This is big.
When it comes to reproductive rights, Ireland was the big bad. It was one of the last bastions of medieval Catholic cultural hegemony left in Europe.
Now the bastion has fallen to forces of equality, of modernity. Not for nothing did Martin Luther King Jr famously say the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Ireland was the place of Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, no divorce, no contraception, and clerical sexual abuse with impunity. That terrible legacy is gone now. Soon Irish women will be able to get abortion care in their home country.
All these changes have come within a single lifespan. It boggles.
Most of these changes came earlier to New Zealand. But abortion was the exception to New Zealand’s vaunted progressivism. Our legal regime is older than Ireland’s. It’s less Draconian, but almost as hypocritical.
New Zealand went from illegal abortion, to a single maverick clinic in the early 1970s, to the unwelcome and retrograde legal regime imposed in 1977, to the surreptitiously permissive application of that law while successive governments looked the other way for 40 years.
Now we seem to have a government willing to address the issue of abortion law reform and to bring our country’s laws into the 21c.
Good intentions count for a lot, because they get things started. But between intention and completion lies a lot of ground for political manoeuvring. To get the kind of law reform that puts an end to discrimination against women and pregnant people, that acknowledges our right to bodily autonomy, we must keep pressure on our elected representatives.
Today we celebrate for Ireland. But we dare not be complacent for New Zealand.
by Terry Bellamak
When considering people requesting abortion care, I have always thought that, even as the women knew they were lying to the certifying consultants, the certifying consultants also knew they were lying and helpfully pretended to believe them. But that might not actually be the case.
I was at the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Conference in Nelson, presenting a talk on abortion law.
At one point I referred to the unexceptionable fact that women have told me how they had to lie to certifying consultants to get abortion care.
This was met with incredulity by some certifying consultants, who could not believe their patients were lying to them, even in face of the patients’ obvious motivation to do so, and the statistical unlikelihood of 98% of pregnant people who need abortions suffering from mental illness in the usual sense of the term.
Self-delusion or doublethink?
The result of this disconnect is an interaction that looks one way from the perspective of the certifying consultant, and completely different from the perspective of the person who needs an abortion.
Certifying consultants approach their task with certain definitions in mind, like the WHO standard for mental health, which is:
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
They ask the patient questions, prompting responses aimed at assessing the validity of her reasons for needing abortion care. A certifying consultant’s sole reason for being is to decide whether the patient meets the legal grounds under the Crimes Act. Once the patient has said enough to satisfy that standard, the certifying consultant can approve the abortion with a clear conscience, knowing the law has been satisfied, the patient has been satisfied (she gets her abortion), all the boxes are ticked, and they have done their job in accordance with the abortion bureaucracy.
From the perspective of a person who needs an abortion, however, she has to lie. She does not know the details of the standard the certifying consultant is using. She knows what mental illness is, and she knows she is not mentally ill. The certifying consultant asks her leading questions that hint at what the certifying consultant wants to hear. She says what they want to hear, and gets her abortion.
Sometimes, a patient struggles with the lies she has to tell, and tries to say, no, I made this decision because it is the best decision for my life right now, not because I am mentally ill. But under the sensitive, prompting questions of the certifying consultant, she caves in, as she must. And it feels like a betrayal of herself.
She believes the certifying consultant is trying to help her get the abortion she needs in the only way it can be done here in New Zealand. That’s sort of true: the certifying consultants is trying to get to the place where they can say, yes, she meets the grounds. Both respect the law, and struggle mightily to satisfy its demands.
The law itself is not respectable. It demands women sacrifice a tiny sliver of their integrity to get the health care they need. They do it willingly. They would do much more, as history shows. The alternative is childbirth.
The certifying consultants have made a sacrifice too, but I don’t think some of them realise it. They have unwittingly done their patients harm by forcing them to testify falsely against themselves.
by Terry Bellamak
“40 Days for Life” is the time of year when anti-abortion folks try to make life harder for people who need abortion care, and for people who provide it. This usually takes the form of increased harassment of people entering and leaving abortion services, be they clients or medical staff.
Most years, ALRANZ counters the negativity as best it can. This year, ALRANZ has received even more support than we have in previous years, both from our supporters, and from the greater community.
Like last year, ALRANZ marked the occasion by taking up the #40daysfortruth project. This is the project where we post and tweet actual facts about abortion in New Zealand and around the world, with citations, to counter the falsehoods often bandied about by anti-abortion folks.
This year, we have had lots more community engagement with these posts. They have started conversations in many quarters, and we are delighted about that.
Last year, as in previous years, ALRANZ set up a funding page to give treats to some of the larger providers of abortion care in the main centres. We sent them flowers, and sometimes chocolates and other treats to thank them for the excellent care they provide their patients, in the face of so much bogus criticism.
This year, our funding page got such a huge response, with over $1000 donated, that we were able to send flowers, or flowers and treats, to every abortion service in New Zealand that we knew about. We are very grateful to our supporters, who gave generously, and even volunteered to deliver the treats to some of the 19 services. The professionals who provide abortion care are unjustly vilified in some quarters, so it was wonderful to be able to do something nice for them.
Last Sunday in Wellington, an ALRANZ supporter organised a counter protest to show our support for those who provide abortion care and those who need it. Around 70 people came, chanted, displayed signs, and waved to all the many cars that honked in support. It was a pleasant ending to what was supposed to be the season of strife, which turned out so differently.
I can only conclude that as people are paying more attention to abortion now that law reform is on the new government’s radar, they are following through with increased support for law reform. For that too, I am grateful.
It’s here again.
I don’t know why, but I’m always surprised when Lent comes around, like it does every year.
With Lent, comes the annual international annoyance known as 40 Days for Life. Because 40 Days for Slut Shaming wouldn’t nearly sound so high-minded.
As usual, patients outside abortion services in New Zealand will be treated to lots of judgmental people with grisly signs touting false claims about abortion causing breast cancer and suicidal ideation.
Abortion providers must dread these six weeks.
ALRANZ will mark the occasion by again sponsoring #40daysfortruth. Each day we will post and tweet an actual, true fact about abortion, to counter the lies and misinformation you often hear. Check it out!
We have also set up a Givealittle page, to raise money to give treats, like flowers and chocolates, to abortion providers around the country. We will start with the big providers and move on to smaller ones as funds permit, and keep giving until we run out of money. Please help us support them!
Keep an eye out for counter protests at the abortion service near you. We’ll be out in front of Wellington Hospital whenever we can, and our friends in Auckland will be out there on the regular, too. Come join us, it’s fun!
Thank you for your support, now and throughout the year.
We have officially had 40 years of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act. How do you like it so far?
That’s forty years going through the degrading process of getting the approval of two random certifying consultants in order to give effect to your own decision about your own body. And if you don’t get their approval, your life will take a very different turn – you will become a parent when you’re not ready.
That’s 40 years of certifying consultants acting as a law unto themselves, mostly in the interest of increasing access to abortion. But sometimes having that much power over others turns out less well, like in the case of the consultants at the Waitemata DHB, who unilaterally decided 20 weeks gestation was too long, 18 weeks was plenty.
That’s forty years of having to lie about your mental fragility, and impugn your own mental health, because the alternative involves sickness, fatigue, and financial stress, not to mention childbirth. Forty years of stressing over saying the right thing to get what you need. Forty years where your alternatives were to lie, or to suffer.
That’s forty years of surprise lectures from your GP about how irresponsible you are, how you are a bad person for refusing to fulfil your biological destiny at the drop of a hat. Or maybe your GP just empathetically explaining how they are not judging YOU, it’s just that THEY can’t bring themselves to do something so morally repulsive as refer you for an abortion. But no judgment.
That’s forty years of the law treating you like second-class citizen whose uterus ultimately belongs to the state. The law will decide whether or not you fill the cradles of the Empire. Ask your husband to explain that to you.
I’m thinking we can do better. Let’s change the law. More on that soon.
This week the Dominion Post came out in favour of abortion law reform. It correctly called out forty years of past governments willing to live with our sham of a system that requires pregnant people to pretend to be mentally fragile and doctors to pretend to believe them, in order to get health care.
The article also repeated tired, old abortion stigma tropes about abortions after 20 weeks, saying even the staunchest liberals found them horrifying.
Do they? I don’t know if that is true. But you know what else is horrifying? Open-heart surgery. In fact, just about every kind of surgery is pretty horrifying if you ignore the fact that its purpose is to preserve the health of the patient.
This is why we don’t restrict medical procedures based on how gross they are to watch. If we did, many people who are alive today would be dead.
Last year only 6.2% of abortions in New Zealand occurred after the 14th week. The number of abortions after 20 weeks is not included in the official statistics, but it is likely miniscule.
This is because no one endures pregnancy for 20+ weeks and then lightly changes their mind. To suggest otherwise is rank misogyny.
Pregnancies that last that long are wanted pregnancies. Abortions at 20+ weeks happen because the people involved are in crisis, usually because the mother is catastrophically ill, or the foetus is.
The last thing a family in the midst of a health crisis needs is to be forced to justify themselves in a legal process on top of the medical process. Why do so many people want to make their lives even harder?
People sometimes say they oppose abortion being available right up to the due date. But abortion is already available right up to the due date, in crisis situations like we are discussing.
Perhaps what they mean is, they oppose large numbers of abortions for frivolous reasons in the third trimester. Fair enough. If such a thing were happening, you would naturally expect to see it in a place where there are no legal time limits on abortion.
Such a place exists – Canada has had no abortion restrictions of any kind, including time limits, since 1988. They treat abortion just like other health care.
Does Canada see large numbers of abortions for frivolous reasons? Well, no. Last year in Canada only 0.59% of abortions occurred at 21+ weeks, and likely they were all because of medical necessity.
Why is it so hard to trust people to know what is best for themselves and their families? Is it because the people making the decisions are women?