Bait and Switch

Bait and Switch

The Department of Internal Affairs has given $330,000 of Community Organisation Grants Scheme (COGS) funds to anti-abortion organisations.

The money went to two crisis pregnancy counselling centres, Pregnancy Counselling Services (PCS) and Crisis Pregnancy Support (CPS) with various locations around the country. Their purpose, as stated in their founding documents, is to convince people not to have abortions. Most of those involved seem to be religious.

That all seems a bit dodgy. It also seems to be against the rules.

The rules say COGS will not fund services that are duplicated elsewhere. But DHBs offer free counselling for people before and after abortions, provided by unbiased professional counsellors. PCS and CPS use untrained, non-professional volunteers.

The rules also say COGS will not fund services that promote political or religious activities. Is talking people out of getting abortion care political speech? Apparently the answer depends on context: outside abortion services where elderly men with gory signs harass people, those defending the harassment would argue it is political speech, protected under freedom of expression. But when there’s COGS money on the line, it’s apparently not political speech at all. Hmm.

Anyway, how does influencing people’s private medical decisions benefit the community? Who benefits when overly invested strangers stick their noses into other people’s business?

We know who is NOT benefiting: other community groups who could make better use of the money that goes into PCS and CPS coffers. How many school lunches could KidsCan have provided for $330,000?

But let’s cut to the chase.

The report shows these centres lure people in with the promise of unbiased counselling, only to give them the hard sell and guilt trips, using long-disproven myths and lies to try and dissuade them from receiving abortion care, even if that is what they want.

And that is the real problem here: the centres say they are unbiased, but people who have received their counselling, and people who have heard them talking frankly about the counselling they provide, say their stated purpose is to persuade people not to access abortion care. That is not unbiased.

These pregnant people are in a vulnerable place, asking for help understanding their options, but what they get is a classic bait and switch.

To be clear: nobody minds that these centres counsel people to keep their pregnancies. Nobody minds that such centres exist. They have a right to speak freely to those who wish to speak to them. But they should not try to deceive people with promises of unbiased counselling, and they should not receive COGS funds to do so. What’s wrong with being upfront about their beliefs?

Oh right, no one will come through their door if they’re not anti-abortion already.

ALRANZ Analysis of the Abortion Law Reform Bill

ALRANZ Analysis of the Abortion Law Reform Bill

The draft abortion law reform bill has passed first reading, 94 to 23. Yay!
Much of the bill is great! Some if it is not that great.
Let’s start with the things the government definitely got right.

 

Abortion care is out of the Crimes Act for health practitioners

Abortion is now only a crime if it is procured or performed by a non-health practitioner. Self-abortion is no longer an offence.

Self-referral to abortion service

This is so important. Abortion care is time-sensitive medical procedure. Forcing people to get a referral wastes their valuable time and money on a pointless gatekeeper. This way, people who can’t or don’t want to visit their doctor can refer themselves directly to a service.

 

Counselling offered, but not mandatory

Many people find counselling to be helpful in clarifying their decision. But, as the New Zealand Association of Counsellors has pointed out, it’s only helpful if it’s voluntary. This section makes sure counselling is available for those who want it, but does not present another hoop to jump through for those who don’t.

 

No certifying consultants

Instead, the only health practitioner a pregnant person needs to visit is the one that will be providing her termination.

 

Qualified health practitioners can provide service

In the past, only doctors could provide abortion care. Now other qualified health practitioners can do so as well. This is important for ensuring enough providers. Research in the USA has shown nurse practitioners and midwives can provide abortion care safely, with complication rates as low as doctors.

 

No more licensed premises

Clinics no longer need to have a licence to provide abortion care. They will be treated like every other place where health care is provided.

 

Abortion Supervisory Committee disestablished

In the past, they appointed certifying consultants and granted licences for abortion services. They won’t need to do that anymore. Their data collection responsibilities will shift to the Director-General of Health.

 

Under 20 weeks, it’s health care

For pregnancies under 20 weeks, there is no statutory test to apply. These cases are treated like other kinds of normal health care, with the pregnant person consulting a qualified health practitioner.

 

Safe areas

The bill gives the Minister of Health the power to make regulations setting up safe areas of a maximum radius of 150m; within those areas intimidating, interfering, obstructing, communicating with or visually recording people seeking or providing services is prohibited.

That’s a lot to get right. But let’s move on to some of the more questionable bits.

 

A statutory test after 20 weeks

After 20 weeks gestation, instead of two certifying consultants you have one qualified health practitioner applying a statutory test to see if they will give you approval for your abortion care. This person probably does not know you any better than the certifying consultants would have.

The health practitioner must have a reasonable belief that the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. But why should a random health practitioner’s judgment that an abortion is appropriate be of more value than that of the pregnant person?

Women are still being treated like children, incompetent to choose their own medical care.

 

Why 20 weeks?

The bill sets the cutoff at 20, with no explanation why 20 weeks is better than 22. Is there ANY medical, scientific, or rational reason behind it? Nope, it’s more likely New Zealand First’s political pound of flesh for … calling for a referendum anyway?

Less than 1% of abortions in NZ occur after 20 weeks, and they generally happen because a wanted pregnancy has suffered some medical crisis. The last thing families in crisis need it to undergo a legal process to see if they will be allowed to deal with the crisis in the way they think is best for their family.

 

Conscientious Objection

Health practitioners will still be able to refuse service and obstruct access to reproductive health care. But under this bill, in the case of abortion, the obstructing health practitioner must tell the pregnant person how to access a list of providers maintained by the Director-General of Health.

Which still leaves patients wasting time and money on a useless GP visit because they could not foresee their GP refusing them.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to compile a list of practitioners who WON’T provide services? Then, patients could completely avoid asking these GPs for service.

Self-referral means this kind of obstruction will come up less often for abortion referral. But that still leaves contraception or sterilisation services. In those cases, the obstructing health practitioner need only tell the person how to access the contact details of someone else who provides the service. Tell them to Google it and it’s done? Not very helpful.

At the very least, for contraception, the obstructing provider should be required to provide the name and contact details of another provider. In the case of an obstructing pharmacist, the pharmacy should be required to have a person on duty at all times during business hours who will provide all requested services.

The practice of obstructing access to care is still far out of balance in providers’ favour.

 

The Bill will be properly poked and prodded through the select committee process, with a fantastic roster of MPs on the committee. If you were ever going to do something to support abortion law reform, now is the time to make your mark by making a submission to the select committee. Keep your eyes open for submissions parties in your area!

 

The Wake Up Call

The Wake Up Call

Hey folks,

Those were some great poll numbers we had this morning from the University of Auckland. But, as the history of reproductive rights in Aotearoa has shown, popular will is not the deciding factor.

Back in the 1970’s most people wanted an abortion law that was much more liberal than the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 turned out to be. The government of the day ignored them and passed the strict law anyway. In 1978, a grass-roots movement gathered over 320,000 signatures on a petition to repeal that Act. Parliament buried it.

 

We recently had a wakeup call. Now we are passing it on:

Abortion law reform is not a done deal. There is uncertainty in Parliament about the fate of a prospective bill.

Most reasonable people expect the world to behave reasonably. They hear about poll numbers showing widespread support for abortion law reform across the electorate. They assume MPs will see the same thing and behave reasonably by voting for reform.

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true.

The government has made abortion law reform a conscience issue. In practice this means MPs can do as they like. Some MPs may hear about the remarkably consistent poll numbers in favour of trusting women, but think “my electorate is different so I’d better not vote for law reform”. Others may figure “the only conscience that matters here is mine, so screw my electorate, they’ll never remember anyway”. Still others may listen to the anti-choicers who are all over the show as we speak, trying to sow doubt about research, polls, and evidence.

Ever since the formation of this government there has been an underlying expectation that, OF COURSE abortion law reform will pass, duh, finally, we’ve needed it for years. This complacency is the one thing that could prevent it from happening.

To everyone who believes human rights should apply to pregnant people: the time is now. It’s time to step up.

Here what we ask:

Can you commit to sending 2 emails to 2 different MPs each week, until law reform passes?

If you’re feeling frisky one week, send a few more. If you forget one week, it’s OK, there’s always next week. You can work through all 120 MPs, then start over.

What to say? Say what you think about abortion law reform. Tell them what you want them to do. Tell them about an article you read about abortion here or in some other country, and how it made you feel. Tell them about your grandmother’s illegal abortion. Tell them about your own abortion, or the one you helped a friend through.

They don’t need to be long. What you write is less important than the fact that you wrote. You can use this page to make it even easier.

It’s not daunting – almost everyone can write 2 emails off the top of their heads. The key here is consistency. Can you keep it up for months?

Because that is what this fight will take: sustained effort over the course of many months. Many people have PM’ed and emailed us, asking what they could do to make law reform happen.

This. This is what we can all do.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

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.