In the Land of Kate Sheppard

In the Land of Kate Sheppard

Today there are celebrations all over New Zealand, marking the anniversary of one of the achievements that stokes the greatest pride in our country: first to recognise women’s right to vote.

There are other firsts that engender less pride, like the world’s highest rate of domestic violence.

Equality for women is a promise that has not yet been fulfilled.

This year the coalition government has taken steps to rectify New Zealand’s dismal 40 year record for not trusting women to decide for themselves whether they will carry a pregnancy to term. The PM and Minister of Justice have called for abortion to be treated as a health matter, rather than a criminal matter.

We welcome these steps, and hope they will lead to real change that will stand the test of time.

Women cannot be free or achieve equality unless they, and other pregnant people, can control their fertility. Pregnancy and childbirth come with serious consequences, physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially. Forcing these consequences on the unwilling is no longer acceptable.

Here at ALRANZ, we will raise a glass to Kate, then get back to work.

NCW Supports Abortion Law Reform

NCW Supports Abortion Law Reform

Last weekend the National Council of Women (NCW) held their annual conference in Auckland. The organisation considered a remit proposed by ALRANZ, to update and strengthen NCW’s commitment to abortion law reform.

The old remit called upon the government to review New Zealand’s abortion laws. The new one calls upon the government to make abortion “a standard part of health care – safe, legal and accessible.”

There was discussion, and opposition from the usual religious anti-choice groups.

The remit was approved, 71 in favour and 18 opposed. That’s pretty decisive.

This is an important moment.

In the past, NCW has held space in the shifting middle of Middle New Zealand. For many years its reputation was old, white, and conservative. Under its new chief executive, Dr Gill Greer, and new president Vanisa Dhiru, NCW has grown more diverse and progressive.

But even great leadership cannot move a democratically governed organisation in a direction it does not want to go. That is why this vote is important.

NCW’s support for abortion rights demonstrates that abortion law reform is mainstream. What a change the past few years have wrought.

ALRANZ looks forward to working with NCW to educate MPs and all New Zealanders about reproductive rights, and to counter the misinformation that will fly think and fast in the coming debate.

Anti-choice, Not Anti-abortion

Anti-choice, Not Anti-abortion

Amanda Marcotte’s article on a 2007 decision of Brett Kavanagh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, reveals the beating heart of the anti-abortion movement is all about choice, not abortion.

When Kavanagh was a judge on the US Court of Appeals, DC circuit, he filed the decision in Doe Tarlow v District of Columbia. In this case, two disabled women sued the DC department responsible for their health care for forcing them to abort pregnancies they wanted to keep. The court held they did not have a right to be consulted in the decision to terminate their pregnancies.

It was a ruling against bodily autonomy, the bedrock human right that forms the foundation of the right to choose abortion. It was a ruling in favour of controlling women’s reproductive capacities. Kavanagh is saying even if the state actor decides against maintaining the pregnancy, it’s okay as long as it wasn’t the pregnant person deciding.

It’s easy to be jaded about hypocrisy coming from the states. But anti-abortion groups have placed Kavanagh on high like the Second Coming of Antonin Scalia. There is not the slightest chance they will revisit their support because of this decision. That is because this debate was never about abortion; it was always about control.

And then there is the fact these were disabled women being denied bodily autonomy. Once again, it falls to the reproductive rights movement to stand up for the rights of disabled people to make their own decisions about their sexuality. Which we will always do.

I used to sometimes cringe a bit when I heard the phrase ‘pro-choice movement’ because it sounded like a euphemism. I am proudly pro-abortion for everybody who wants one, in the same way I am proudly pro-airbag for everyone in a head-on collision. Its counterpoint, anti-choice, seemed to perpetuate the euphemism.

Now I see ‘anti-choice’ was exactly right. Literally.

Bereavement Leave Bill

Bereavement Leave Bill

Labour MP Ginny Andersen’s member’s bill amends the Holidays Act 2003 to include bereavement leave for the “unplanned end” of a “confirmed pregnancy by way of the death of the foetus”.

There is a problem here.

The bill creates a hierarchy of lost pregnancies, some of which gain the benefit of three days leave, while others do not.

Pregnancies that terminate spontaneously are treated differently from those that are terminated by medical means, whether or not they were wanted pregnancies.

Under this bill, even wanted pregnancies that must be terminated to save the mother’s life would not merit bereavement leave. The cases of Savita Halappanavar and Valentina Milluzzo come to mind.

This creates a false and unkind hierarchy between spontaneous and induced miscarriages.

What is the justification for this difference in treatment? People who lose wanted pregnancies all grieve equally.

Andersen said she would have liked to extend the measure to include terminations for medical necessity, but feared it would be too controversial because it touches on abortion. Andersen wants to help as many people as possible, even if she cannot help them all.

There is another problem.

If the bill is changed to allow bereavement leave for those whose pregnancies are terminated for medical reasons, that would set up a hierarchy between those whose pregnancies end for medical necessity and those that end for other reasons.

Choosing to end an unwanted pregnancy is different from losing a wanted pregnancy. The vast majority of abortions (94%) occur before the 14thweek, and the vast majority of people who receive abortion care (95%) do not regret their decision. The vast majority (over 99%) also suffer no long-term physical or psychological effects.

But even some people who feel they have made the right decision to terminate nevertheless feel sad and stressed about their situation. Such feelings are more likely for people whose family and friends are unsupportive because of abortion stigma.

They would benefit from three days leave as well. But they would miss out because their reasons were not the ‘right’ ones.

There is still another problem.

Look for the anti-abortion fringe to come out in support of amending this bill to include bereavement leave for all those who receive abortion care. Family First has already done so. Why?

Because they know language matters. Conceptualising recovery from abortion of an unwanted pregnancy as ‘bereavement’ allows them to strengthen stigma around abortion by implying people who have them should be grieving, and by implying the aborted fetus was a fully-fledged person for whom one could feel the grief one feels when someone dies whom one has known, who has been part of one’s life in a way a fetus never could.

Even better for them, anti-choicers could end up on the same side as pro-choicers. Who wouldn’t agree that a few days to recover from a medical procedure, even one as safe and routine as abortion, would be a good thing, whatever it is called?

Through no fault of the sponsors, this bill is a minefield of stigma.

False Equivalence

False Equivalence

This week, the New Zealand Media Council partially upheld a complaint against the NZ Herald. The complaint related to an opinion piece by an anti-abortion activist. In it, the author made several dodgy claims, easily rubbished by rudimentary application of Google, which the NZ Herald let stand unchallenged. Sadly, the Media Council did not uphold that part of the complaint.

The Media Council’s lack of concern about the accuracy of statements that perpetuate long-debunked abortion myths, but may sound plausible to non-experts, should concern everyone interested in the abortion law reform debate.

People should be informed, objectively and impartially. But who will take that on? In the States, where the mainstream media is losing money hand over fist, media outlets routinely ‘report the controversy’ by allowing both sides equal time to make their case and challenge the other’s. There may be some issues for which this approach works, but for anything involving actual facts, like evolution and creationism, or pro- and anti-abortion, it leaves out the most important piece – facts.

That is lazy journalism on the cheap.

It is said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. By allowing dodgy data to stand unchallenged, media outlets give up and allow public debate to be derailed by falsehoods.

This creates a false equivalence between the arguments on different sides of a question. If one side has good, peer-reviewed research backing its claims, and the other has biased, misleading research, then their arguments are not equivalent. How many readers will take the next step of Googling the data to discover which is which?

They should not have to. It is a journalist’s job to check verifiable statements for accuracy.

Some media outlets do a great job of this important function. The Irish Times did its country a huge service during the abortion referendum when they decided to fact check the claims made by both sides. In a series of articles, the Times took a recent claim made by the Yes or the No side and examined whether its assertions and implications stacked up with reality. Best of all, they showed their work, so readers could see how they came to their conclusions.

They found many of the No side’s claims were partly or mostly untrue. Very few of the Yes side’s claims were found to be inaccurate.

We hope some media outlet in New Zealand will step up like the Irish Times did, and fact check claims made by both pro- and anti-abortion activists. We welcome such scrutiny.

Guest post! Deconstructing Anti-Abortion Propaganda

Guest post! Deconstructing Anti-Abortion Propaganda

A Pro-Choice Rebuttal and Response Guide

by Craig Young

For ALRANZ members and other pro-choicers, here’s a handy quick guide to deconstructing anti-abortion propaganda.

(1) Anti-abortionists never use the correct medical terms for prenatal stages of development such as blastocyst, zygote, embryo or fetus. Instead, they use the deceptive and meaningless term “unborn child.” This term is intended to tap emotional resonances that we attach to our already born children and transfer them to prenatal stages of development within a pregnant person’s body.

(2) Anti-abortionists almost never use photographs of early prenatal stages of human development in anti-abortion propaganda. The earlier that it is, the less the embryo/fetus has an identifiable humanoid outline (and the more likely an abortion is to have occurred, according to clinical and statistical data). If they do, it’s based on the faulty and scientifically inaccurate argument that there are immaculate “stages” of prenatal development that “always” occur. This is an erroneous argument.

(3) They always emphasise some stages of prenatal development relative to others. “Life” does not “begin” at fertilisation- instead, as many as two thirds of blastocysts and zygotes fail to implant on a woman’s uterine wall and are flushed out at a woman’s next period. Ever wondered why anti-abortionists stopped campaigning against  emergency contraception? Because given the microscopic nature of the blastocyst and zygote, and its appearance, they can’t win that argument.

(4) Later in fetal development, the anti-abortionists obsessively focus on the fetal heartbeat, which begins at about eight weeks of fetal development. That’s one stage, but there are others that pro-choicers can use instead. One is the development of alveolar respiratory development within the lungs, which develops late within the pregnancy, at about twenty-five weeks,  long after most terminations are performed. Without this essential organ development, any fetus born beforehand will find it difficult to survive outside a pregnant person’s body. Anti-abortionists will protest that “advances” in premature infant preservation technology “invalidate” this observation. Ask them for proof and call their bluff when it comes to rates of survival and whether such infants survive for long after initial surgical intervention.

(5) Anti-abortionists used to emphasise “fetal pain” within their propaganda. Back in 1984, they were using a propaganda video called The Silent Scream. I then located pro-choice material from the United States, specifically a contemporary statement against this propaganda from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which noted that the necessary fetal neurohormonal development necessary for it to “feel pain” is not in place until the fortieth week of pregnancy- long, long after most abortions have occurred. Members of the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists made similar observations.

(6) It is commonplace for anti-abortionists to use staged photographs of prenatal development which omit any photographs of women from their visual and verbal debate. Remedy this the way that Ireland’s Repeal movement did recently- through bringing women’s personal stories about pregnancy, abortion and childbirth back into the narrative.

(7) The ubiquitous outline of the fetus is used in anti-abortion propaganda, sometimes deceptively. When it comes to fetal abnormality, such photographs are not used. Instead, they try to use the ‘disability cleansing’ argument- despite the fact that with lethal fetal abnormalities, there is little chance that any resultant premature infant born as a result will survive from such anomalies.  Moreover, many such late term terminations may be necessary for women’s lives and health. While these are comparatively rare, unfortunately the diagnostic techniques used to establish them cannot be used until late within the pregnancy.

(8) The ‘parental notification and consent’ argument can be dealt with by bringing up the question of incest and child battery in this context.  Ask the anti-abortionists why they want to put a child through such trauma and psychological torment. The US National Abortion Rights Action League has useful fact sheets on this which you can use, as does ALRANZ.

(9) Two can play at that game. While abortion is a safe medical procedure, it may be worthwhile to point out health risks from pregnancy, particularly repeat pregnancies, and childbirth.

(10) Ask the anti-abortionists to cite their sources. If the sources turn out to be members of the breakaway anti-abortion US “American College of Pro-Life Obsetricians and Gynecologists”, “American College of Pediatrics”, “Doctors Who Respect Human Life” or any other such anti-abortion front group, go directly to these groups webpages and see whether these ‘medical sources’ are anti-abortion activists.

(11) Another point about anti-abortion sources-  have they been cited in proper peer-reviewed medical journals? Do they reflect mainstream medical organisation evidence-based research or are they outliers? Even if they have been published in medical journals, check out the comments page, because this is useful in locating either anti-abortion fellow travellers or rebuttals from mainstream medical practitioners. Cite the rebuttals in any response.

(12) Also be aware if anti-abortionists cite any medical practitioner or scientific source from outside relevant disciplines. What may be standard professional practice within their disciplines may not be applicable outside it.

(13) One tool that can be used against them is any overt religious comments.  On the one hand, they’re entitled to their specific religious viewpoints, but they should acknowledge that is what they are and identify them properly.  Also note that there are pro-choice Christian denominations and perspectives from other faiths available in this context.  There are even dissident Catholics- the much-loved Catholics for Choice, in the United States.  Use the Catholics For Choice website against conservative Catholics. The US Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice  can be used for other pro-choice religious discourse against other anti-abortion sources.

(14) Also ask that given New Zealand is now a predominantly secular nation, why should specific sectarian religious anti-abortion positions that do not have scientific or medical corroboration be imposed on those who do not share them, whether nonreligious or people of pro-choice religious beliefs? This philosophical argument relies on religious freedom, which is protected within the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990.

(15) Know your opponent. Monitor their websites, track their arguments to their sources and see whether mainstream medical practitioners or scientists have published online rebuttals of those arguments. Cite those in your responses.  Always question their assertions and ask what their scientific and medical basis in fact is. Except, it’s usually not.