Solidarity Demo; Letter to Ireland

Prochoice advocates are holding a solidarity demo tomorrow (Wed, 20 Aug) from 8:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. outside the Irish Consulate at 205 Queen Street in Auckland. The demos are to support rallies across Ireland and Europe also on the 20th protesting the latest horrendous case of what can only be considered the torture of a pregnant woman.

Here is a link to the Facebook Event.

Make some signs. Wear some green.

Background Reading:

Irish Times: They said they could not do an abortion. I said, ‘You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore’

Sunday Times: State denied abortion to rape victim



Letter to the Irish Government

Like most people around the world the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) was saddened and appalled by the most recent denial of of yet another pregnant person’s reproductive rights. The continued refusal of the current and subsequent Irish governments to do anything more than the bare minimum to ensure access (I.e the right to travel and information) to abortion services is beyond disappointing, it is an infringement on a woman’s human right to health and to be free from torture.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for a young woman to flee persecution in one country only to be confronted with more of the same in a country that was supposed to be a safe haven? To exchange one violation of her body through sexual assault for another form; to have your body commandeered by a government and forced to not only carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, but forcibly fed with liquids, and cut open by a doctor sworn to do no harm. What kind of world are you, the Irish Government, bringing this child into when you absolutely refuse to acknowledge its mother’s basic humanity?

For what purpose and to what end? In the name of preserving some notion of an Irish, postcolonial identity as sanctified in the 1937 Constitution where a woman’s position is clearly defined in relationship to her ability to reproduce the nation: mothers/incubators, not autonomous beings charged with determining their own reproductive destinies. The desire to sustain the nascent Irish state has lead to women’s bodies being a key battle ground for this contestation; to cleanse the liberalising, pro-abortion influences of the British from the Republic. And yet, it would seem the majority of the Irish people have moved on. Year on year, polls produce increasing not decreasing support for access to abortion. Referendums in 1993 and 2002 both failed in their goals of trying to roll back the decision in the X case.

Why is it only politicians who are trapped in anachronistic understandings of reproductive rights? Would the status quo still operate without external forces intervening? It took the European Court of Human Rights and the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar to finally bring in legislation around the X case. A full 30 years after the 1983 8th Amendment equated the right to life of the fetus with its mother, and 21 years since the X case when the then Government interned a 14 year old rape victim in the country, refusing her right to travel for an abortion in England. Even the recently passed Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is badly flawed as suggested by multiple, venerable medical professionals and activists before it was passed. And who is left to bear the brunt of this ineptitude? Pregnant people.

It is time for this to end. No more women should be tortured like this young asylum seeker. Abortion should not just be for those with the privilege and means to be able to access abortion off shore. ALRANZ calls on the Irish Government to do what it should have done 30 years ago- repeal the 8th Amendment. Send the message that you trust women to make decisions about their bodies; not the medical community, not the Catholic Church and not you, the legislators. Repeal, repeal, repeal. It is the only humane option left.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Morgan Healey
On behalf of ALRANZ

‘Dr N’ Case Raises Questions about NZ’s Abortion Laws

By Sabrina Muck

Dr N, a doctor working in a rural area with 30 years’ experience, was suspended for six months for illegally prescribing the medication misoprostol (Cytotec) to four patients in a manner contrary to legal pregnancy termination procedures specified in the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act. The case was reported in the ALRANZ newsletter in August 2013. It has now made the news again (with a slight delay) because the doctor’s suspension period has lapsed and she is allowed to practice, with conditions. The original decision of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (including an agreed summary of facts) is available here.

In its decision, the Tribunal established that Dr N’s actions amounted to professional misconduct (for example, failing to ensure the patient had adequate follow-up support if she decided to take the misoprostol; in another case, prescribing misoprostol without first having seen the patient in consultation; and in all cases, failing to record the details on the patients’ medical notes.) Dr N did not deny these allegations but argued that she had “allowed herself to become overwhelmed by the need to help those desperately seeking her help”, and had earlier indicated that she considered she was providing a necessary service.

This blog post does not seek to comment on whether Dr N’s actions constituted professional misconduct or otherwise – that is a matter for the Tribunal. However, the case raises wider questions about the state of abortion law in New Zealand, the most obvious being access and availability, particularly to women in rural areas. It is incredibly disappointing that in 2014, medical practitioners still have to resort to these kinds of “work-arounds” because their patients would otherwise face significant travel time and costs to access a service which should be available to all women. And that’s not even taking into account the necessary referral, certification and counseling procedures a patient would need to go through, which cannot always be provided easily or promptly in remote or rural areas. The witness evidence in Dr N’s case itself shines a light on this – when questioned by a student doctor about her decision to prescribe misoprostol to a patient, she responded that it would save the patient “a massive ordeal associated with a trip…for an abortion”, and in another situation reportedly told a nurse that “it was unfair not to give the patient these pills…if had to wait it would be too late.”

This latter comment also highlights the issue that because of the complicated procedures delays in the system are inevitable and can result in abortions being carried out later than is desirable for safety.

Our laws should not be putting doctors in a position where they may be compromising client care in an effort to help the women who come to see them. The criminalisation of abortion in New Zealand is in direct contravention of international treaties to which New Zealand is a signatory, especially with respect to the Convention on the Elimintion of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  And while New Zealand may be celebrating its recent ranking as “the most socially advanced country in the world”, we would do well to remember these are still the kinds of decisions and situations facing our doctors. Reading the coverage of the Dr N case in the papers just brings to light once again the continued and on-going need for access to safe, legal medical and surgical abortion in any situation where women choose that is the right path for them.

Sabrina Muck is a member of ALRANZ and is on the Governance Collective of the Auckland Women’s Centre.


We’d particularly welcome comments from readers outside the main centres or who don’t live near a provider about any access difficulties they’ve experienced trying to get the reproductive health care they need.