still providing an alternative to unsafe, illegal abortion. Now, most people have worked out that it is not the government’s place to force people to bear children they don’t want.
When will Parliament come to the same conclusion?
Join us at the Lighthouse Cinema in Wellington at 6pm for TRAPPED, and stay for an informal panel discussion afterwards. If you live outside Wellington and you are interested in seeing TRAPPED in your town, contact ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa at email@example.com.
The 0800 ABORTION service has closed due to lacking of funding. This is a great loss and a sad day for New Zealanders who believe people own their own bodies, and ought to be able to decide what happens to those bodies.
The 0800 ABORTION service helped pregnant people navigate New Zealand’s arcane, overly-complicated abortion bureaucracy. For a while, desperate people with unwanted pregnancies could talk to a person who could give them medical information based on scientific fact, and solid logistical information to help them through New Zealand’s Rube Goldberg abortion system. The service would help pregnant patients set up the many appointments needed to get all the bureaucratic boxes ticked, and help make sure they did not jeopardise their chance to get their lives back to normal by leaving anything out.
The service ended up a victim, both of its own success, and of government’s failure.
Nurses had to spend more time than expected with patients, sorting out the complicated logistics required. In the end, there was more need than the service could fulfil.
Having created this complicated maze of an abortion provision system and perpetuated it through 40 years of neglect, government should have recognised the need for a service like this. Failing that, when such a service was actually created and doing good work for the pregnant people of Aotearoa, government should have recognised its usefulness and funded it through the health service.
Instead, pregnant people continue to be ignored by both the government and the opposition.
by Terry Bellamak
Last weekend Stuff published an excellent article on abortion stigma. If you haven’t read Michelle Duff’s piece yet, go read it – very insightful and full of good historical information.
It’s also timely, coming a week after pro-choice locals and ALRANZ supporters in Thames took back the corner near the hospital where for years radical anti-choice busybodies have been harassing patients accessing the Thames abortion service. The Thames community had grown used to gritting their teeth and pretending not to see them. They seemed relieved to see us on the corner instead.
A study from 2013 showed how effective anti-choice protesters outside clinics are at getting patients to change their minds about abortion: not effective at all. It showed patients may have found the protesters upsetting, but patients’ reasons for getting an abortion were so compelling that nothing the protesters said could have changed their minds. Some anti-choicers acknowledge this fact themselves.
Another study from 2015 shows patients trying to access abortion find protesters intrusive and intimidating even when they stand silently. It isn’t hard to see why. Most people who access abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand have been raised as women in Western culture, so they are all too familiar with street harassment. How did you feel the last time you walked by the local dairy and the guys on the corner silently watched you walk on by? Did you feel judged? Annoyed? Threatened? How is it any different if they are older and carrying gory signs?
I find it impossible to credit the idea that the anti-choice busybodies with gory signs aren’t fully aware that their presence makes patients feel unsafe. That’s why they are there. Their presence, their judgmental silence, their scaremongering signs, may be the only punishment a patient having an abortion ever experiences.
Punishing women for behaving like the sexual beings they are is crucial to the perpetuation of abortion stigma. Abortion stigma, the vague sense that someone getting an abortion is doing something wrong, is the only weapon in the anti-choicers’ arsenal. Apart from real weapons, of course. Once you reject abortion stigma, there is no viable argument against abortion.
Abortion stigma keeps women silent about their abortions, but more and more women are owning their choices without fear. As time goes on, the circle of people unafraid to talk about their abortions grows, and the reach of abortion stigma shrinks.
Anti-choicers can never let go of abortion stigma. It’s all they’ve got.
5 August 2016
Thames Community Takes Action Against Abortion Harassment
A community meeting in Thames on anti-abortion harassment was followed on Friday morning by a peaceful demonstration in support of Thames hospital abortion patients.
More than 40 people attended the Thursday night meeting to discuss the on-going harassment of abortion patients in Thames, and resolved to take action to counter the anti-choice protests.
Speakers included Jan Logie, Green MP, who told the meeting of the need to decriminalise abortion, which is still regulated as a crime. Ms. Logie said the criminalised law reinforced abortion stigma, which anti-choice protesters appeal to with their actions.
“Both the current law and the anti-abortion protests are based on a lack of trust for women,” Ms. Logie said.
ALRANZ President, Terry Bellamak, also spoke at the meeting, saying “women experience harassment as intrusive and intimidating, even if protesters are silent.” She said that anti-abortion harassment is another form of the street harassment all women experience.
Rachel Harrison a longtime sexual violence prevention worker in Thames made links between the abuse and control of women at the hands of violent partners and what women feel when they pass anti-abortion protests. “Both are about trying to control women,” she said.
Scott Summerfield, an ALRANZ member and local organiser, said it was really positive that the Thames community, which has looked at the harassment and intimidation for so many years, has decided to take action towards supporting women in Thames and informing the community about the challenges facing women seeking abortion services in New Zealand.
Anti-abortion protesters gather outside Thames Hospital every Friday when abortion services take place. Because the Bay of Plenty District Health Board does not provide a surgical abortion service, many Bay of Plenty women must travel to Thames for care, along with women from Waikato DHB.
Last year, 180 abortions were performed in Thames out of a national total of 13,155. Waikato District Health Board says it has received complaints that the protests are distressing to patients and their families, but pro-choice advocates say little action has been taken and the protests continue.
The meeting resolved to continue with on-going action to ensure Thames is a safe place for women needing abortion care.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
This links to a flier for the event, with some Facts and Figures about abortion in Aotearoa and the Thames service.
And here’s some media coverage by Stuff and NewsHub.