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. 

 

Roe v Wade Reversal: An Assault on Rights

On Friday, 24 June 2022 (local time), millions of United States citizens lost the right to control their bodies and make decisions affecting their lives, families, and futures. The US Supreme Court reached a majority decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion care. The United States joins Poland, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in recent reversals of abortion rights.

 ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa joins reproductive health and rights organisations around the world in expressing grave concerns. ALRANZ President and sexual and reproductive health researcher Dr Tracy Morison stated, “This decision makes no legal or public health sense; it simply makes reproductive rights uneven across the United States. Restrictive laws are associated with more unsafe abortions; globally, the leading cause of avoidable pregnancy-related deaths”. 

 Experts warn that the Supreme Court’s judgement will cause wide-ranging individual and social harm, highlighting that countries where abortion is heavily restricted or banned fare far worse on health, social, and economic indicators than those allowing choice. Morison concurs. “This judgement will undoubtedly harm and place an undue burden on individuals seeking an abortion,” she said. “Along with poor health outcomes, there are likely to be negative social and economic effects too. We can expect to see widening social inequality because those from marginalised groups struggle most to access abortion. There are potential negative consequences for gender equity. Reducing women’s reproductive choices affects their education, employment, and earning potential, with knock-on effects for their families, communities, and wider society. There are also worries about LGBTQ health and recently gained rights”.

 Reproductive health experts are also concerned about global repercussions, as anti-choice groups elsewhere are emboldened to reverse hard-won gains. ALRANZ shares this concern and views the overturning of Roe v Wade as an assault on reproductive rights, human rights, and democracy, not only within the United States but the world over.

 As for Aotearoa New Zealand, ALRANZ has pointed to worrying remarks made by members of the opposition party and urges Kiwis to remain vigilant regarding our new-won freedoms. The organisation will continue to monitor the situation and advocate for the right to choose. 

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.