Some updates/additions below: Caleb Tucker and John Taylor.

Dame Barbara Goodman, who was among other things a former mayoress of Auckland, died on 21 June 2013. It was good to see that the NZ Herald saw fit to publish an obituary, since too often the contribution of women either isn’t recognised or falls into the “men are people, women are women” trap.

But a few ALRANZ supporters noticed, and pointed out, that the obituary didn’t mention the fact that Dame Barbara had been an active supporter of abortion rights during the battle over the 1977 abortion law. A couple of members wrote a letter to the editor making this point, but so far as we know, it hasn’t been published. We reproduce it here, even though it doesn’t do justice to the work Dame Barbara did on the issue (what with keeping to the letters-to-the-ed word count restrictions), as part of an effort to counter the “disappearing” from the record of those who have worked for reproductive rights.

New Zealand Herald

Letter to the Editor:

We were pleased to see The New Zealand Herald pay tribute to Dame Barbara Goodman in its obituary of 22 June. Of course, no obituary can do justice to the entirety of such a life, and we’d like to point to one campaign Dame Barbara fought that wasn’t mentioned, and that was her effort in 1978 to repeal the 1977 abortion law. 

Then, as now, campaigning for abortion rights was polarising and not for the faint-hearted. In a June 1978 article about the women behind Repeal, journalist Warwick Roger, interviewed Goodman (she wasn’t yet a dame, but was Mayoress of Auckland), and she told him she had been called a murderer more than a few times as she canvassed for signatures in Vulcan Lane.

The Repeal effort ran for around four months and gathered nearly 320,000 signatures, which Roger described as the biggest petition gathered in the shortest time in the country’s history. (The Muldoon government made sure it quietly disappeared.) In taking the stand she did against the law, Goodman had some high-profile company: Others involved included National MPs George Gair, Marilyn Waring and Jim McLay; Labour’s Martyn Finlay and Warren Freer; Anna Watson, a trustee of the AMAC abortion clinic; Judith Hay, the Mayoress of Christchurch; and the Rev. John Murray of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Wellington.


Dame Margaret Sparrow, Dr. Barbara Morris, Alison McCulloch


Caleb Tucker

Update: After seeing the above post, Dame Margaret passed along this letter she wrote to the DomPost about an obit for Caleb Tucker, a former head of Wellington Hospital (it wasn’t published either):

23 February 2013

Letter  to Editor Dominion Post

Mr Caleb Tucker (Obituary Dominion Post February 23, 2013) was indeed a guiding light at Wellington Hospital and another contribution that must be added to the list of his significant achievements is the opening of the first abortion clinic in July 1980. For two years after the passage of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 there was much public controversy about the need for abortion services for the women of Wellington. The Wellington Hospital Board, the Abortion Supervisory Committee and the Minister of Health were all involved in the final decision to establish a clinic and it was Mr Tucker who was responsible for the setting up and staffing of the facility which he named Parkview Clinic. He did not express his personal views on abortion but as Medical Superintendent saw it as a responsibility for the hospital to provide this core service. For the women of Wellington it meant that having to travel to Auckland or Sydney for an abortion became a thing of the past.

Margaret Sparrow
Inaugural operating doctor, Parkview Clinic


John Taylor

Update: And then there’s Mr John Taylor (1928-2008). He featured in Margaret Sparrow’s book Abortion Then and Now: New Zealand Abortion Stories from 1940 to 1980 from which the info below is taken. He was a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who played a key role in setting up and providing abortion services for Auckland. Apparently of more importance than this work to the obituary writers was the powerboat speed record he set and the money he raised for the Coast Guard (sorry for poor quality of linked PDF, we can’t find this online). The headline read: Surgery propelled doctor to full speed‘ and they managed to write the obituary without once mentioning the word abortion. Here are some excerpts from “Abortion Then and Now” to flesh out the record (Taylor was interviewed in 2006, and the transcript takes up about 4 pages of the book):

“While at National Women’s there was one particular case that had a lasting impact on me. In October 1957 a lovely young lady was admitted to National Women’s Hospital where I was the registrar in the ‘C’ Team. She had been languishing in bed getting more and more ill, and came in with a high temperature of about 104 degrees. She had been too scared to present to anybody for medical help. As it transpired she had been to an illegal abortionist, and the uterus had been only partially emptied of a 12-week pregnancy. … To make a long story short, after we had worked desperately with her for about 10 days, she died. … I was severely affected by this tragedy, and I think it influenced the rest of my career in O&G.”

“With respect to my professional colleagues at the time, I suppose I felt more strongly than they did. Some of the senior consultants on ‘C’ Team  believed that if the grounds were mental health then you needed to get a psychiatric opinion to confirm that. That idea never appealed to me. I just thought it was a total farce to engage a fully qualified specialist psychiatrist on an abortion case. Our team was doing abortions if there was a psychiatrist who would say the person was likely to suffer a severe depression.

Women had to go before a panel of three consultants, set up by the hospital to deal with requests for abortion. I remember when I’d only just been appointed as a very junior consultant forming part of a panel  with two very senior gynaecologists. The other two said to me “Of course there’s no way this woman will be psychiatrically affected. What do you think?” and I said, “I just can’t agree with you I’m sorry.” They said “Well the vote is two to one,” so that was the end of it. That showed they felt just as strongly as I did but in keeping with their own conservative views. I said “There’s got to be a better way. This is just untenable.”

“When I set up my specialist practice I included abortion services as part of women’s health care.” (John Taylor was asked to help set up an abortion service in Auckland — Epsom Day clinic — which he did.)

“After my involvement in the Epsom Day Hospital became known, SPUC used to protest outside our home when we had young children. It was pretty tough on the kids to have these banners and so on. My car used to be attacked, and graffitied and tyres let down. They’d put stickers on the front and back windows – ‘Baby Killer’ – and all that kind of thing…”

“I believe the law must allow for termination for a woman who finds herself profoundly desperate with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. I realise I may sound old-fashioned and not in full accord with ALRANZ’s viewpoint, but I’ve always believed the present law isn’t too bad because it allows for termination on the grounds of mental health.”

“I am convinced that total control over her fertility is a woman’s right.”