A Different Take on Alabama

A Different Take on Alabama

by Terry Bellamak

Right-wing American states, especially those in the Deep South, seem to be vying to see who can trash women’s human right to bodily autonomy the most. Georgia has passed legislation that purports to criminalise Georgians who receive abortion care outside Georgia. Ohio has legislators who think ectopic pregnancies do not require abortion care because the embryo can be relocated to the uterus (which is impossible, and an illustration why legislators should not try to practice medicine). Now Alabama wants to require rape and incest victims to carry their abusers’ children.

Whenever the New Zealand media publishes a story about the US returning to the Dark Ages, there are always comments congratulating ourselves that such things will never happen here, because we are a secular society, and our extremist anti-choice busybodies are few in number.

That may be, but it’s not what will save us from the States’ fate.

Travesties like rolling back basic human rights for women are part of a long game that the American right wing has been playing for many years. Targeted regulations to put abortion providers out of business are only the most obvious of their tactics. Greater damage has come from attacks on democracy itself.

Tactics like gerrymandering, that is, state legislators drawing electoral boundaries to maximise safe Republican seats, have resulted in perpetual Republican majorities in many state legislatures. The US Senate dismantled a long-established constitutional convention by refusing to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, which directly resulted in stacking the Supreme Court with right-wing activist justices during the Trump administration. Those justices have banded together to trash the common law convention of stare decisis, that is, respect for the court’s previous decisions.

Anti-abortion legislation like Alabama’s is intended to eventually end up in the hands of the Supreme Court. Given the composition of the court, anti-choice right-wingers have every reason to expect Roe v Wade will be struck down, even though the majority of Americans support reproductive rights.

To make abortion illegal, they are willing to thwart the will of the majority. That they are able to do so is the result of years spent undermining democratic institutions. That is the American tragedy we are seeing today.

MMP keeps Parliament accountable to voters. But it’s not enough. We need to hold MPs accountable between elections by letting them know what’s on our minds, and what we expect of them. We must be willing to use our two votes to discipline parties that fail to keep their promises.

If we New Zealanders want to keep our democracy safe, we need to tend it properly. It needs our critical thinking, our participation, and our vigilance.

Still Waiting.

Still Waiting.

The Labour coalition has been in government for 18 months now. Half its term is now in the past.

And abortion care is still in the Crimes Act.

This government has done more and gone farther than any previous government to fix the travesty of our abortion care system. The Law Commission’s carefully considered report sets out the situation clearly, with options for solutions. They reported back 6 months ago.

And still there is no bill.

If this were not a matter of fundamental human rights, maybe it wouldn’t matter quite so much that there is still nothing in the legislative pipeline after 6 months.

But every day across New Zealand women are lying about their mental health status, because it is the only way they can legally receive the safe, routine care they need. Every day they run from pillar to post, ticking the pointless legal boxes. Every day West Coasters board the bus for Christchurch, having scraped up the money to pay for the ticket. Those who can’t find the money somewhere can only watch the bus leave, and wish they were on it.

The fact this situation has gone on for 40-odd years does not mean it is not a crisis.

Every time someone is denied abortion care they requested, every time someone is too afraid of their GP’s pinch-mouthed moral judgment to request a referral for abortion care, every time someone lies that her mental health is fragile and dies a little inside, it’s crisis to them.

Half its term is still in the future. The coalition needs to get on with it.

Get Up, Stand Up

Get Up, Stand Up

by Terry Bellamak

After the Christchurch terrorist attacks, a lot of us are feeling vulnerable. Muslims, immigrants, people of colour, people with disabilities, nonbinary and gender diverse people, and women have all been shaken by the inescapable reality that hatred is alive and well, even in little old New Zealand.

The shooter’s far-right ideology takes aim at all marginalised groups. After all, the Venn diagram of white supremacists and male supremacists is pretty close to a circle. We need an even bigger circle of those who stand up to racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. 

It would be natural for reproductive rights advocates to back off for fear of becoming a target of the far-right. Law reform is on the table this year, and that creates many target-rich environments as people gather together to talk about reproductive rights and call for change. 

Your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are miniscule. So are your chances of getting pregnant while on contraception, or running across a certifying consultant who isn’t satisfied you meet the grounds in the Crimes Act. 

But those things happen, and they matter quite a lot to the people they happen to. 

So let’s work to prevent them, or at least minimise the damage they cause. We can stand up and call out injustice and bigotry when we see it. We can demand Parliament to stop treating women as though they were incompetent to make their own medical decisions. If not us, then who?

And so, we fight. We still might lose. But if we don’t fight, we have already lost.

Let’s double down instead. 

Come to the panel discussion in at the Freeman’s Bay Community Centre in Auckland on Tuesday – I’ll see you there. Come to ALRANZ’s Meeting of the Minds on April 6 – I’ll see you there.

Reproductive rights are human rights. Somebody should fight for them. You are somebody.

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.