ALRANZ President Dr Tracy Morison’s Speech on the presentation of Our Open Letter

ALRANZ President Dr Tracy Morison’s Speech on the presentation of Our Open Letter

Dr Morison was not able to be present to deliver her speech in person, so we present it now.

Kia ora koutou katoa,

Sometimes the unthinkable happens. You say to yourself, “This can’t be. Surely not. This could NEVER happen”. The morning I woke up to find out about the supreme court document leak and that Roe v Wade was in danger of being overturned, I thought “No. Surely not!” In such moments, there is a temptation to sit back and think “it will be OK. It won’t happen, that is unthinkable”. 

Why do I say unthinkable? Quite frankly because the overturning of Roe v Wade will invite tremendous suffering, and even deaths. Suffering for women who are unable to support a pregnancy for a range of reasons, especially for poor women, women of colour, and all those who struggle already to access sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US, including members of the rainbow community. 

We cannot sit back, close our eyes, and cross our fingers. We cannot wait and hope that good will prevail. The recent past has shown us that the unthinkable can and does happen—we need only look around at how climate disruption and COVID have changed our world. We know that sitting back and hoping does not change anything. So, today is about more than hopes and prayers. Today is about speaking out. Today, we join with countless others to implore the governments of the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand to act on the fundamental freedoms of women and other people who may experience pregnancies they cannot support. We urge them not to allow the overturning of Roe v Wade and to stop the injustice that will ripple out across the globe. 

On that note, I want to use this opportunity as a reminder that a large proportion of the world still does not allow abortion on request. And, even in countries that do, the right to abortion does not always translate into access or into access for all. We have watched as state-imposed restrictions on abortion care have proliferated over the years in the USA, rolling back access, and undoing decades of struggle. The US situation highlights how the “plethora of convoluted laws and restrictions surrounding abortion do not make any legal or public health sense” (Berer). This issue is primarily about power and control over women and other marginalised groups, and we must widen the focus as to consider WHY this may be happening in the US and in the rest of the world. 

The USA joins several other countries in rolling back access to abortion, most lately El Salvador and Poland.  We heard recently how in Poland, Ukrainian refugees who have been raped cannot access abortion services. What do such moves against bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom say about the place of women and other minority groups in society at this moment in history? And, importantly, how do we respond to what appears to be a global backlash against the gains made for reproductive rights? 

We are mistaken if we think that this is an isolated problem. The attack on Roe v Wade may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, however. If women’s rights and minority rights can be brazenly rescinded in a country that has long considered itself a beacon of democracy and a leader of the free world, what can this mean in other countries that consider themselves free and democratic? What can this mean in countries that don’t?

Some may accuse us of being alarmist, but history has shown us time and again that the unthinkable can and does happen. Having the U.S. follow the conservative trend of reducing abortion access is deeply worrying, because of the global influence that it enjoys. The USA is a powerhouse in the policy arena, as we have seen with the Global Gag Rule, an anti-abortion policy that risks the health and lives of millions around the world. The USA also powerfully shapes values and views across the globe. Could the US restriction on abortion rights embolden conservatives here in New Zealand, and in other countries? It’s unthinkable, but it’s not improbable. We have very recently seen the influence of conservative US faction to home. The recent “Freedom” convoy protests held at parliament buildings and beyond were fuelled by US-produced anti-vax sentiment and social media content and rife with pro-Trump and other right-wing US paraphernalia.

But this isn’t only a matter we should be worried about because of how it could impact our own country. As Audre Lourde, the mighty African American activist-scholar, famously declared: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” We, here in Aotearoa NZ today, enjoying our second year of abortion law reform, are not free. We are not free while our sisters and siblings in the USA face this egregious assault on their reproductive freedom. We are not free while places like Poland and El Salvador ban abortion. We are not free while abortion is still considered a crime in the UK and heavily restricted in much of Africa and South America. We are not free when women are promised reproductive freedoms by the Left hand and robbed of these by the Right. 

So today, we take note of the situation in the US as a call to action. We speak out, standing in solidarity with those who are unfree. We oppose the threat posed to United States citizens’ fundamental civil and human rights by those supporting the severe and unreasonable curtailment of access to abortion services. We call upon the United States government to protect the fundamental right to bodily autonomy by allowing anyone to end a pregnancy if they so wish. We call upon the government of Aotearoa New Zealand, to join us in condemning this attack on fundamental human rights.

Thank you to each and every person and organisation who stood in solidarity and signed our Open Letter, and to each and every one of you here in support today. Join us as we proceed to the US Embassy where we will hand over the letter urging action and providing some recommendations to the US government. 

We hope that you will continue to support us as we watch the situation in the US unfold and as we continue to advocate for reproductive rights here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and beyond. 

Alutua conitua – the struggle continues!

Book Review: The Lie That Binds

Book Review: The Lie That Binds

by Margaret Sparrow

All eyes are now on the US with the prospect that Roe.v. Wade will be overturned by a decision of the Supreme Court, 49 years after it was passed. How and why has this come about? 

This book is not the latest word on the topic but I found it when I was exploring what our American counterpart NARAL Pro Choice America has to say on the situation in the US. NARAL was formed in 1969 just two years before ALRANZ. Like us they have campaigned over the years for reproductive freedom. Ilyse Hogue was born in 1969 and served as President of NARAL for eight years from 2013-2021, retiring last year. 

Before she retired she put her thoughts into writing and together with NARAL researcher, Ellie Langford, published this book which I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to understand more about the Radical Right in America. It was written before the November election which saw President Trump defeated and is entirely devoted to understanding the strategies of the opposition.

The research is meticulous and one third comprises the 1,424 references to statements made. It is not an easy read and there are some typos but for those who don’t want to read a serious examination of the strategies employed by the Radical Right NARAL Pro Choice America has produced excellent podcasts, companions to the book, which bring the main characters to life with sound recordings of their most egregious pronouncements.

What is the Lie? The lie was perpetrated as far back as the 1950s by extreme right campaigners who purported to be concerned about abortion as a personal issue, a moral issue and to protect women, but whose intention was much wider -to maintain political control and power for white, racist, religious, sexist, misogynist, males, the “moral majority” upholding traditional family values, and opposed to women’s rights, ERA, pay equity, contraception, sex education and gay rights. In reality abortion was a Trojan horse, a means of bringing in ultra conservative policies, upholding the patriarchy, supporting religious fundamentalism and maintaining white supremacy.

The Lie that Binds traces the evolution of some of the most dangerous forces in U.S. politics, designed to thwart social progress in a changing world, and thereby threatening democracy — built around the foundational lie that it is all about moral convictions and individual pregnancies. The extent of deliberate misinformation and outright lies is astonishing. When focusing on women became problematic (that is losing women’s votes) the strategy changed to focusing on the fetus.

When Roe v. Wade was introduced abortion received equal support from Democrats and Republicans. The book traces the capture of Republicans and most recently Trump by the religious right. It is realistic. It will take a long time for the stacked Supreme Court to change but judges don’t live in a vacuum and public opinion is important. There is hope for the future in the knowledge that for many years surveys have consistently showed that the majority of the American public support access to legal abortion. Currently it is about 77%.

What lessons can we learn for New Zealand.

We must be vigilant. We must call out misinformation when it surfaces, and keep on campaigning for reproductive justice, reproductive rights and reproductive freedoms. We must focus on health issues -health care delivered with dignity and compassion. These strategies will keep us on the right path to reducing stigma and inequity 

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.

Endo Shouldn’t Be Like This

Endo Shouldn’t Be Like This

by Rimu Bhooi

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month, and I’m sitting in bed, recovering from a concoction of medications in my system – Morphine, Sevredol, Bisacodyl, Ondansetron, Pregabalin, Panadol, Norethisterone, Nortriptyline, Omeprazole, Codeine, and Sertraline. 

I’d like to say that recovering from hospital is a random occurrence, but this is my life these days: a walker to help me make it to the loo; a pill container and a constant supply of pain meds; a microwave in my bedroom for wheat packs; and, hospital visits galore. 

Ever since I was diagnosed with Endometriosis three years ago, I have lived much of my life from bed. I genuinely thought things would get at least a little easier, but I’ve learnt that Endo is a beast unto itself.

The fainting and pelvic pain began when I was about ten. Then came the headaches, dizziness, painful periods, and pain. It took seven years of asking my GPs to help, being confused by how mates could carry on while bleeding, trying to convince the adults around me that I really didn’t feel well and was in a lot of pain. Finally, after I turned 20, I started making some actual headway on getting answers. I had a private gynaecology consult, and a referral was sent to the Waikato Hospital. I was put on a waiting list for surgery. I was hospitalised so many times between the pain worsening and the actual surgery. It began taking over my life, and now I know it’s something I’ll live with forever. 

If you don’t know much about Endo, I’ll explain: it’s a chronic whole-body inflammatory disease. Tissue similar to the lining of the uterus randomly grows in other places, commonly in the pelvis, but it has been found in every organ in the body. This tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds like normal period tissue, but it’s in the wrong place. It has nowhere to go. This can cause pain with periods, urination, bowel movements, sex and PMS. Endo symptoms are wide-ranging like diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, sub-fertility or infertility, fatigue, recurrent UTIs, abnormal bleeding, and even chronic pain throughout the body.

There is no cure, but the best management appears to come from a mix of medications, supplements, complementary therapies, good nutrition, sleep etc. The only way to diagnose Endo is through laparoscopic surgery. On average, globally, the wait time for diagnosis is seven to ten years, a devastating and tragic statitstic. One in ten people with uteruses have Endo, 120,000 people in Aotearoa alone. Yet very few know about it, and what they do know is mixed with misinformation. I have been told to ‘go on birth control to heal it,’ ‘get a job and that’ll help,’ ‘stick it out, it’s normal,’ and even ‘just get pregnant!’ None of these ‘helpful tips’ is true because there is no cause, no cure, and anyone telling you otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It is chronic. It can be removed during excision surgery and still come back. It comes with co-morbidities. 

For me, those co-morbidities are mostly gynaecological. I was recently diagnosed with Adenomyosis, but I also have Hypertonic Pelvic Floor dysfunction, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue and pain. Endo rules my life, and I’m only just coming to grips with the full extent of its effects on my life, study, and work. 

When reflecting on all this, and on just how much time, money, and energy I’ve spent fighting for a diagnosis and then fighting for treatment and pain relief, I’m sad, but mostly I’m just really angry. We deserve better; we deserve support and answers. Endo is debilitating and disabling, but it doesn’t have to be. We need people to listen to our experiences and change the medical system, so that it centres patients and helps us. Instead of, you know, leaving us sobbing on the floor in the foetal position, wondering what we did wrong.