Vote Choice: John Key – the Fence Sitter

vote-for-choice-round_1Welcome to ALRANZ’s Vote Choice series, where we offer you our views on candidate’s opinions on abortion and reproductive justice, so that you can make an informed decision on 20 September. We encourage members to go along to candidate forums or local meetings and ask candidates where each stands on abortion. You can send through your intel to so that we can begin to profile candidates and their views. Or if you would like to feature a candidate and write up their position for the blog, please send that through to us for posting.

John Key – the fence sitter

This week’s featured politician is John Key. Thanks to his recent interview with Bob McCoskrie from Family First, we now have a better sense of his position on abortion: fence sitter – not coming down clearly John_Keyfor or against.  Key said he wasn’t in favour of law reform; he is in favour of parental notification; but he didn’t seem to be against abortion per se.

The interview with Key highlighted two things: one, the Prime Minister doesn’t have a clear grip on the current laws; and two, assuming these were genuine responses, he expressed some mixed feelings on abortion.  On the former, Mr. Key is not alone in being confused by the law. You only have to read the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (CS&A) Act to become terribly confused about just how a pregnant person goes about getting a legal abortion. However, while non-elected officials can be excused from reading dry pieces of legislation, politicians shouldn’t be forgiven their ignorance, particularly in the context of a recorded interview where you likely already know the questions and you still don’t bother to do your homework!

Voting Record

The minimal amount of information we have on Key’s record on abortion comes from previous votes on legislation and the appointment of Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) members, and reflects the fence sitter position. The 2004 debate on the Care of Children Bill on parental advisement is the only piece of legislation we have to go on (all the other votes were in relation to the appointment of ASC members where he voted liberally twice (both in 2007), conservative once (2007) and abstained/absent in 2011).  He voted in favour of Judith Collin’s amendment, which would have made parental notification for an under-16 year old’s abortion mandatory.

In the McCoskrie interview, Key simultaneously reinscribes abortion stigma by using some quintessential anti-language, saying he wouldn’t want to liberalise our current abortion laws because “people would see it as a legitimate contraception device,” while also accepting that most abortion decision are made because it is “an unwanted pregnancy and they feel that they can’t cope or don’t want to at that point in their life raise a child”.  Obviously the claim that abortion is a type of contraception is spurious, or as one ALRANZ member said, “that is literally impossible, to use abortion as contraception”: one prevents fertilisation and pregnancy in the first instance, while the other is used to end a pregnancy. Claims like this are often used to argue against abortion and implicitly mean something like, “Hey women, clearly you were irresponsible by getting pregnant in the first place so now you can’t or shouldn’t be trusted to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy”.  Yeah, no.

After stating clearly that he is opposed to liberalising the law because it would cause some spate of abortions as a form of contraception, Key then acknowledged that raising children is a pretty difficult thing to do, particularly if you are a solo mum. Reading between the lines, he seems to be arguing for abortion under socio-economic grounds! And while he doesn’t want to move the debate forward, he also doesn’t want to go backward: “And I suppose my only point would be if abortion laws went the other way you would without doubt have more young people having children and the question is would they be in the best situation to cope with that if by definition they’re saying at the moment they can’t”. And we all know the answer to this is no – women would not be in a better situation if they were forced to carry a pregnancy to term and raise a child they felt they were not able or capable of providing for.

Unfortunately that part of the interview ends on a sour note, with Key firmly supporting parental notification…

All in all, a mixed bag from our Prime Minister in terms of abortion law reform and trusting women.