The Right to Choose is not Enough: A Cautionary Tale

The Right to Choose is not Enough: A Cautionary Tale

by Tracy Morison

Abortion on request has been legal for more than 25 years in South Africa. Yet, despite the country’s highly liberal laws, every year pregnant women die needlessly due to complications from unsafe, illegal abortions. These deaths make up about a quarter of the official avoidable pregnancy-related deaths counted by the Government, and they have increased in the last decade. Unfortunately, it is quite likely that some deaths related to unsafe, illegal abortion go unreported, so the number could be higher. Official estimates suggest that more than half of all abortions are informal, illegal and unsafe.

 Abortion stigma is a major barrier to access. Public sector nurses frequently chastise patients seeking an abortion rather than giving birth or for ‘using abortion as contraception’, or publicly humiliate them, or disregard their privacy and confidentiality. Some women would rather risk using a private but illegal service than become a social pariah among their communities or families, especially if they are young. 

“The underlying causes of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion today are not blood loss and infection but, rather, apathy and disdain toward women” 

(Grimes et al 2006, The Lancet).

Worse, the facilities that are supposed to offer services just don’t. Sometimes this is because no one is willing to offer services. As conscientious objectors they don’t have to. Sometimes there is a lack of political will to provide the support needed to keep a controversial healthcare service running, at the risk of alienating conservative voters.

At last count less than half of the clinics the government says should be available actually are. Some are under-resourced and some cannot find staff who do not conscientiously object. Clinics that are open are overburdened. A recent news article reported that pregnant women had to queue overnight at one clinic. Many people  simply don’t have the time, money, or freedom to travel to get public care or to access private care. Their only option then becomes an illegal abortion, which is sadly far more accessible. South African activists say that this situation is maintained by a conspiracy of silence.

The point of the story is this: the right to choose alone is not enough. They remain words on paper if they cannot be exercised.

The point of the story is this: the right to choose alone is not enough. They are just empty words on paper if the right cannot be exercised. The government must be held accountable for maintaining a system that supports people’s ability to exercise their rights and make choices about their reproductive lives.

So far, in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have seen some promise of this in the development of the new Telehealth Abortion service, DECIDE, which will increase access to care by allowing early medical abortion at home. Also promising is the strong cross-party support shown in the passage of the safe areas Bill—which will regulate harassment and intimidation of people accessing and delivering abortion care.

The right to abortion as healthcare was a hard-won right and one that cannot be taken for granted. It is imperative that services are literally, and not just theoretically, accessible; that service standards are upheld, offering patient-centred care; and that the rights of those who object to abortion do not trump the rights of others who choose it. It is up to us to speak up if something is not right or to report problems and concerns. It is up to us to ensure that we do not become part of a conspiracy of silence that makes our right to choose meaningless.

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 There are only data collected on cisgender women at present.

 

Abortion Access Goes Back to Court

By Alison M

(Cross-posted from The Hand Mirror)

What if you had a way of providing an essential medical service that was safer, cheaper, less traumatic for patients, and meant they didn’t have to travel more than an hour each way to access it? Well, if it was for anything other than abortion, you’d be its champion. But this is abortion, and now the pioneering Tauranga Family Planning clinic, which has been providing early medication abortions in the Bay of Plenty since 2013, is under threat by anti-abortion court action that could worsen New Zealand’s already poor record on abortion access.

The court action by the Catholic anti-choice group Right to Life is a direct result of our now 38-year-old abortion laws, which criminalise abortion and continue to block the use of newer and better ways of providing it. And it’s not the first time our backward laws have been recruited for the purpose of banning or restricting abortion access. A 7-year case by the same group seeking to wind back access went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 2012 Right to Life lost by a frighteningly narrow 2-3 ruling. The fact that abortion access in New Zealand was one justice away from being severely restricted in 2012 should have been a wake-up call that our criminalised abortion laws need urgent change. But, again, this is abortion and if there’s one thing (almost) all politicians agree on, it’s that they’d rather do nothing than wade into a debate about reproductive justice.

So nothing happened, and so here we are again, with abortion access back in the dock. The implications of this case are significant (more on that below), and underscore the urgent need for supporters of reproductive choice and access to press politicians to take action to give our fragile abortion access a secure foundation.

MPs have been on notice for decades that our laws are barely able to function: the Abortion Supervisory Committee has said so, the courts have said so, even the United Nations has said so. And still there is silence. To quote Prime Minister John Key during the 2014 election campaign: “I’m opposed to changing the law … I think the law broadly works.” And that’s been the standard line from the abortion liberals in Parliament for decades now – apart, that is, from a few stand-outs in the Green Party, which became the first-ever major party to adopt a pro-choice platform in 2014, some impressive Young Labour activism and a bold stand in 2010 by former Labour MP Steve Chadwick.

Importing U.S.-Style TRAP Laws

The new case at hand was publicly announced on Sunday, when Right to Life said it was headed to the High Court to challenge the Abortion Supervisory Committee over granting a licence to Family Planning to provide early medication abortions at its Tauranga clinic. (Family Planning is only an “interested party” in this case, and it will be the Crown Law Office that plays defence.)

Though we haven’t yet seen Right to Life’s formal arguments, the media release and RTL’s previous posts about the Tauranga clinic indicate this effort is straight from the American TRAP law playbook (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). In this case, RTL plans to argue that our law requires any institution providing abortion have “adequate surgical and other facilities” for the performance of safe abortions. As even RTL acknowledges, when the 1977 Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act was enacted, there were no medical abortions. Since Family Planning’s Tauranga clinic isn’t a hospital or a surgical facility, I’m assuming RTL will claim it doesn’t have the “adequate surgical and other facilities” needed to hold an abortion licence under the law so the ASC shouldn’t have given it one. (A hearing will take place at the High Court in Wellington on 2 June starting at 10 a.m. According to the court, it should be open to the public.)

It’s important to explain a bit about what early medication abortion is. At the Tauranga clinic, medication abortions are available only up until 9 weeks of pregnancy (63 days), and involve bringing on a miscarriage using two medications usually taken 48 hours apart, Mifegyne or Mifepristone (formerly known as RU486) and Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec). You can read more here from Family Planning itself about what an early medication abortion entails. It’s also worth a reminder that people seeking abortions in the Bay of Plenty – as elsewhere – muststill meet the requirements of our criminal statutes: Before you can get an abortion, two doctors (certifying consultants) must agree that your case meets one of the half dozen criteria listed in the Crimes Act.

(more…)

Media Release: 2015 Prochoice Gathering

ABORTION LAW REFORM ASSOCIATION OF NEW ZEALAND

MEDIA RELEASE   22 February 2015                                                                         FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALRANZ to Host 21-22 March Pro-Choice Gathering in Wellington

 The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) announced today it would be holding a pro-choice gathering on Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22, in Wellington. The gathering will cover a range of topics relating to the politics of abortion while providing an opportunity for pro-choice activists to come together and share ideas.

ALRANZ President, Dr Morgan Healey, said, “ALRANZ helped to organise a similar event in 2011, which was a great occasion for awareness raising and networking, so we thought it was time to hold another one. The event will provide a chance for anyone interested in abortion – from service delivery to law reform – to listen to amazing speakers, engage with like-minded people and to have a bit of fun”.

Organisers are still finalising the schedule of sessions and speakers. However, several experts and activists in the field have already been confirmed.

“ALRANZ is really honoured to have confirmed some fantastic speakers, including Marama Davidson, Gill Greer, Dr Simon Snook and Jackie Edmond, to name just a few. We really hope people will consider joining us in the conversation and brain-storm about where we can take the movement over the next few years,” Healey said.

ALRANZ encourages people to register for the event by 8 March. People interested in attending are asked to pay as much as they feel this opportunity it worth to them.

“We encourage people to spread the word. Anyone interested in abortion or reproductive health is welcome to attend. Given the sensitivity of the topics open for discussion, the organisers will be looking to create a safe space for respectful, non-judgmental and thoughtful discussion. We ask all attendees to bear this in mind, ” Healey said.

For more details on the event and how to register, visit:

https://alranz.wordpress.com/gathering-2015/

Contact:

021-082-76474

info@alranz.org

ENDS