“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.

 

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.

Watch What They Do

Watch What They Do

by Terry Bellamak

This week in the USA, someone leaked a Supreme Court majority decision that reverses Roe v Wade, the decision that establishes a constitutional right to an abortion. Now Americans are incandescent with outrage at the dumpster fire their democracy has become. When we consider our happy, sensible little country in comparison, Kiwis might be feeling a bit smug.

We shouldn’t.

We legalised abortion only two short years ago. By now the law change has the feel of inevitability that Roe used to have. But it almost didn’t happen.

If Winston Peters had buried the hatchet with National instead of in it, Bill English would have remained Prime Minister. He would not have lifted a finger to advance abortion law reform – he would have moved heaven and earth to prevent it. We would still be lying to certifying consultants, saying that we were mentally disturbed to get their discretionary approval to end unwanted pregnancies.

Who is in power makes a huge difference to fundamental human rights. Every country on this planet is just a few bad politicians away from disaster.

Just ask Poland. It used to have fairly liberal abortion laws, but their unpopular right-wing government instituted a draconian abortion ban that has left doctors afraid to abort dying fetuses that are killing the person carrying them. People have died.

Even the support of large majorities doesn’t help. A large majority of New Zealanders favour abortion rights. The National Council of Women’s Gender Equality Survey found 74% of New Zealanders support the right to choose abortion. But that is no guarantee. Abortion rights are popular in the USA too – 70% say abortion should be between pregnant people and their doctors. 

People in the US thought their right to abortion was secure, but they were wrong. New Zealand must not fall into the same complacency.

You might say we are safe because opposition to abortion is driven by religious extremists in the USA, and we don’t have nearly as many here. 

I would submit religion is not so much the issue as authoritarianism, and we have more of those than we thought, as the occupation of Parliament demonstrated. We also have some former and current MPs who were willing to pander to the occupiers. 

Losing fundamental human rights is the last step in a long series of steps. The early steps barely register – we are halfway to the end before we realise we are going somewhere. 

Maintaining our reproductive freedom requires vigilance in the face of the media and politicians telling you not to be paranoid, those red flags are just decoration.

What would an erosion of abortion rights look like here? No one knows for sure.

It could start with a government hostile to reproductive rights quietly under-resourcing abortion care. Or perhaps encouraging the placement of anti-choice people in the health care system’s upper management, where they could undermine provision in quiet ways, like moving the abortion service to a different building which would require the service to request a new safe area. The service would be unprotected for the 3 – 6 months it would take to create and approve another safe area.

It could move on to nibbling away at the edges of abortion rights, perhaps starting with the least popular or most controversial. Perhaps ending telemedicine abortions. Perhaps reinstating the rule that the second set of medicines must be taken at the service, which requires another trip to the service. 

Always quietly, with as little fanfare as possible so that few people notice. They will always make the change sound reasonable, and promise nothing else will change and abortion rights are safe. Just like in the USA.

This is why we need to pay attention to the political class. When the leader of the opposition, Christopher Luxon, says abortion rights would be safe under a National-led government because deputy leader Nicola Willis is pro-choice – even though he considers abortion tantamount to murder, that’s a red flag. Don’t listen to what they say – watch what they do.

Now that we have abortion law reform, we need to make sure we keep it. 

 

The Long Game

The Long Game

by Terry Bellamak

To see what the world would look like if anti-abortion types had their way, look no farther than the USA.

Like Oklahoma, which just passed a bill making all abortions illegal except to save the life of the mother. The governor is expected to sign it.

Like Tennessee, which is moving forward with a bill that would allow a family member of a rapist to sue the rape survivor for $10,000. If fact, all the rapist’s family members could sue the survivor, and get $10,000 each.

Like Texas, which has banned abortions from 6 weeks on, and has just arrested and charged Lizelle Herrera with murder for ‘illegal abortion’. She is being held on a half million dollar bond.

Anti-abortion types talk a good game about ‘loving them both’, meaning both pregnant person and foetus. I guess charging someone with felony murder is what love looks like to them. Antis have droned on for years about how they don’t want to criminalise people who receive abortion care, just those who provide it. So much for that.

For the past 40 years, Americans believed their constitutionally protected access to abortion was safe, because it was settled law. But the US Supreme Court has the power to laugh at settled law, even at the cost of trashing the rules of precedent.

Here is New Zealand, access to abortion as health care is also settled law. Abortion care is embedded in the health care system, not kept at arm’s length like it is in the USA. The leader of the opposition has ruled out changes to the law if his party makes it into government next year.

But antis play the long game.

That’s why ALRANZ isn’t going anywhere. We will be right here, now and into the future, speaking out about things that need improving as the Ministry of Health implements abortion law reform and establishes systems to provide abortion care. We will be right here defending New Zealanders’ access to abortion should a government hostile to abortion be elected. We will be right here, talking about reproductive rights and breaking down abortion stigma.

The fight for fundamental human rights is never really over. That’s why we’re here. We play the long game too.

Why we need to fight abortion stigma 

Why we need to fight abortion stigma 

by Katie Lavers

Medical science has improved lives. Vaccinations can prevent disease. They have been in New Zealand since the 1860’s, with smallpox vaccines being first in line. In the 1940’s and 50’s more widespread vaccination programmes began.

Likewise, modern abortion care prevents deaths from unsafe abortions. It enables women to live the life they want. A summary line from The Turnaway Study, a longitudinal study, shows this clearly:

Women who receive a wanted abortion are more financially stable, set more ambitious goals, raise children under more stable conditions, and are more likely to have a wanted child later.”

But in cases like these, the problems medical science solves become invisible to the next generation, because ‘success’ is measured by the absence of something bad rather than the presence of some new good. People do not die in droves of measles or Covid, and women can pursue their chosen careers. 

This is how interventions like vaccinations and abortion care become easy pickings for those with an agenda. People who do not want to be vaccinated and, for some reason, also do not want others to be vaccinated, make illogical claims that the vaccines have no effect – because people still get the disease. This ignores the fact they do not die from it.

Likewise, people who do not want abortions and, for some reason, also do not want others to have them, make ill-founded claims that pregnant people’s mental health will suffer if they get an abortion. This ignores data like the Turnaway study, and personal experiences like my own, that demonstrate the opposite.

Unless you are part of the tiny but dubious extreme religious or alt-right subculture who want to see less choice for women, things are getting better. According to the website ‘Our World in Data’, in 1965 worldwide, women had on average, 5 children. Today that has more than halved, and is less than 2.5. This is a great thing, and not just for the planet as a whole. It is better for everyone to have children who are wanted and planned. 

The difference between vaccination and abortion is stigma. 95% of New Zealanders have been vaccinated. 1 in 4 people with a uterus will have an abortion. These percentages show how accepted both medical treatments are.

But few talk about their abortions for fear of backlash, despite the positive, long-term impact it has on their lives. 

Other than the fact I am a breadwinner, I am annoyingly living the cookie-cutter conservative’s dream. Cis-hetero, working, white family of four. And yet, it was an abortion in my twenties that allowed me to pursue my chosen path working in education. Yes, I love children!  

We need to overcome the social stigma associated with talking about our abortions. This will ensure younger generations coming after us will understand how access to abortion care has shaped everyone’s lives for the better. Just like vaccinations. 

Katie Lavers is an ALRANZ member, and a teacher turned freelance writer.