Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House

by Terry Bellamak

Back in May, when the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson was leaked by persons unknown, the world thought such treachery was unprecedented in US history. It turns out we were wrong.

The Rev Bob Schenck, a former anti-abortion leader turned whistle-blower, disclosed to Chief Justice Roberts (and now to the New York Times) that in 2014 Justice Alito leaked the results of the Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision to Schenck’s agents, whom he called “stealth missionaries.” The leak gave Schenck and other conservative parties with an interest in the decision a head start on their public relations work. 

This revelation throws unexpected light on the Dobbs leak. At the time, astute court watchers speculated radical conservatives on the court leaked the decision to lock in Chief Justice Roberts’s yes vote and to prevent his persuading other justices to water it down. 

The justice with the most to gain by such a move was Justice Alito himself, who wrote the decision. Given his alleged form in this area, he now appears to be the prime suspect in the May leak.

Both the leak and the Dobbs decision itself have brought the US Supreme Court into unprecedented disrepute. It has reinforced the prevailing perception of the court as a haven for partisan right-wing hackery. Even the lower courts have joined in the criticism, as did Judge Robert CI McBurney of the Superior Court of Fulton County in Georgia, in a pithy footnote to his decision in Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective v State of Georgia

Despite its frothy language disparaging the views espoused by previous Justices, the magic of Dobbs is not its special insight into historical “facts” or its monopoly on constitutional hermeneutics. It is simply numbers. More Justices today believe that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body than did in that same institution 50 years ago. This new majority has provided our nation with a revised (and controlling) interpretation of what the unchanged words of the U.S. Constitution really mean. And until that interpretation changes again, it is the law.

What can you do when an institution that has no effective oversight becomes politicised? And loses not only the appearance of impartiality, but the reality as well?

If Alito is the culprit, he might as well be on a mission to destroy the Roberts court, or even SCOTUS itself. He’s like an arsonist in a house made of straw.

 

“Abortion Reversal” is Dangerous

“Abortion Reversal” is Dangerous

by Terry Bellamak

In mid-September Pharmac decided to fully fund progesterone. The change is expected to increase access to hormone replacement therapy for symptoms of menopause.

Progesterone has another, more sinister unapproved use, as part of anti-choice movement’s dance of misogyny. They call it “abortion reversal,” and say it is for all those pregnant people who take the first pill, then suddenly change their mind (reinforcing the myth of female indecision and fickleness).

In 2012 Dr George Delgado, an anti-abortion doctor in California, released his study of six women who took progesterone after having taken mifipristone, to stop their medical abortions. According to Delgado, four of the six continued their pregnancies.

In 2019, researchers from the University of California at Davis tried to replicate Delgado’s findings in a randomised, controlled trial. Safety concerns, however, caused them to end the study after just 12 patients had been enrolled. Three of the enrolled patients experienced severe haemorrhage requiring hospital care.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology says “abortion reversal” is not backed by science, and calls it “unproven and unethical.” The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada warns that it can cause serious complications for patients. The American Medical Association calls it “patently false” and “unproven.” No reputable medical association supports this unapproved use of progesterone.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health advises patients can change their minds about abortion right up until the abortion begins. At that point the abortion cannot be reversed. This advice accords with the advice of respected international medical bodies.

So why are we talking about this?

Because there may be anti-abortion doctors in Aotearoa who might be willing to gamble with their patients’ health by prescribing progesterone for this unapproved “abortion reversal.” Any doctor who behaves so recklessly should face sanctions from whatever medical body they belong to, be it the College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australia New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, or the Medical Council of New Zealand.

Right now, after Pharmac’s announcement, would be the best time for these medical associations to spell out what sanctions would be taken against practitioners who are found to have prescribed progesterone for this purpose. Considering the risks, those sanctions should be serious.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa calls upon the College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australia New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, or the Medical Council of New Zealand to denounce the unapproved use of progesterone for “abortion reversal” and to state the penalties they will impose on doctors who gamble with their patients’ health in this way.

 

ALRANZ welcomes good news from Kansas

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa hails the failure of a Kansas referendum that would have removed protection for abortion rights from the state’s constitution. The vote is a strong demonstration of the popularity of abortion rights in the United States of America, even in conservative states like Kansas. US polls consistently show support for reproductive rights in the 60%’s.

ALRANZ president Dr Tracy Morison said, “It is a relief to see voters pushing back successfully against anti-abortion politicians’ undemocratic attempts to restrict the fundamental human right to bodily autonomy. It looks like the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs may have provoked a backlash.”

Abortion access in the US in the wake of the overturn of Roe v Wade has become a patchwork with different states restricting or protecting access to abortion. Kansas has been a midwestern bulwark for protection of access to abortion. In 2009 Dr George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist while Dr Tiller was serving as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas. 

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in 2020, legalising abortion up to 20 weeks as a matter of right. The Ministry of Health is in the process of implementing the law to fulfil the promise of increased access to services. 0800 DECIDE (or www.decide.org.nz) is the most comprehensive element of that effort to date.

ALRANZ urges New Zealanders to remain vigilant regarding our rights. ALRANZ believes abortion is a fundamental human right, but as we have seen in the US, a hard won right is not always guaranteed.

 

Tribute to Peggy Walsh pioneer member of ALRANZ

Tribute to Peggy Walsh pioneer member of ALRANZ

by Margaret Sparrow

Peggy was born and raised in Wellington. She trained as a nurse, went overseas to London and returned to New Zealand to continue nursing and married Tom Walsh. Peggy had two children and also raised a young relation Fran Walsh, who later partnered Peter Jackson. Peggy was the much travelled Nana to Billy and Katie Jackson. 

She was an early feminist and activist protesting at the Vietnam War, nuclear testing, apartheid, homosexual law reform and fluoridation of water. She was assertive and independent. She joined the Wellington Branch of ALRANZ soon after it was formed in 1971. In the 1980s and 1990s she was a committee member of the Wellington Branch which morphed into the National Committee. For two decades she was the ALRANZ representative attending meetings of the National Council of Women. She was also a supporter of Family Planning.

Peggy had a vibrant, outgoing personality and related easily to people. For a time she shared the duties of ALRANZ contact person with her telephone number listed in the newspaper and was capable of handling all comers. She was also the ideal person to help escort patients to the Wellington Hospital abortion clinic when called upon, chatting easily to anxious young women. She was just at ease when lobbying parliamentarians.

One advantage of Peggy’s connection to Peter Jackson was that she had access to video recordings of major films sent to Peter as a member of the Film Academy. One memorable evening we had a private showing for ALRANZ members in my living room of “Vera Drake” the fictional abortionist portrayed superbly by UK film director Mike Leigh. This was in January 2005 before the film was screened publicly. 

Peggy remained active in ALRANZ until 2009 when the deteriorating health of her husband Tom meant that his care became her priority. Meetings were sometimes held in her home on The Terrace and one of the pleasures was to admire Peggy’s collection of colourful Clarice Cliff pottery. Peggy loved to wear bright colours and her signature glasses were large, round and red. She also owned a bejewelled pair a gift from another colourful character, Australian friend Barry Humphries (Dame Edna).

Sadly in the last four years, her life was restricted by a stroke but what an amazing 92 years. She is remembered fondly for her generous contribution to ALRANZ.

Credibility and Risk

Credibility and Risk

by Terry Bellamak

In the days since the US Supreme Court reversed Roe v Wade, Christopher Luxon has been pressed repeatedly on the future of New Zealand’s two year old abortion law reform under a National government. 

With increasing frustration, he repeats himself only to face more questions. His effort to calm the waters is not working. Let’s consider why.

The leader of the opposition is on record stating his belief that “abortion is tantamount to murder.” He spent the 24 hours after the news about the reversal of Roe releasing successive statements promising not to touch New Zealand’s two year old abortion law, which legalised the procedure in 2020. In the final version he said:

I have been consistent since becoming leader that these laws will not be relitigated or revisited under a future National government, and these health services will remain fully funded.

The first problem with Luxon’s assurance is that much harm can be done to abortion rights without relitigating or revisiting the law. 

A hostile government could decide to require all abortion providers, rather than only those in hospital settings, to follow the Ngā Paerewa Health and Disability Services Standard. Such a move would operate as TRAP (“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers”) laws did in the US, by making it impossibly onerous or expensive to provide services outside hospital settings. This would reduce the number of providers and disadvantage people living away from the main centres.

Our safe areas law requires the Minister of Health, in consultation with the Minister of Justice, to apply for an Order in Council to create one safe area. A hostile government could just … not, meaning harassing people seeking abortion care would not be against the law. National’s shadow health minister is Dr Shane Reti, and its shadow justice minister is Paul Goldsmith, both of whom voted against the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 at third reading. 

Protection for minors needing abortion care from being forced to inform their parents (which could have deadly consequences for those with abusive parents) is in the Care of Children Act 2004, not the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, which makes it fair game.

See this article for more ways a hostile government can screw around with abortion care.

The second problem with Luxon’s assurance is the forced birth movement’s history of saying whatever they have to in order to get what they want.

Crisis pregnancy centres all over the world use misleading advertising to get pregnant people through the door so they can browbeat them out of seeking abortion care. Forced birth advocates trot out the old myths about abortion causing infertility, breast cancer, and mental illness. Local forced birthers peddle the myth that New Zealand’s abortion law is the most “extreme” in the world, and allows for abortions “right up to birth.” Conservative Supreme Court justices lied to the US Senate in their confirmation hearings, saying they believed Roe was settled law, when they fully intended to reverse it.

It would be foolish to ignore this propensity in others who believe as Luxon does. Luxon may or may not be lying himself, but we must consider the possibility.

This is because of the third problem with Luxon’s assurance: the risk/exposure calculation. 

How much risk a person is willing to take on depends on how much loss a contrary outcome will expose them to. If the possible loss is small, a person may be willing to take on more risk than they would if the possible loss is great. 

What is at stake here? Our fundamental human right to bodily autonomy. Our ability to choose our own futures, to follow our dreams when those dreams do not lead to parenthood. In some cases, our very lives. The stakes are beyond huge. 

The people of Aotearoa have the right to decide how much they are willing to risk on Luxon’s word. 

The tumult in the US demonstrates the frightening truth that once we discover we have been lied to, it’s too late to save ourselves. This could be the US’s lasting legacy – an object lesson in believing people when they tell you who they are. It’s our choice whether or not we follow in American footsteps.