The National Party released its list for the 2023 election this weekend. ALRANZ has looked at how these candidates voted on law reform in 2020, safe areas in 2021, and their public comments on abortion to determine whether they support abortion rights or not. Does this look like a party you would trust to advance reproductive rights in Aotearoa New Zealand?
by Terry Bellamak
Last week Newshub asked Christopher Luxon whether contraception would be fully funded if National gets elected and rolls back Labour’s elimination of the $5 fee for prescriptions. Caught off guard, his answer revealed just how little thought or planning went into this policy. He said he did not consider those needing contraception to have “high medical needs.”
Luxon had once again stumbled into telling on himself. You would think a former CEO would be well across the business case for contraception – it prevents more costly health service events, like abortions, pregnancies, and childbirths. Instead Luxon seemed to answer not from his business superego, but from his evangelical id. Fundamentalists oppose both abortion and contraception, as we see in the USA.
The electorate, ever watchful for signs of plans to roll back reproductive rights, reacted with outrage. They remembered certain salient facts the National party would rather they forget:
- Luxon is on record agreeing that abortion is ‘tantamount to murder’
- Luxon has promised not to repeal the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, nor reduce funding for abortions BUT
- The religious right has strong form for lying about reproductive rights when it suits their agenda.
- Supreme court justices in the US lied about abortion in their Senate confirmation hearings, leading to the overturning of Roe v Wade.
- Anti-abortion extremists in the USA and New Zealand still tell lies about abortion negatively affecting patients’ mental health, years after the Turnaway study proved otherwise.
- National MP Simon O’Connor, who ended his speech at the Abortion Legislation Act’s third reading with the ominous ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord’ in Latin, posted ‘Today is a good day’ when Roe was overturned. It took Luxon three tries to distance himself from O’Connor’s remarks and calm the waters.
- In the past week National’s fundie caucus has been throwing its weight around, with Simeon Brown complaining about bilingual road signage, and O’Connor dog-whistling his opposition to same-sex marriage. Luxon is unable, or chooses not, to control them.
- Also this week the National party showed form for reneging on good faith agreements, as shown by their surprise repudiation of the Medium Density Residential Standards agreement with the government.
And now here we have Luxon stating his belief that contraception is not important enough for National to cover people who need it. Bad look. No wonder people find it hard to credit his promises around protecting abortion rights.
Labour uncharacteristically took advantage of Luxon’s mistake. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins referred to the National party taking New Zealand back to the 1950s. Megan Woods tweeted a meme from the Handmaid’s Tale.
You can tell how much Woods’s jibe hit home by the pearl-clutching that ensued. The mildest hyperbole was condemned as dirty politics.
Newshub seemed a bit shocked and dismayed that their gotcha question had landed so hard. The walkback started immediately as political journalists echoed the National party’s outrage, grabbing for their own pearls.
Some have criticised Labour for not eliminating the prescription fee six years ago. Why is this silly time-travel argument used so much? Making the announcement about free prescriptions changed the conversation. From that moment ‘everybody pays’ was off the table. In its place was ‘nobody pays’ and ‘some must pay.’
Who must pay for what involves a values-based discussion about what care the health service should fully fund. National should have known better than to turn the discussion to values when its loud and proud fundie caucus is so out of step with the New Zealand public. Aotearoa has a resolutely secular society that does not trust extreme religious politicians.
That’s why Woods’s meme hit home.
Given the importance of the rights at stake, i.e. bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, who could blame New Zealanders for being super cautious about a party chock full of people who oppose their fundamental rights, including the leader? This is not the National party of Hon Amy Adams and Hon Nikki Kaye.
We have seen the speed with which the health care system in conservative US states has deteriorated into a shit show. People are being criminalised for making decisions about their own bodies in the privacy of their own homes. People with failing pregnancies are being forced to wait until they are at death’s door before doctors will treat them. The USA’s Savita Halappanavar may be only weeks away.
If we elect a National government that breaks its promises and curtails reproductive rights, it will be too late for us. Given the grave nature of the risk, we have every right to be worried about National and their real intentions.
ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa Secretary Jacqueline Cavanagh sent the following open letter to Christopher Luxon. She objects to his demand for Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson’s to apologise for her accurate statements concerning the sources of violence in our communities.
Dear Mr Luxon
You have been quoted as saying that comments made by Marama Davidson were offensive and that she should apologise. You said you believed she must apologise publicly to the people that she hurt. I can only assume that you would expect a public apology from any other politician who says offensive things, in public, and in their capacity as a member of parliament.
I challenge you to live up to your own standards.
In an interview with Newshub in December 2021, you claimed that abortion is tantamount to murder. I had an abortion. You have, therefore, called me a murderer. The fact that I had the abortion to save my life and not leave the child I already had without a mother is a nuance your comment does not consider. Though my reasons do not matter because the decision to end a pregnancy is my right.
I am not a murderer because abortion is healthcare, not a crime. People who access abortion do so for their own excellent reasons. You may disagree with those reasons, but 74% of New Zealanders agree that abortion should be available on request for any reason.
I am personally offended by your statements, and I represent a community of people who are similarly offended by your comments. This is the community of people who accessed healthcare services in accordance with the law to end their pregnancies, and the spouses, partners, children and loved ones of those persons.
I ask you to apologise publicly and unreservedly for your offensive comments, in which you called me a murderer. I believe that a failure to do so calls into question the integrity of your calls for other politicians to apologise. Failure to do so is most certainly failing to live up to the same standards to which you hold other politicians accountable.
I await your apology, without holding my breath.
Secretary, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa
Last Saturday 18 March, Aotearoa New Zealand marked the first anniversary of the passage of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Act 2022. ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa notes that in spite of the act, New Zealand has no safe areas.
The process to create a safe area is cumbersome and time-consuming. It requires months of work by the Ministry of Health to plot out the safe area and get it approved. After all that, the fate of a safe area is in the hands of Cabinet, which can move it forward or ignore it.
There are currently about a dozen safe area applications in the pipeline. Half are ready for Cabinet to consider.
People who receive or provide abortion care need safe areas yesterday. Every day, people have to walk by judgemental anti-abortion protesters with huge, misleading, gory signs in order to access safe, legal health care.
ALRANZ president Dr Tracy Morison said, “Parliament passed the Safe Areas Bill because they saw the need for it. If there’s a need, and there definitely is, then the process for creating safe areas isn’t fit for purpose because not one safe area has been created to date.”
ALRANZ believes Cabinet needs to approve the safe areas applications as a matter of urgency, or admit the government got it wrong when they set out the requirements for creating safe areas.
One abortion may be viewed as a reasonable “get out of jail free” card; having more than one abortion is often presented as beyond the pale. A woman might be able to decide she cannot continue with a pregnancy once, but to do so more than once speaks of her irresponsibility, fecklessness and failure to use contraception.
We recently carried out research on women in Scotland who’d had more than one abortion. Our findings highlighted some key barriers faced by women seeking abortions, which fail to be recognised because of commonly-held assumptions. These relate to problems with contraception, intimate partner violence, life aspirations and social or economic disadvantage. And what do these problems have in common? They are all factors over which a woman may have little or no control, and which are compounded by feelings of shame and stigma.
Problems with contraception
Finding the right contraceptive can be difficult for some women; options remain relatively limited, and side effects can be disruptive and offputtingly grim. Plus, contraception does not always work, and the burden of trying to ensure that it does continues to fall disproportionately to women.
What some may find most surprising is that most women in our study were using contraception when they became pregnant – particularly those who had undergone a previous abortion. For most interviewees it was the failure of condoms or the pill that resulted in their most recent pregnancy. Many had tried other “long acting” methods, such as contraceptive implants or intrauterine devices in the past, but had experienced problems. What this suggests is that women are not treating abortion “like contraception”, but are having problems finding a method that suits and works for them and their partner.
The link between intimate partner violence and abortion has long been acknowledged, and abortion clinic staff are trained to look out for signs of an abusive relationship. We found that for many women seeking more than one abortion, experiences of violent or controlling relationships were common and contributed to their decision to end a pregnancy on at least one occasion.
For some, this included partners refusing to use condoms or let the woman use the pill. For others, escalating physical violence led to the termination of a planned pregnancy, or meant that abortion was the only way to break ties with an aggressive or violent man.
Aspirations and disadvantage
Reproductive rights advocates often point out that the power to decide if and when to have a pregnancy is fundamental to gender equality. Women need to be able to decide if and when they want to be pregnant in order to have the kinds of lives that they want.
Issues relating to life aspirations and social or economic disadvantage loomed large in women’s decisions to seek abortion more than once, with many citing not having their own home, still being in full-time education and career or other life ambitions as reasons they did not want to be pregnant. Their experiences suggested that caring commitments, concerns about existing children, and financial instability were also significant factors.
‘Here I am again’
The fact that women may increasingly be trying to obtain abortion medications via the internet has recently received attention. For some women we spoke to, this was the case primarily because they felt so uncomfortable about having to return to their local abortion service, admit that it had happened again and face what they believed would be negative judgement from health professionals. For some who did return to services, this attitude was all too real.
Beyond those who sought options online, many women we spoke to had also experienced significant health problems prior to their pregnancies, including severe anxiety and depression. Their need to prioritise their own health had contributed to their decisions to seek abortion. Unfortunately, feelings of shame arising from the stigma around abortion had in turn had a negative impact on their mental well-being in the short term. For some, this meant they felt unable to talk to friends or family, even when they had been previously supportive, for fear of being judged for making the same “mistake” again.
What this all points to is that there needs to be less focus on how many abortions women have and less judgement of those seeking more than one. Instead we need greater focus on the gender inequalities which result in women bearing the brunt of pregnancy prevention and experiencing violence in intimate relationships.
No woman should be deemed irresponsible, feckless, or a failure for needing more than one abortion. And no woman should see her life aspirations, physical or mental health stymied by pregnancies she does not want or feel able to continue.