Oral arguments on Mississippi abortion ban a dark day for women everywhere

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa deplores the apparent rolling back of the fundamental human right to bodily autonomy in the United States.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa Executive Committee member Ella Shepherd said the arguments run in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization show a court “willing to control a woman’s most personal decisions about her body and her family”.

While devastating for American women, the likely outcome of Dobbs also demonstrates why Aotearoa cannot afford to become complacent.

Shepherd notes “this is a world where some countries remain steadfast in their attempts to erode and control reproductive freedoms. The arguments in Dobbs show how settled political realities can fall to partisan politics.”

In New Zealand, it is promising to see last year abortion was removed from the Crimes Act in a 68-51 majority vote. However, one of our two major parties is led by someone who still considers people who receive abortion care to be murderers.

Now more than ever it is important that Aotearoa continues to protect abortion rights and provide safe access to abortion care. ALRANZ denounces the path being taken by the Supreme Court in the United States and will remain vigilant to ensure a similar path is not taken in Aotearoa.

National Party’s new conscience not representative of Aotearoa’s values

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa notes the appointment of Christopher Luxon as new leader for the National Party, and Nicola Willis as deputy leader.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa spokesperson Dr Tracy Morison said “Christopher Luxon’s well-publicised anti-abortion views are not representative of the values of mainstream New Zealanders, who overwhelmingly supported reform”.

Dr Tracy Morison, interim President of ALRANZ

Luxon said on Checkpoint following his appointment that his pro-life stance is not “a big issue” because abortion was decriminalized last year, and his deputy Nicola Willis is pro-choice.

Tracy Morison notes that “most people seeking abortion care in Aotearoa would disagree strongly with Christopher on this point”. Luxon’s refusal to answer whether he thought abortion was murder indicates he understands he is out of step with most New Zealanders.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa wish Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis well, but intend to monitor the extent that views such as his may have on the provision of safe and equitable abortion care in Aotearoa, particularly when considering the upcoming vote on the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill.

ALRANZ Gets New Interim President

Longtime ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak announced she is stepping down from the role. Dr Tracy Morison will take over as interim president until the next ALRANZ AGM.

In her final post, Bellamak said, “It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this organisation through the years in which our long-held purpose came to fruition. Abortion is now legal, it is health care, and it is the unquestioned right of every pregnant person up to 20 weeks gestation. When I reflect on abortion law reform, I am deeply proud of our country, and of our work.”

Bellamak also urged anyone who has experienced problems with reproductive health care to help ALRANZ hold the health system to account by using a new feature on the ALRANZ website. It facilitates people explaining what happened to them and helps ALRANZ to monitor the abortion care system.

Dr Morison is a senior lecturer in psychology at Massey University. Her research covers broad areas of health psychology, critical psychology, and feminism.

Dr Morison said, “Terry has done a sterling job steering ALRANZ these past years and her dynamic can-do leadership will be missed. At the same time, she’s stalwart in the reproductive rights movement and will still be very much involved in ALRANZ’s work. I’m honoured to stand in the gap as we plot our course in this new and hard-won post-reform phase.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in 2020. The Government is in the process of ramping up the reproductive health care system to implement the new law.

Abortion Report Shows Improvements in Care

The Ministry of Health’s annual report on abortion care in Aotearoa shows improvements in the provision of abortion care following the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act. Ministry data shows 45% of abortions were provided at 8 weeks gestation or less, up from 27% in 2019. The abortion rate itself has mostly remained steady.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Terry Bellamak said, “Early abortions are better for people because they don’t have to remain pregnant as long. Also, the earlier the abortion, the safer it is. Reducing delay was a key benefit of removing abortion from the Crimes Act and treating it like all other health care. Actual reduction in delay, as expected, shows the new abortion system is working much better than the old one.”

Before the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, in order to access legal abortion patients had to obtain the approval of two certifying consultants, which could only be provided on certain grounds in the Crimes Act. This antiquated system created delays, causing New Zealand patients to receive abortion care much later than those in comparable countries.

Bellamak continued “The data also shows a big increase in the percentage of early medical abortions – 36% in 2020, up from 22% in 2019. This is partly because the new system allows patients to take the two sets of pills at home, 24 – 48 hours apart, as best practice requires. And it’s partly because the pandemic made it necessary for people to avoid going to a service if possible. Thanks to the new legislation, it was possible for the health system to provide abortion care during lockdown via telephone and Zoom.”

Because the old legislation was passed before early medical abortions existed, the old law required patients to take both sets of pills on the premises of the service, even if that meant having to travel long distances twice.

“Access will likely improve even further next year as more primary care practitioners, like midwives, nurse practitioners, and GPs take up the training to provide early medical abortions in primary care settings.

 “We still think the Ministry should keep track of the number of patients who had to be referred to the Ministry’s website because their health practitioner obstructs access to abortion of the basis of their own ‘conscience.’ It’s important to keep track of the problem to understand whether it is getting better or worse.

“Overall, the report shows that abortion care has improved in Aotearoa as a result of the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

NZHPA v Attorney General – ALRANZ Welcomes Decision

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa welcomes the High Court’s decision in NZ Health Professionals’ Alliance v Attorney-General, which upholds ss 14 and 15 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 (‘CSAA’), amended in the Abortion Legislation Act 2020.

Section 14 requires health practitioners to inform patients if they have a ‘conscientious objection’ to providing abortion care, and to inform them where to access the contact details of the nearest health practitioner who provides abortions.

Section 15 requires employers to accommodate health practitioners who obstruct access to reproductive health care, unless doing so would cause unreasonable disruption.

“The High Court has considered the case with evident care and clarity, and has found that neither section of the CSAA limits the NZHPA’s rights under the NZ Bill of Rights, and even if they did, it would be a justified limitation,” summarised Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ President.

“The High Court has taken the rights of pregnant people into its balancing of the rights in question, as we hoped it would.

“This judgment demonstrates the effect of treating abortion as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. People have a right to health care, and that right must be taken into consideration.

“This is a great outcome for the people of Aotearoa.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

ALRANZ Condemns Draconian Texas Anti-abortion Law

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa condemns Texas law SB 8, which prohibits abortion care after a ‘fetal heartbeat’ can be detected, at roughly 6 weeks gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Most pregnant people don’t even realise they are pregnant at that early stage.

“SB 8 is unconstitutional under US law as it now stands because of Roe v Wade, which is still good law in the USA,” said ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak. “By not blocking SB 8 from coming into force, the US Supreme Court has allowed an unconstitutional law to stand. This is way outside the norm.

“In the past, the Supreme Court would not make a decision of this importance without briefs and oral argument. This is so that justice can be administered transparently, and lower courts can apply the resulting legal precedent properly because they understand the court’s reasoning. But this Supreme Court has conducted much of its business on the ‘shadow docket’, outside normal scrutiny. This is an example.”

She went on, “SB 8 is different from previous attempts to ban abortion at the state level because it is enforced not by the state but by ordinary citizens who can sue anyone they allege has broken the law by assisting a person to access abortion care. That can include providing medical care, lending them the money for the procedure, or even just driving them to the clinic. Those accused could be required to pay their accuser up to $10,000.

 “No one knows what happens next, but it’s not looking good. Texas is in uncharted waters.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.