Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

Reproductive Rights are Mainstream

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is delighted our president, Terry Bellamak, has been named as a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards, in the Community Hero category.

This honour recognises her hard work in the fight for reproductive rights for all New Zealanders. But in 2019, it means a little more than that.

After 40 years in the trenches, 40 years of setbacks trying to change the status quo, and 40 years of political cowardice on the part of successive parliaments, New Zealand, following Ireland’s example, is finally in the process of reforming its antiquated abortion laws. And not a moment too soon.

This change has come about, not because the politicians are suddenly so different, but because New Zealand is different. We no longer accept laws that treat adult citizens as virtual children, incapable of deciding on their own whether to terminate a pregnancy.

New Zealand women, and New Zealanders everywhere on the gender spectrum, are waging the fight for equal rights on many fronts – domestic and sexual violence, equal pay, and equal representation on corporate boards. The right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy is one thread of a tapestry we are all in the process of weaving.

For Terry to be named a finalist demonstrates that reproductive rights are mainstream.

And other facts confirm it. Polls show about two thirds of Kiwis support the right to receive abortion care under any circumstances. The new conventional wisdom holds that everyone deserves the freedom to decide for themselves whether and when to become parents.

We are so proud of Terry. And we are proud of New Zealand – ready to take the next step towards recognising the equality of all people.

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

Reality and Sex Selective Abortion

The Abortion Legislation Bill Select Committee meetings have turned up a ridiculous idea that keeps coming back: sex selective abortions in Aotearoa, and how we can prevent them.

This is ridiculous on several grounds.

First, there is no evidence sex selective abortions are happening here in New Zealand. Sex selection is usually stereotyped as members of certain ethnicities preferring boys over girls. But in 2017, according to StatsNZ, roughly 97 boys were born for every 100 girls.

Some anti-abortion folks cite a 2018 LaTrobe University study on gender bias in birth rates to try to make a case for putting restrictions into the law. But the authors of the study disagree that their data has any bearing on abortion at all:[1]

“Our study did not cover abortions or abortion legislation,” she said.

“We do not make any recommendations in relation to abortions based on our findings.

“Instead we emphasise that measures to address male-biased sex ratios should address the root cause of son preference and the social, economic and symbolic position of females.”

Obstructing the bodily autonomy of women and pregnant people is the wrong way to address the root causes of sexism.

Second, how would a law prohibiting sex selective abortions be enforced? Would the trained health practitioner providing abortion care simply ask the person if they wanted an abortion because of gender? New Zealand legislation is easily available online, so anyone who wanted to abort because of gender would know to say, “Nope, that’s not the reason!”

Aren’t we trying to reform our abortion laws right now so that people don’t have to lie to doctors anymore? And aren’t we trying to move away from the present situation where people have to provide a reason, as if it were anyone’s business but theirs? Wouldn’t this be a step backwards?

Or would this section of the legislation be one of those ‘send a message’ sections that clog up the law books in some places, intended as a sop to those who think people look to Parliament for their moral code? A kind of legislative performance art?

Third, who would be responsible for enforcement? Would trained health practitioners face legal consequences if they didn’t dob in those they suspected of aborting for reasons of gender? Wouldn’t that lead to racial and ethnic profiling of their patients, because sex selective abortions are thought to be just an Asian thing?

The Human Rights Commission might have something to say about such blatant discrimination.

Apart from the fact that the suggested solution to this non-problem is unworkable, there are other consequences to consider.

If there really were people who wanted abortions for reasons of gender, and the health system denied them, wouldn’t that create a black market for gender-selective abortions? With all the historical cruelties and dysfunction that even our imperfect legal framework has alleviated?

Those who call for restrictions on sex selective abortions are the same folks who oppose decriminalisation full stop. Some of them are on record as wanting to ‘abolish abortion’. In light of those objectives, the focus on sex selection seems mischievous, a mere pretext to waste the select committee’s time.

The select committee’s work is too important for them to fall for such a ploy.

 

[1] Samantha Maiden “Key La Trobe study ‘misrepresented’ in NSW abortion debate ‘gendercide’ claim: Authors” The New Daily <thenewdaily.com.au>.

Freedom of Expression and False Equivalence

Freedom of Expression and False Equivalence

by Terry Bellamak

One of these things is not like the other ones. Let’s see if you can pick out which one.

  1. A 13 year old student protesting the Vietnam war by wearing a black armband.
  2. Protesters supporting the occupation at Ihumatao singing in Parliament’s Gallery.
  3. Anti-abortion protesters singing hymns in Parliament’s Gallery.
  4. Protesters yelling at a patient going to a doctor’s appointment.

If you guessed number 4, give yourself a gold star.

The other three are examples of symbolic or explicit protest, directed at people in public, doing public things. The first is a protest by a student, directed at all teachers and students in school, a setting designed for the free exchange of ideas. The second and third are protests by citizens, directed at their representatives in Parliament, and at the Government itself. They are all directed at a class of people, not a specific person.

The fourth is directed against a private person engaged in private business – that is, a person seeking medical care.

The purported purpose of the unwanted attention is to dissuade the person from receiving medical care they have a right to receive. Some would say its true purpose is to punish them for seeking abortion care through public shaming. In other words, harassment.

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 is not an absolute right. It can be subject to a balancing exercise against the rights of others. The prohibition against shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, for instance, is not a breach of anyone’s freedom of expression. Neither are laws against harassment. 

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.

The state has a valid interest in protecting people from harassment while they are going about their business. That includes the business of seeking health care. It seems self-evident that people visiting a medical facility should not have to run a gauntlet of elderly men with gory signs yelling accusations of murder at them.

Would preventing this kind of harassment be controversial if the people bearing the brunt of it were not women seeking health care that society has spent years stigmatising? Let’s try another one: how are these two things different?

  1. Protesters yelling at someone going to receive abortion care, calling them a murderer.
  2. Protesters yelling at parents taking their children to be vaccinated, saying they must hate their children.

If it sounds ridiculous to expect parents to put up with strangers questioning their medical decisions, but the pregnant woman should just toughen up, you should probably take a hard look in the mirror.

Everyone has a right to seek medical care free from harassment, even if you disagree with their choices.

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