This entry is part of an occasional “From Our Files” series in which we dig through ALRANZ newsletters and related files to give readers a bit of insight into the recent history (post-1960s) of the struggle for reproductive rights in New Zealand. All the entries are listed here.
Excerpts from the first annual report of ALRANZ for the year ending December 31, 1971.
“The saddest part of the year’s work has been answering the large number of men and women who have come to us for help about an unwanted pregnancy. We can only advise that the legal approach is through the patient’s general practitioner, and we are continually being hurt by our knowledge of how differently these doctors react. Some of our questioners have sufficient money to travel to other countries, in which case we advise of the situation in the country they hope will help them. It is a very difficult situation we find ourselves in, knowing as we do, that persistence and money can often result in a successful abortion. Our enquirers include medical practitioners asking for help for their patients. … The intelligent articulate and well-to-do are finding it easier to get abortions for themselves, or for their wives, daughters or girl friends. Sometimes they get them in New Zealand, sometimes in Australia, America, England or other countries. When we hear of a family selling their house to send the woman back home to England because another pregnancy is intolerable, and then hear of another woman in almost identical circumstances getting an abortion at a Public Hospital at no cost to the family, we realise that education of the doctors as to what is the practice of their fellow practitioners is of prime importance. We are not so naïve as to believe that the law is always strictly fair, but it is impossible to find any other area covered by our criminal code, where the practice is so varied, with such far reaching results in human misery.”
Prior to the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, and the associated amendments to the Crimes Act, New Zealand’s abortion laws were essentially replicas of England’s 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which included prison terms of up to 14 years for those performing an illegal abortion and seven years for the woman. The only ground for abortion was “preservation of the life of the mother”.