For IWD 2019, Abort the Stigma

For IWD 2019, Abort the Stigma

by Terry Bellamak

Another International Women’s Day comes and goes, and New Zealand women still don’t have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to receive abortion care. In the land of Kate Sheppard and Suffrage 1893, women are still not treated as adults capable of making medical decisions for themselves. 

ALRANZ has fought for reproductive rights for almost 50 years. We will continue the fight until women and pregnant people are treated with dignity and equality. Our job just got a bit easier, though.

On Wednesday we launched Abort the Stigma, a Facebook page where people can tell their stories about abortion. 

It might seem like a small thing, just one more drop in an ocean of women shaping their own lives in the face of patriarchal shame and judgment. But these firsthand stories make it harder for the anti-abortion crowd to pretend abortion care is something that just ‘happens’ to women rather than something they seek out for their own good reasons Every new story told, every new voice that speaks up, adds to the evidence that refutes the anti-abortion rhetoric that abortion care only has negative consequences. 

Common sense and experience tell us that’s not true. 95% of people do not regret their abortions. 

What is regrettable is the fact we still need the approval of two random certifying consultants to get health care; we still face delays of 25 days on average from referral to procedure; we cannot access early medical abortions according to international best practice. 

These stories of women who did the best they could for themselves and their families, and are satisfied with the outcome, show the vital importance of people choosing their own lives. 

The government says law reform is on its way, change that will see abortion care treated as the health care it is. It can’t come a moment too soon. Let’s hope next year’s International Women’s Day fulfils the promise of full sovereignty over our own bodies.

Reproductive Coercion

Reproductive Coercion

by Terry Bellamak

Now that New Zealand is finally discussing abortion law reform, some folk are raising concerns about people being forced to get abortions they don’t want, also known as reproductive coercion. This is a favourite talking point for anti-choice folk.

They might be surprised to learn this kind of reproductive coercion has been a concern of the abortion services for many years. The informed consent process alleviates this concern, as it was designed to do.

Like all medical procedures, people who wish to receive abortion care must give their informed consent. Informed consent is kind of a big deal in medical circles. The Medical Council of New Zealand describes it as: 

… an interactive process between a doctor and patient where the patient gains an understanding of his or her condition and receives an explanation of the options available including an assessment of the expected risks, side effects, benefits and costs of each option and thus is able to make an informed choice and give their informed consent.

That’s a pretty comprehensive approach. The Abortion Supervisory Committee’s (ASC) Standards of Care goes even further, requiring providers to offer people more information about:

  • basic anatomy and physiology as relevant to the length of gestation;
  • the process of abortion and its possible complications;
  • fetal development (which may include showing pictures of the stage of fetal development);
  • Information about the advantages of having an abortion earlier rather than later in a pregnancy and the differences between medical and surgical abortion;
  • products of conception – kai atawhai or disposal options;
  • how people make sense of the loss of conception in abortion, grief and loss processes, and variabilities within a contemporary cultural context in Aotearoa;
  • contraception education

In addition, the ASC requires a psychosocial assessment of each person requesting abortion care to provide more support for those who may be vulnerable.

Doctors who provide abortion care have said they are required to meet with each patient alone, to make sure the people who came with them supposedly to support them are not in fact coercing them.

The Law Commission concluded the current informed consent regime is sufficient, and does not require changes. Given the care taken to identify and help people who might be coerced into an abortion, that seems right.

The National Collection of Independent Women’s Refuges published research on reproductive coercion in October 2018. Their study found roughly 60% of respondents had faced reproductive coercion in the form of a partner sabotaging their contraception in a bid to force them to get pregnant. Roughly half that number, about 30%, faced a partner trying to force them to have an abortion.

If anti-choice folk are worried about reproductive coercion, perhaps they would be better advised to start addressing the bigger part of the problem: forced pregnancy. It will be much tougher than forced abortion, because unlike abortion, people can be forced to continue a pregnancy without seeing any doctors.

Reproductive coercion is a huge problem. Its underlying rationale is sexism, the belief that controlling women is a man’s right. The fight for reproductive rights is the fight for freedom. That’s feminism.

 

The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

by Terry Bellamak

New Zealand is finally discussing abortion law reform. One of the first items of business on the government’s agenda is taking abortion out of the Crimes Act. This promises to make abortion easier to access, reduce delays, and reduce the unwarranted stigma around a procedure that is safe, routine health care.

Some folk have expressed a concern that taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will somehow make abortion less safe for people who decide to receive abortion care. 

In its comprehensive report on law reform, the New Zealand Law Commission considered the matter and concluded that fear was unfounded, for the following reasons:

  • All other health services are sufficiently protected by the health regulatory regime and by general offences in the Crimes Act. There is no reason abortion should be any different.
  • There are two groups of people whose actions are currently criminalised in relation to providing abortion care. Both would still meet with serious consequences for providing abortion care improperly even after abortion is taken out of the Crimes Act.
    • Health practitioners who provide abortion care without being qualified to do so, or who do not meet proper standards of care are subject to professional disciplinary action, and could also be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act. If they are negligent or fail to get informed consent from their patient, they could be charged with a criminal offence.
    • Unqualified people who attempt to provide abortion care can be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act, and their conduct may also constitute assault, injury, or wounding depending on whether the woman suffers actual bodily harm, and thus could be charged under the Crimes Act. 

It’s difficult to see how safety would be compromised if abortion care were regulated the same way as other medical care. Abortion care is very safe, and the earlier it is received the safer it is. Eliminating the delays our current laws promote would enable people to get abortion care earlier and thus more safely.

The report also makes the point that: 

 

Criminal offences are used to punish conduct that causes social harm and is considered morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values.

This treatment is inconsistent with treating abortion care as a health issue. Our current legal regime hypocritically criminalises abortion care while simultaneously fostering the practice of providing abortion in most cases, albeit in a manner that is cumbersome, patronising, and needlessly punitive.

By leaving this ridiculous system in place for over 40 years, Parliament has established it as the status quo. To try and pass off abortion care as morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values, Parliament would be making a liar of itself.

Taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will make abortion care safer, not less so.

2019, Here We Come

2019, Here We Come

by Terry Bellamak

2018 was a big, amazing year for ALRANZ. 

We all saw Ireland amend their constitution to allow the Oireachtas to legislate to allow abortion. We got a preview of terrible amendments to watch out for as we progress our own law reform process, like pointless waiting periods and restrictive time limits. 

We saw Queensland legalise abortion, and got a preview of some good ideas to replicate here, like a government-sponsored online fact checker, to keep the debate fact-based.

We saw Argentina debate a bill liberalising abortion, saw pro-choice activists come closer to success than anyone expected, and saw them make plans to come roaring back in the New Year for another try.

We saw ALRANZ start a human rights complaint with the Human Rights Commission, saying our abortion laws discriminate against women and those who are or can be pregnant. Our case will go before the Human Right Review Tribunal in due course. 

We saw the Law Commission deliver a report on abortion law reform that was not perfect, but was better than just about anybody expected.

We saw the Minister of Justice choose the supposed path of least resistance when he came out in favour of Model C, which has a time limit of 22 weeks, beyond which a pregnant person must seek permission to exercise sovereignty over their own body.

We saw polls that show a clear, growing majority of New Zealanders support abortion on request.

2019 will need all our efforts to ensure New Zealanders get the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to become parents.

If we don’t make law reform happen now, we will likely wait a long time for another chance.

First up will be the Minister of Justice’s presentation of the Law Commission report to Cabinet, possibly with draft legislation, in January or February.

A bill will undoubtedly make it to select committee. That’s where the rubber hits the road for us. We will need everyone’s help to make the committee aware of the problems with the current law, and the defects of the less-desirable options from the Law Commission report. 

There are some of you who have stories to tell the select committee. I hope you will seriously consider telling them, in a written submission or in person at an open or closed meeting of the select committee. 

If anyone has any questions about that, or might prefer to tell their story at a closed meeting, please contact us here at ALRANZ – we are happy to mediate to whatever extent we can, and preserve your anonymity while we (and you) gather information upon which to base your decision whether or not to speak.

We hope the final vote will be in 2019.

Thanks so much for all your support over the past year. Here’s to victory in 2019!

ALRANZ and the Transgender Community

ALRANZ and the Transgender Community

Recently, the ALRANZ Executive Committee received questions regarding where we stand on the inclusion of transgender and non-binary people in reproductive rights activism.

With this in mind, we’re happy to clarify that our policy is one of inclusiveness of trans and non-binary people in all our events, advocacy and outreach.

We advocate for the right for anyone who can get pregnant to have safe and straightforward access to abortion should they want it. We think it’s possible to hold all these things true, that: abortion is primarily a women’s issue, not all women can get pregnant, and not all people who might need an abortion are women. We try and reflect this in our language, which aims both to centre women and to be inclusive of our trans and non-binary community.

The fight for reproductive health rights is one that primarily affects women, but sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, and do not need to come at the cost of alienating other marginalised groups.

We have also been asked specifically by people who do not share this kaupapa whether they will be excluded from our events based on their beliefs.

Our answer is this: If you want to bring a placard with a uterus to an event ALRANZ is hosting or involved with, go for it. But if you want to come to an event specifically to make trans folk feel uncomfortable or to promote a purposefully exclusive idea about what being a woman should involve, please stay home.

The pro-choice position is predicated on the idea that a pregnant person knows the most about their individual situation and knows what is best for them, when/if to involve others, and whom to involve. We reject the idea that the state (or a doctor, politician, priest, or whoever) understands someone’s lived experience better than they do, and is therefore more qualified to make decisions for them.

We also apply this principle to people’s gender identity; no one has the right to police the validity of another person’s experience.

Abortion is just one aspect of choice and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We advocate for everyone to be free to choose whether and when to become a parent, but more fundamentally, to also freely and safely express their sexuality. To be defined by our beliefs, ideas, and actions instead of our bodies. This is a human right, no matter what’s in your pants.

Many trans and non-binary people have historically shown up for the pro-choice cause. We are thankful for this solidarity, and we are here to return it.

In solidarity,

The ALRANZ Executive Committee:

Terry Bellamak

Jess Ducey

Dr Morgan Healey

Nicole Skews-Poole

A.S.

Scott Summerfield

Thomas Blakely

Safe Access Zones, Please

Safe Access Zones, Please

Students from Wellington Girls College have started a petition calling for safe access zones around Wellington Hospital, to prevent harassment by anti-choice protesters.

In a TVNZ article about it, a law professor says:

[T]he real issue here, of course, is that creating a no-protest zone sets a precedent for other protests to be banned, and I think that is a dangerous road to head down.

ALRANZ respectfully disagrees.

The purpose of safe access zones is to stop the targeted harassment of people who decide to receive abortion care. Some people feel intimidated, others angry, at the cheek of these elderly men with gory signs who know nothing whatsoever of their circumstances, presuming to think they know better than the pregnant person does.

In the first place, there is no suggestion of banning protests. Rather, the location of protests would be regulated.

This is manifestly not for the purpose of banning or preventing protests. The protesters would not be required to protest only at 2 AM outside Wellington city limits. They would be free to protest wherever they want, except within the safe access zone.

They could even protest in places that attract politicians who could actually change the laws they oppose, like Parliament. Very few politicians at the hospital.

In the second place, freedom of expression is not an absolute right. Some human rights are absolute, meaning their breach can never be justified, like the right not to be tortured, and the right not to be enslaved. Freedom of expression can be subject to a balancing exercise against the rights of others.

Freedom of expression is also self-reflective. This means your right has been properly exercised when you have said your piece, or carried your sign – it does not require the state to supply you with the audience of your choice.

Let’s say you believe vaccinations cause autism. You can speak your piece on a street corner, and carry your sign up and down the footpath outside the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company. But it is not part of your freedom of expression to accost someone trying to get their children vaccinated or get a flu jab.

It is open to the state to balance the rights of private people seeking private health care against those who want to disturb and confront them at a vulnerable time. The state has a valid interest in protecting people from such harassment while they are going about their business.

In the third place, would preventing this kind of harassment even be controversial if the people bearing the brunt of it were not women seeking abortion care? Pregnant women who are seeking health care our society has stigmatised for years?

The protesters apparently hope the rest of society agrees with them that these women do not deserve the protection of the law. Over the years, in places like the USA and Australia, police seem to have agreed with the protesters that the usual laws against assault and harassment don’t apply in the case of these women. That usually doesn’t change until a specific law, like one creating safe access zones, is passed.

It is long past time receiving abortion care, like receiving any other kind of health care, is seen for the private act it is, and protected accordingly. We hope Parliament will give due consideration to these students’ petition in the coming debate on abortion law reform.