Sorry, Not Sorry

Sorry, Not Sorry

by Terry Bellamak

In news shocking to no one who has received abortion care, longitudinal research from the states reveals that after five years 95% of people who decided to receive abortion care mainly felt relief. They did not regret their decision.

Wow. It’s almost like women and pregnant people know what they want. Like they can make decisions about their own lives that turn out well for them.

What about that tiny percentage of outliers? I would like to see research that studies the extent to which their conflicting feelings relate to the stigma they faced, or to a later conversion to a traditionalist religion that strongly encourages them to see their past abortions as sinful, and reinterpret their previously positive experience in negative terms.

I hope this research makes an impression on any MPs who were unconsciously influenced by the well-debunked myth that most people regret their abortions, and that New Zealand’s abortion laws should somehow reflect that falsehood through mandatory counselling, mandatory stand-down periods, or mandatory parental notification.

Everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become a parent.

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.

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.

Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is delighted our president, Terry Bellamak, has been named as a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards, in the Community Hero category.

This honour recognises her hard work in the fight for reproductive rights for all New Zealanders. But in 2019, it means a little more than that.

After 40 years in the trenches, 40 years of setbacks trying to change the status quo, and 40 years of political cowardice on the part of successive parliaments, New Zealand, following Ireland’s example, is finally in the process of reforming its antiquated abortion laws. And not a moment too soon.

This change has come about, not because the politicians are suddenly so different, but because New Zealand is different. We no longer accept laws that treat adult citizens as virtual children, incapable of deciding on their own whether to terminate a pregnancy.

New Zealand women, and New Zealanders everywhere on the gender spectrum, are waging the fight for equal rights on many fronts – domestic and sexual violence, equal pay, and equal representation on corporate boards. The right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy is one thread of a tapestry we are all in the process of weaving.

For Terry to be named a finalist demonstrates that reproductive rights are mainstream.

And other facts confirm it. Polls show about two thirds of Kiwis support the right to receive abortion care under any circumstances. The new conventional wisdom holds that everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become parents.

We are so proud of Terry. And we are proud of New Zealand – ready to take the next step towards recognising the equality of all people.

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

The Abortion Legislation Bill Select Committee meetings have turned up a ridiculous idea that keeps coming back: sex selective abortions in Aotearoa, and how we can prevent them.

This is ridiculous on several grounds.

First, there is no evidence sex selective abortions are happening here in New Zealand. Sex selection is usually stereotyped as members of certain ethnicities preferring boys over girls. But in 2017, according to StatsNZ, roughly 97 boys were born for every 100 girls.

Some anti-abortion folks cite a 2018 LaTrobe University study on gender bias in birth rates to try to make a case for putting restrictions into the law. But the authors of the study disagree that their data has any bearing on abortion at all:[1]

“Our study did not cover abortions or abortion legislation,” she said.

“We do not make any recommendations in relation to abortions based on our findings.

“Instead we emphasise that measures to address male-biased sex ratios should address the root cause of son preference and the social, economic and symbolic position of females.”

Obstructing the bodily autonomy of women and pregnant people is the wrong way to address the root causes of sexism.

Second, how would a law prohibiting sex selective abortions be enforced? Would the trained health practitioner providing abortion care simply ask the person if they wanted an abortion because of gender? New Zealand legislation is easily available online, so anyone who wanted to abort because of gender would know to say, “Nope, that’s not the reason!”

Aren’t we trying to reform our abortion laws right now so that people don’t have to lie to doctors anymore? And aren’t we trying to move away from the present situation where people have to provide a reason, as if it were anyone’s business but theirs? Wouldn’t this be a step backwards?

Or would this section of the legislation be one of those ‘send a message’ sections that clog up the law books in some places, intended as a sop to those who think people look to Parliament for their moral code? A kind of legislative performance art?

Third, who would be responsible for enforcement? Would trained health practitioners face legal consequences if they didn’t dob in those they suspected of aborting for reasons of gender? Wouldn’t that lead to racial and ethnic profiling of their patients, because sex selective abortions are thought to be just an Asian thing?

The Human Rights Commission might have something to say about such blatant discrimination.

Apart from the fact that the suggested solution to this non-problem is unworkable, there are other consequences to consider.

If there really were people who wanted abortions for reasons of gender, and the health system denied them, wouldn’t that create a black market for gender-selective abortions? With all the historical cruelties and dysfunction that even our imperfect legal framework has alleviated?

Those who call for restrictions on sex selective abortions are the same folks who oppose decriminalisation full stop. Some of them are on record as wanting to ‘abolish abortion’. In light of those objectives, the focus on sex selection seems mischievous, a mere pretext to waste the select committee’s time.

The select committee’s work is too important for them to fall for such a ploy.

 

[1] Samantha Maiden “Key La Trobe study ‘misrepresented’ in NSW abortion debate ‘gendercide’ claim: Authors” The New Daily <thenewdaily.com.au>.