Losing Our Religion

Losing Our Religion

by Craig Young

The Aotearoa/New Zealand anti-abortion movement still doesn’t get it. In the United States, there’s at least some semblance of ersatz pluralism, despite the fact that their movement is overwhelmingly dominated by conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants. There are self-labelled anti-abortion “agnostics and atheists”, pseudofeminists, LGBTQI+ gtroups, scientists, pagans, medical practitioners, ad nauseum. This adds some unconvincing garnishing to the US anti-abortion movement. Some anti-abortion Orthodox Jews and Muslims are also involved in both Britain and the United States.

But in Aotearoa/New Zealand? Their movement is oblivious to the need to look secular in the context of plummeting Christian religious observance. There is only one Maori figure, Hilary Kieft, in Taranaki and no Maori organisations listed in the anti-abortion March for Life’s list of endorsers, which seem to consist entirely of fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics- Couples for Christ, Family Life International NZ, Family First, Right to Life New Zealand, Voice for Life New Zealand, Jesus for NZ, Promise Keepers, John Paul II Centre for Life, NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, (fundamentalist) NZ Christian Network, and the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God. Notice something? Well, for starters, there are no mainline Protestants, no-one from other faith groups, no self-professed atheists or agnostics, no anti-abortion womens groups, and no medical or scientific organisations whatsoever. Proof, if anyone ever needed it, that the New Zealand/Aotearoa anti-abortion movement is almost wholly pakeha and conservative Christian. And they’re certainly not out there to win friends and influence people- Family First’s Bob McCoskrie dislikes progressive Christians, Voice for Life doesn’t even pretend to be politically nonpartisan anymore, and McCoskrie also thinks the anti-abortion movement needs more men.

We should be happy at this outcome. If they carry on this way, they will be unable to deal with either side of Aotearoa/New Zealand politics, with Labour and the Greens already uninclined to listen to them due to their blatant partisan bias and National and ACT trying to distance themselves from an unpopular extremist movement.  The New Conservatives, One Party and Vision New Zealand might make occasional anti-abortion noises, but they’re more obsessed with the anti-vaccination movement than with other fringe opponents of reproductive freedom and LGBTQI issues.

Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House

by Terry Bellamak

Back in May, when the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson was leaked by persons unknown, the world thought such treachery was unprecedented in US history. It turns out we were wrong.

The Rev Bob Schenck, a former anti-abortion leader turned whistle-blower, disclosed to Chief Justice Roberts (and now to the New York Times) that in 2014 Justice Alito leaked the results of the Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision to Schenck’s agents, whom he called “stealth missionaries.” The leak gave Schenck and other conservative parties with an interest in the decision a head start on their public relations work. 

This revelation throws unexpected light on the Dobbs leak. At the time, astute court watchers speculated radical conservatives on the court leaked the decision to lock in Chief Justice Roberts’s yes vote and to prevent his persuading other justices to water it down. 

The justice with the most to gain by such a move was Justice Alito himself, who wrote the decision. Given his alleged form in this area, he now appears to be the prime suspect in the May leak.

Both the leak and the Dobbs decision itself have brought the US Supreme Court into unprecedented disrepute. It has reinforced the prevailing perception of the court as a haven for partisan right-wing hackery. Even the lower courts have joined in the criticism, as did Judge Robert CI McBurney of the Superior Court of Fulton County in Georgia, in a pithy footnote to his decision in Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective v State of Georgia

Despite its frothy language disparaging the views espoused by previous Justices, the magic of Dobbs is not its special insight into historical “facts” or its monopoly on constitutional hermeneutics. It is simply numbers. More Justices today believe that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body than did in that same institution 50 years ago. This new majority has provided our nation with a revised (and controlling) interpretation of what the unchanged words of the U.S. Constitution really mean. And until that interpretation changes again, it is the law.

What can you do when an institution that has no effective oversight becomes politicised? And loses not only the appearance of impartiality, but the reality as well?

If Alito is the culprit, he might as well be on a mission to destroy the Roberts court, or even SCOTUS itself. He’s like an arsonist in a house made of straw.

 

ALRANZ President Dr Tracy Morison’s Speech on the presentation of Our Open Letter

ALRANZ President Dr Tracy Morison’s Speech on the presentation of Our Open Letter

Dr Morison was not able to be present to deliver her speech in person, so we present it now.

Kia ora koutou katoa,

Sometimes the unthinkable happens. You say to yourself, “This can’t be. Surely not. This could NEVER happen”. The morning I woke up to find out about the supreme court document leak and that Roe v Wade was in danger of being overturned, I thought “No. Surely not!” In such moments, there is a temptation to sit back and think “it will be OK. It won’t happen, that is unthinkable”. 

Why do I say unthinkable? Quite frankly because the overturning of Roe v Wade will invite tremendous suffering, and even deaths. Suffering for women who are unable to support a pregnancy for a range of reasons, especially for poor women, women of colour, and all those who struggle already to access sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US, including members of the rainbow community. 

We cannot sit back, close our eyes, and cross our fingers. We cannot wait and hope that good will prevail. The recent past has shown us that the unthinkable can and does happen—we need only look around at how climate disruption and COVID have changed our world. We know that sitting back and hoping does not change anything. So, today is about more than hopes and prayers. Today is about speaking out. Today, we join with countless others to implore the governments of the USA and Aotearoa New Zealand to act on the fundamental freedoms of women and other people who may experience pregnancies they cannot support. We urge them not to allow the overturning of Roe v Wade and to stop the injustice that will ripple out across the globe. 

On that note, I want to use this opportunity as a reminder that a large proportion of the world still does not allow abortion on request. And, even in countries that do, the right to abortion does not always translate into access or into access for all. We have watched as state-imposed restrictions on abortion care have proliferated over the years in the USA, rolling back access, and undoing decades of struggle. The US situation highlights how the “plethora of convoluted laws and restrictions surrounding abortion do not make any legal or public health sense” (Berer). This issue is primarily about power and control over women and other marginalised groups, and we must widen the focus as to consider WHY this may be happening in the US and in the rest of the world. 

The USA joins several other countries in rolling back access to abortion, most lately El Salvador and Poland.  We heard recently how in Poland, Ukrainian refugees who have been raped cannot access abortion services. What do such moves against bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom say about the place of women and other minority groups in society at this moment in history? And, importantly, how do we respond to what appears to be a global backlash against the gains made for reproductive rights? 

We are mistaken if we think that this is an isolated problem. The attack on Roe v Wade may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, however. If women’s rights and minority rights can be brazenly rescinded in a country that has long considered itself a beacon of democracy and a leader of the free world, what can this mean in other countries that consider themselves free and democratic? What can this mean in countries that don’t?

Some may accuse us of being alarmist, but history has shown us time and again that the unthinkable can and does happen. Having the U.S. follow the conservative trend of reducing abortion access is deeply worrying, because of the global influence that it enjoys. The USA is a powerhouse in the policy arena, as we have seen with the Global Gag Rule, an anti-abortion policy that risks the health and lives of millions around the world. The USA also powerfully shapes values and views across the globe. Could the US restriction on abortion rights embolden conservatives here in New Zealand, and in other countries? It’s unthinkable, but it’s not improbable. We have very recently seen the influence of conservative US faction to home. The recent “Freedom” convoy protests held at parliament buildings and beyond were fuelled by US-produced anti-vax sentiment and social media content and rife with pro-Trump and other right-wing US paraphernalia.

But this isn’t only a matter we should be worried about because of how it could impact our own country. As Audre Lourde, the mighty African American activist-scholar, famously declared: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” We, here in Aotearoa NZ today, enjoying our second year of abortion law reform, are not free. We are not free while our sisters and siblings in the USA face this egregious assault on their reproductive freedom. We are not free while places like Poland and El Salvador ban abortion. We are not free while abortion is still considered a crime in the UK and heavily restricted in much of Africa and South America. We are not free when women are promised reproductive freedoms by the Left hand and robbed of these by the Right. 

So today, we take note of the situation in the US as a call to action. We speak out, standing in solidarity with those who are unfree. We oppose the threat posed to United States citizens’ fundamental civil and human rights by those supporting the severe and unreasonable curtailment of access to abortion services. We call upon the United States government to protect the fundamental right to bodily autonomy by allowing anyone to end a pregnancy if they so wish. We call upon the government of Aotearoa New Zealand, to join us in condemning this attack on fundamental human rights.

Thank you to each and every person and organisation who stood in solidarity and signed our Open Letter, and to each and every one of you here in support today. Join us as we proceed to the US Embassy where we will hand over the letter urging action and providing some recommendations to the US government. 

We hope that you will continue to support us as we watch the situation in the US unfold and as we continue to advocate for reproductive rights here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and beyond. 

Alutua conitua – the struggle continues!

Book Review: The Lie That Binds

Book Review: The Lie That Binds

by Margaret Sparrow

All eyes are now on the US with the prospect that Roe.v. Wade will be overturned by a decision of the Supreme Court, 49 years after it was passed. How and why has this come about? 

This book is not the latest word on the topic but I found it when I was exploring what our American counterpart NARAL Pro Choice America has to say on the situation in the US. NARAL was formed in 1969 just two years before ALRANZ. Like us they have campaigned over the years for reproductive freedom. Ilyse Hogue was born in 1969 and served as President of NARAL for eight years from 2013-2021, retiring last year. 

Before she retired she put her thoughts into writing and together with NARAL researcher, Ellie Langford, published this book which I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to understand more about the Radical Right in America. It was written before the November election which saw President Trump defeated and is entirely devoted to understanding the strategies of the opposition.

The research is meticulous and one third comprises the 1,424 references to statements made. It is not an easy read and there are some typos but for those who don’t want to read a serious examination of the strategies employed by the Radical Right NARAL Pro Choice America has produced excellent podcasts, companions to the book, which bring the main characters to life with sound recordings of their most egregious pronouncements.

What is the Lie? The lie was perpetrated as far back as the 1950s by extreme right campaigners who purported to be concerned about abortion as a personal issue, a moral issue and to protect women, but whose intention was much wider -to maintain political control and power for white, racist, religious, sexist, misogynist, males, the “moral majority” upholding traditional family values, and opposed to women’s rights, ERA, pay equity, contraception, sex education and gay rights. In reality abortion was a Trojan horse, a means of bringing in ultra conservative policies, upholding the patriarchy, supporting religious fundamentalism and maintaining white supremacy.

The Lie that Binds traces the evolution of some of the most dangerous forces in U.S. politics, designed to thwart social progress in a changing world, and thereby threatening democracy — built around the foundational lie that it is all about moral convictions and individual pregnancies. The extent of deliberate misinformation and outright lies is astonishing. When focusing on women became problematic (that is losing women’s votes) the strategy changed to focusing on the fetus.

When Roe v. Wade was introduced abortion received equal support from Democrats and Republicans. The book traces the capture of Republicans and most recently Trump by the religious right. It is realistic. It will take a long time for the stacked Supreme Court to change but judges don’t live in a vacuum and public opinion is important. There is hope for the future in the knowledge that for many years surveys have consistently showed that the majority of the American public support access to legal abortion. Currently it is about 77%.

What lessons can we learn for New Zealand.

We must be vigilant. We must call out misinformation when it surfaces, and keep on campaigning for reproductive justice, reproductive rights and reproductive freedoms. We must focus on health issues -health care delivered with dignity and compassion. These strategies will keep us on the right path to reducing stigma and inequity 

Watch What They Do

Watch What They Do

by Terry Bellamak

This week in the USA, someone leaked a Supreme Court majority decision that reverses Roe v Wade, the decision that establishes a constitutional right to an abortion. Now Americans are incandescent with outrage at the dumpster fire their democracy has become. When we consider our happy, sensible little country in comparison, Kiwis might be feeling a bit smug.

We shouldn’t.

We legalised abortion only two short years ago. By now the law change has the feel of inevitability that Roe used to have. But it almost didn’t happen.

If Winston Peters had buried the hatchet with National instead of in it, Bill English would have remained Prime Minister. He would not have lifted a finger to advance abortion law reform – he would have moved heaven and earth to prevent it. We would still be lying to certifying consultants, saying that we were mentally disturbed to get their discretionary approval to end unwanted pregnancies.

Who is in power makes a huge difference to fundamental human rights. Every country on this planet is just a few bad politicians away from disaster.

Just ask Poland. It used to have fairly liberal abortion laws, but their unpopular right-wing government instituted a draconian abortion ban that has left doctors afraid to abort dying fetuses that are killing the person carrying them. People have died.

Even the support of large majorities doesn’t help. A large majority of New Zealanders favour abortion rights. The National Council of Women’s Gender Equality Survey found 74% of New Zealanders support the right to choose abortion. But that is no guarantee. Abortion rights are popular in the USA too – 70% say abortion should be between pregnant people and their doctors. 

People in the US thought their right to abortion was secure, but they were wrong. New Zealand must not fall into the same complacency.

You might say we are safe because opposition to abortion is driven by religious extremists in the USA, and we don’t have nearly as many here. 

I would submit religion is not so much the issue as authoritarianism, and we have more of those than we thought, as the occupation of Parliament demonstrated. We also have some former and current MPs who were willing to pander to the occupiers. 

Losing fundamental human rights is the last step in a long series of steps. The early steps barely register – we are halfway to the end before we realise we are going somewhere. 

Maintaining our reproductive freedom requires vigilance in the face of the media and politicians telling you not to be paranoid, those red flags are just decoration.

What would an erosion of abortion rights look like here? No one knows for sure.

It could start with a government hostile to reproductive rights quietly under-resourcing abortion care. Or perhaps encouraging the placement of anti-choice people in the health care system’s upper management, where they could undermine provision in quiet ways, like moving the abortion service to a different building which would require the service to request a new safe area. The service would be unprotected for the 3 – 6 months it would take to create and approve another safe area.

It could move on to nibbling away at the edges of abortion rights, perhaps starting with the least popular or most controversial. Perhaps ending telemedicine abortions. Perhaps reinstating the rule that the second set of medicines must be taken at the service, which requires another trip to the service. 

Always quietly, with as little fanfare as possible so that few people notice. They will always make the change sound reasonable, and promise nothing else will change and abortion rights are safe. Just like in the USA.

This is why we need to pay attention to the political class. When the leader of the opposition, Christopher Luxon, says abortion rights would be safe under a National-led government because deputy leader Nicola Willis is pro-choice – even though he considers abortion tantamount to murder, that’s a red flag. Don’t listen to what they say – watch what they do.

Now that we have abortion law reform, we need to make sure we keep it.