By Dr. Morgan Healey, President ALRANZ
Note: Alranz exec members wrote two op-eds that were submitted to The New Zealand Herald (APN) and The Waikato Times (Fairfax) on 8 June, two days after the Green’s policy was announced. They weren’t published so we thought we’d reproduce them here. This is the first, by Morgan Healey, submitted to the Herald. We will post the second in a few days.)
The Green Party last week became the first political party in Aotearoa New Zealand to set formal policy on abortion. With the ratification of their women’s health policy, the Greens took a momentous step forward in the fight for abortion law reform; something organisations like the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) have been advocating for since 1971. Despite what anti-abortion groups have said, this is not a radical or extreme policy. It actually places abortion within the continuum of sexual and reproductive health care – asserting what most of us already know – abortion is a necessary medical service that does not need to be regulated by archaic, confusing or harmful laws that restrict access and limit bodily autonomy. The Greens’ spokesperson on the policy, MP Jan Logie, was unambiguous in her statement about this: abortion is not a crime, so let’s stop treating it as such!
While this policy does not change the current criminalisation of abortion, it is important for two reasons: it makes abortion a topic for discussion in an election year, and it sends the message that women must be trusted to make their own reproductive decisions.
Talking about abortion in an election year is a brave step and one I applaud the Greens for taking. I know it would have been just as easy to wait and release the policy after the election or not bother to talk about abortion at all (which seems to be the political default), but they didn’t. This sends a clear signal not just to the electorate but also to the other parties: women’s autonomy and rights should not be ignored for political gain. We haven’t seen this type of political commitment to reproductive justice since then Labour MP Steve Chadwick tried to tackle abortion in 2010, and was subsequently punished for her bold efforts.
I recognize that abortion is not going to be the defining issue of this election. ALRANZ is a non-partisan organisation, and as such hopes Labour, National, New Zealand First, Māori and Internet/Mana sit up and take notice of the Greens’ action; not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it also contests the ‘scariness’ of abortion as a political issue. If the Greens’ policy can begin to normalise abortion as topic for discussion, then this is indeed a win for the pro-choice movement.
And this leads into the second reason the Greens’ policy is so important – taking the exceptional out of abortion and attempting to destigmatise it. On average, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. In 2012, 14, 745 women had an abortion in Aotearoa. I doubt any of these women planned to have an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, but for whatever reason they made the best choice for themselves in that moment. Whether or not they realized it, their actions were governed by the Crimes Act, their decision was not their own, but sanctioned by two certifying consultants; and 98% of them were deemed mentally at risk in order to meet the restrictive grounds for an abortion. The only thing exceptional about New Zealand’s abortions laws is how unacceptable they are, and that in 2014 women continue to be treated as second-class citizens. What is even more appalling is that in general politicians have allowed this to happen.
The Greens have challenged this reality, asserting it is time to trust pregnant people to make decisions about their reproduction. To quote Logie,
“…it is time that abortion is removed from the Crimes Act, and brought out from that shadow of judgment and mistrust of women, because ultimately it is a health issue.”
For far too long politicians have been able to remain silent on abortion. I am hopeful that this new policy will encourage and enable other political parties to step out of shadows of anti-choice intimidation and fear mongering. The pregnant people of this country deserve more than fragmented and criminalised reproductive health care. The electorate of this country can help to change this – ask your local candidate or political party about abortion this election year. Make sure politicians know that the continued criminalization of abortion is not acceptable and it is time for law reform.
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