The Courage of Helen Paterson

The Courage of Helen Paterson

We already know how New Zealand’s abortion bureaucracy forces women to lie to get the health care they need. We have overlooked how it forces certifying consultants to lie to keep their jobs. That is, until Dr Helen Paterson came out as a pro-choice supporter.

The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act directs the Abortion Supervisory Committee to have regard to the views of certifying consultants when appointing them or renewing their appointments. By ‘views’ the legislation means whether the certifying consultants can navigate a path between what the legislation sets out as two extremes: believing no abortion should ever be granted, or believing abortion should be a matter between a woman and her doctor.

I pause to note the two positions are not equally extreme. ‘No abortion ever’ is an extreme. The equal and opposite extreme would be something like ‘everyone gets an abortion whether they want one or not’. People choosing abortion and getting them by their own consent is a middle of the road position. But I digress.

The Human Rights Act says New Zealand cannot discriminate against people on the basis of their political or religious views. And yet, the CSA directs the Abortion Supervisory Committee to discriminate against candidates for a certifying consultant appointment on the basis of their political or religious views.

To believe the state has no right to force people to give birth and become parents against their will is a political view. To believe it is ethical for people to choose for themselves whether or not to continue a pregnancy is an ethical or religious view.

Dr Helen Paterson is a certifying consultant. She wrote to the Abortion Supervisory Committee last month, informing them of her political and religious beliefs. She told them she believes abortion is a matter for a woman and her doctor to decide.

The Abortion Supervisory Committee has not yet told Dr Paterson whether or not they will withdraw her appointment.

Right to Life New Zealand has called for Dr Paterson’s dismissal. Evidently, they only recognise human rights for foetuses, not pregnant people and not certifying consultants.

How will it turn out? We will keep you posted.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

If you have not yet read Mamari Stephens’s article in E-Tangata on welfare laws that beg to be broken, read it here. It’s excellent.

One thought struck me: there are parallels between crappy welfare law (and practice) and crappy abortion law (and practice). Both systems carry the implicit expectation that women should act against their own interests.

Stephens discusses how welfare law carries the presumption a women with a man in her life will receive financial support from him, which is the rationale for reducing the benefit a woman in such a relationship receives. The welfare system reinforces the prescriptive nature of that expectation – by reducing her benefit the law forcibly shifts her dependence onto a man who may turn out to be unreliable. Or worse.

Women maintain the independence their benefit gives them and their families by lying to WINZ about their circumstances.

Abortion law carries the presumption women should not make their own decisions about the contents of their uteri. Rather, they must apply to the medical profession (explicitly presumed to be male) for the approval of two certifying consultants in order to end a pregnancy. The grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act and the bureaucracy created by the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act leave the reader with the correct impression the Royal Commission intended that women should carry most pregnancies to term, like it or not.

Women with unwanted pregnancies maintain their bodily integrity by lying to the certifying consultants that their mental health would suffer if they were forced to carry the pregnancy. Certifying consultants assist them by pretending to believe them.

In both cases, women are forced to lie in order to keep something that would cost them and their families dearly if they had to give it up.

And then there is the stigma associated both with being on a benefit and getting an abortion. In a classic double bind, a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is forced to choose one to avoid the other. She gets judged no matter which she chooses.

Stephens writes “we need policies that will incentivise law keeping rather than law breaking. Let’s discuss those possibilities.”

For a country that supposedly reveres the rule of law, it’s long past time to start those discussions.

The Morality of Coercion

The Morality of Coercion

‘Crisis Pregnancy Centre’ is a term of art. It means a counselling centre that advertises that it provides neutral pregnancy counselling, but anyone unwise or unlucky enough to go there soon discovers it’s a front for an anti-choice pressure group. They bait pregnant people with the promise of neutrality and a cheap pregnancy test, then switch to high-pressure tactics to convince the pregnant person not to abort.

Persuasion has some moral force, because it involves fully informed consent to the conversation on all sides. Coercion has no moral force. Under coercion I would include lies, subterfuge, and scams like crisis pregnancy centres.

Crisis pregnancy centres have to be run as cons. They have to trick women to get them in the door, because everyone knows they are not neutral, not unbiased, and moreover, whoever walks through the door will be subjected to an unpleasant hard sell by people who won’t take no for an answer.

If there were a service out there that listened rather than told, that attempted to persuade respectfully rather than bulldoze, what would that even look like? And who would trust it enough to give it a try? The usual crisis pregnancy centre suspects have poisoned the well.

For those who approach their own discomfort around abortion with kindness, for those who wish to make abortion unnecessary rather than illegal, it must be frustrating to be so poorly served by the authoritarian leaders of the alleged “pro-life” movement.

Anti-abortionists who don’t subscribe to authoritarian tactics should think long and hard about what their movement actually represents: coercing women through force of law to maintain pregnancies they do not want, lying to women about dodgy research, lying to women about their intentions at crisis pregnancy centres, harassing women outside abortion clinics, proselytising women under the guise of counselling. Where is the honour? Where is the morality?

Anyone who can look at that list of coercive actions and think, “well, but it’s OK in the service of our movement”, needs to think long and hard about whether the ends really justify the means.

As for the authoritarians, I wonder whether they are more attracted to the ends or the means.

Women Have Free Will

Women Have Free Will

I noticed something strange about Narelle Henson’s opinion piece in Stuff a few days ago. She seems to blame doctors more than patients, arguing abortion be decriminalised for patients, but criminal for doctors. Of course, if you criminalise abortion for doctors, it’s automatically inaccessible for patients, at least safely and legally. Even stranger, she portrays abortion as something that just happens to women without their input, like a virus or a mugging.

This is bizarre. Abortions happen because women actively seek them out when they do not wish to be pregnant. Abortions are not a injustice perpetrated on women, they are an option women have resorted to for thousands of years, when conditions are not favorable for bearing a child.

For Henson and other anti-choice activists to pretend otherwise infantilises women in a way that serves the anti-choice cause. It portrays women as acted upon rather than acting for themselves. It disappears the reality of women seeking to improve their lives by pursuing education, careers, and financial independence by controlling their own fertility. It justifies government forcing women to remain pregnant and labour against their will on the ground that women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.

It’s like they have never met a woman. And yet Henson is a woman. I can’t explain it.

Pretending women are passive and incapable allows them to pretend restricting abortion, whether through criminalisation or by making it inaccessible, will stop people having abortions. This flies in the face of long experience on planet Earth. Historically, women have risked everything to terminate pregnancies, and continue to do so in places where they are illegal.

Nothing will stop abortion. If force of law, and fear of the consequences of illegal abortion- prison, assault, injury, or death- cannot dissuade women, nothing can. There is no punishment the law can devise that compares to the harm and pain, both physical and psychological, of being unwillingly pregnant, and facing a huge life change you don’t want, even if you just don’t want it right now.

By calling for decriminalisation coupled with restricting access to abortion, anti-choice activists like Henson are demonstrating that they are okay with some women dying needlessly. This says a lot about their attitude towards women, even more than Henson’s calf analogy that seems cast women as livestock. It says a lot about their actual attitude towards actual life.

Hey Emperor, nice suit.

Hey Emperor, nice suit.

Kiwis are waking up to the fact that our abortion laws are ridiculous.

Labour, the Greens, and ACT have spoken up and called out the abortion bureaucracy for inefficiency, expense, and denying pregnant people’s right to make decisions about their own internal organs. National is still trying to pretend there is nothing to see here, that the Emperor is not buck naked.

Which is more appalling? The arrogance of the Prime Minister who thinks it’s OK to let his faith determine whether or not New Zealanders have a workable law to provide necessary health care, or the cowardice of his caucus who are desperately trying simultaneously to occupy mutually exclusive positions on the subject?

Mr English insists a 40 year old law that places the needs of patients last, prevents doctors from providing a proper standard of care, and mocks the rule of law itself, has “stood the test of time.”  But the caucus claims to be pro-choice while supporting the same legal regime the prime minister supports. At least Mr English acknowledges his hostility to bodily autonomy.

The Prime Minister wins for daring us to call him out, but the caucus wins for lying to our faces.

The Emperor is naked. Kiwis are not going back to pretending otherwise.

Good faith and bad

Good faith and bad

In an article today, Amy Adams let fly a blatant, transparent porkie when she alleged New Zealand’s 40 year old abortion laws are working “broadly as intended”.

That whopper disappears much of the history around the Royal Commission that set out the framework for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977. The legal regime it created was intended to make sure the law forced most women to carry most pregnancies most of the time whether they wanted to or not. People at the time disagreed with the Royal Commission. Enjoy online gambling sites– find the best! This is why activists were able to gather 320,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the CSA in 1977-78. The government of the day buried that petition.

Certifying consultants have forced the system to serve purposes it was not designed for. Years of certifying consultants who have taken a broad view of “mental harm” have turned system into something the Royal Commission would not have approved of.

It was a double cross. The Royal Commission screwed pregnant people, and screwed the popular feeling at the time. And certifying consultants screwed them right back. Certifying consultants kept their views unspoken (as the law required) while quietly granting 98% of requested abortions on mental health grounds.

Thus the system evolved to allow abortion in the most disempowering way possible. The decision would not be left with the woman, oh no, that would be terrible. The decision would belong to a rational, fair-minded professional (obviously assumed to be male) who would decide for her, without all that emotionalism that all women are naturally subject to, at least in the minds of the Royal Commission.

All human beings own their own bodies. All human beings have bodily autonomy and moral agency. The question, as with all fundamental rights, is not whether we all possess these rights, but whether our government recognises them. Our government currently does not do so with respect to women, pregnant people, and abortion.