Thursday, 22 July 2010

Another myth about abortion

One of the ideas that permeates the abortion debate in so many ways is that supporting abortion rights is a minority position.

You see this partly in the idea that the law is cucrently 'outdated' (which is common even among those trying to change the law) as if it reflected it's time. Chris Trotter also strongly implied it - with the idea that hundreds of thousands of decent well-meaning people were behind the law as it stands now.

This is untrue - the current abortion law was wildly unpopular when it passed. 318,820 voting aged people signed the REPEAL petition (much like it sounded a petition to repeal the restrictive abortion laws) in 13 weeks. When you think about how many CIR have struggled to get that number of signatures - let alone that percentage of the population, you will understand it was a staggeringly unpopular law.

In this thread (warning the original post makes Chris Trotter look like a hardcore supporter of a woman's right to choose) the idea that abortion is a minority position bandied about by both supporters and opponents of law change.

Gaging public opinion on abortion is always difficult - the way the questions are worded makes a huge different to the way people answer them. But support for women having access to abortion is solid, and support for denying access to abortion is not.

More importantly in the 1970s public opinion on abortion swung very quickly. There are probably many reasons for this, but the most important is that women were speaking openly about their experiences of having an abortion and claimed abortion as a right - this position quickly resonated with people.

Those who support a woman's right to choose are not a minority, and the best way to build our movement is to make sure we don't act like one.


ms p said...

Ughh ... that post was awful and the use of non-medical pro-life euphemisms for late abortions really highlighted what crap it was.

Chris Trotter said...

I well remember the "Repeal" petition, Maia, because, of course, I signed it (in fact, I'm pretty sure my old campaign lapel button is still around the house somewhere).

It's important to register, however, just how polarised New Zealand society had become in the 1970s over these sorts of issues.

The minority which supported a woman's right to choose was extremely motivated and well organised - which explains its ability to secure the signatures of 300,000+ people in 13 weeks.

This does not mean, however, that support for abortion law reform was overwhelming outside the relatively small community of progressive New Zealanders who vehemently supported not only AWRTC but many other far-from-popular 1970s causes - like the anti-Apartheid movement and gay rights.

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't claim that the opponents of Fran Wilde's Homosexual Law Reform Bill, who secured upwards of 800,000 signatures on their petition in the mid-1980s accurately reflected the balance of opposition versus support at that time?

Once again, it was a case of the powerfully motivated being able to "get out the vote" more easily than the representatives of those whose minds were still in the process of being made up.

The true measure of the political exhaustion of the parliamentary partisans on both sides of the abortion debate is that since the passage of the CS&A Act neither of the major political parties (and very few, if any, of the minor ones) has been willing to risk a full-scale re-ignition of the debate.

And the reason for their reticence is the very obvious absence of any mass movement within civil society demanding its re-opening.

If those in support of Steve's PMB can put 40,000 people on the street (as Forest & Bird and Greenpeace did over the mining issue) then, rest assured, parliamentary interest will be rekindled in no time at all.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we petition then? Has anyone organised a petition in support of NZ abortion law reform? Of Steve Chadwick's bill? I would sign it. Hell I'd stand on the street and get people to sign it.

big news said...

In terms of support of abortion laws - Steve Chadwick has confirmed that there is no parliamentary support for her bill.
So why would she introduce it?

I.M Fletcher said...

I don't have the stats for New Zealand, but in a Gallup poll in the USA, 47% call themselves pro-life, while slightly less at 45% call themselves pro-choice.

As far as the question of morality, 50% in the poll say abortion is morally wrong (down slightly from 56% last year), and 38% say it is morally OK.

Would the results of a poll in NZ be hugely different?

I.M Fletcher said...

Opps, forgot that Gallup LINK sorry.

Trouble said...

The US is hard to compare with any other western countries on this front. It's a lot more religious, for one thing, and has on one hand a vocal and militant pro-life movement, and on the other, a big demand for abortion services. According to the Guttmacher Institute more than a third of American women will have had an abortion by the time they're 45.

Whether something is moral or immoral is irrelevant to law reform. Most people would agree that adultery is immoral, but few would say it should be illegal.

katy said...

Yes, the US is getting more conservative on abortion; Obama is as at the very edges of pro-choice. Which is why the debate is still relevant.

Madeleine said...

Abortion is homicide, whether it is justifiable or not is the question. Sleights of hand, rhetoric and slogans have no placed in this debate.

Answer the issues, a good place to start is here.

Sick of this rubbish said...

"Sleights of hand, rhetoric and slogans have no placed in this debate."

- Funny your blog is full of all three.

Just as you believe your God is the right one - no exceptions - you believe abortion is homicide - no exceptions. You've made your position more than clear - Nobody can convince you that you're beliefs are different to others and not right according to the beliefs of others. So what's the point in engaging with you?

Pro choice women are murderers and abortion is homicide and the death of women is justifiable. The end. Why debate further?

The problem (for you) is that you're going to realise when this law passes that your views are a minority. And no amount of opinion dressed up as fact statements by you are going to change that. So umm sorry!

Anonymous said...

Also why come to this blog and tell people to "start" at your blog when all you want to do is bait and attack pro-choice women. Why don't you "start" here and actually argue your points. Or are you just a wee bit scared that you can't handle a proper debate without your God bothering buddies?

Trouble said...

Anon - I'd be pretty happy if Madeleine left her theology at her place. She's entitled to her view, she's just not entitled to enforce it on anyone else.

Maia said...

Madeline - your post is off-topic. This is not a post about the morality of abortion. Please everyone else don't feed the troll.

Chris Trotter - now you're moving the goal posts - there is quite a difference between able to mobilise 40,000 people and 'not a minority'. What I am arguing is a lot of people have implied that the abortion laws reflected public opinion at the time, which is wrong. Others have implied that abortion law reform is somehow similar to the repeal of section 59, the abolition of hte death penalty - and is travelling ahead of public opinion - which is also wrong.

Any argument I would make about public opinion and homosexual law reform, would be based on history, rather than unfounded claims. And I haven't done enough research to state what public opinion was prior to the homosexual law reform bill passing.

I am aware, as anyone who follows abortion politics would be - that even MPs who claim to support a women's right to choose are afraid to do anythign about it. But I don't see that as an indication of hte true political situation, but the cravenness of MPs.

Anonymous - I don't think the petition was a particularly effective tactic in that case.

I keep hearing these rumours that the bill won't be going forward - can anyone confirm or deny that.

Because either way it's time to organise.

I.M Fletcher said...

Interestingly, the original feminists were overwhelmingly pro-life, including -

Jane Addams, 1860-1935; Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888; Susan B. Anthony, 1820-1906; Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821-1910; Pearl S. Buck, 1892-1973; Dorothy Day; Matilda Joslyn Gage, 1826-1898; Angelina Weld Grimke, 1880-1958; Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977; Dr. Charlotte Denman Lozier, 1844-1870; Sarah F. Norton; Breda O'Brien 1962-; Graciela Olivarez, 1928-1987; Alice Stokes Paul, 1885-1977 ; Susan LaFlesche Picotte, 1865-1915; Cicely Saunders, 1918-2005; Dr. Juliet Stillman Severance; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902; Lois Weber 1879-1939; Frances Willard, 1839-1898; Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

I.M Fletcher said...

Some quotes from the original feminists.

Susan B. Anthony

In her publication The Revolution, was written:
"Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; But oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!"
Abortion was referred to as "child murder."

The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869
"We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil...It is practiced by those whose inmost souls revolt from the dreadful deed."

The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869
"All the articles on this subject that I have read have been from men. They denounce women as alone guilty, and never include man in any plans for the remedy."

The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

She classified abortion as a form of "infanticide." The Revolution, 1(5):1, February 5, 1868

"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."
Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873, recorded in Howe's diary at Harvard University Library

"There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as this. But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?"
The Revolution, 1(10):146-7 March 12, 1868

Emma Goldman

"The custom of procuring abortions has reached such appalling proportions in America as to be beyond belief...So great is the misery of the working classes that seventeen abortions are committed in every one hundred pregnancies."
Mother Earth, 1911

Mattie Brinkerhoff

"When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society - so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged."
The Revolution, 4(9):138-9 September 2, 1869

Victoria Woodhull

The first female presidential candidate was a strong opponent of abortion.
"The rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the foetus."
Woodhull's and Claflin's Weekly 2(6):4 December 24, 1870

"Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth."
Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875

I.M Fletcher said...

More quotes from original feminists -

Sarah Norton

"Child murderers practice their profession without let or hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned...Is there no remedy for all this ante-natal child murder?...Perhaps there will come a time unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood...and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with."
Woodhull's and Claffin's Weekly, November 19, 1870

Mary Wollstonecraft

As early as 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," which Susan B. Anthony admired enough to serialize in The Revolution. After decrying, in scathing 18th century terms, the sexual exploitation of women, she said:
"Women becoming, consequently, weaker...than they ought to be...have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother; and sacrificing to lasciviousness the parental affection...either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast if off when born. Nature in every thing demands respect, and those who violate her laws seldom violate them with impunity."

Matilda Gage

"[This] subject lies deeper down in woman's wrongs than any other...I hesitate not to assert that most of [the responsibility for] this crime lies at the door of the male sex."
The Revolution, 1(14):215-6 April 9, 1868

Alice Paul

The author of the original Equal Rights Amendment (1923) opposed the later trend of linking the E.R.A. with abortion. A colleague recalls her saying:
"Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women."

Julie said...

"Interestingly, the original feminists were overwhelmingly pro-life," said I.M Fletcher. So feminism isn't allowed to change since the 1800s? Feminism is a broad church, which is one of the frequent themes on this blog, or do you only read the abortion posts, to get your blood pressure up?

I'd point out that we seem to be getting a signficant influx of comments from pro-lifers, in a way that to me is starting to look coordinated. In a "let's keep 'em busy" kind of a way. There's absolutely no need to write three huge comments in a row when you have your own blog and could put it all up there then link to it. Unless your purpose is to intimidate and exhaust your opposition of course, which it's starting to look like to me.

Mikaere Curtis said...


Awesome, thanks for that. Now we don't need to think for ourselves. And, conveniently, we can ignore all research, progress, and cultural change since these women made their assertions.

And what of the contemporaneous women who did choose to have abortions ? What if I decided that they were feminists by dint of their actions (self-agency etc), would you accept that as a pro-choice argument ? Or do their words have to be written for them to qualify as feminists ?

A Nonny Moose said...

I'm with Julie. Stop derailing a debate by throwing up 101 arguments. We're way post those goal posts. Abortion is a reality, deal with it on your own time.

The assertation of THIS debate is that abortion is being posited as a "minority" position. I don't see half the population as a "minority".

Heck, why does a "minority" have to give way to the "majority". Why the hell can't we just have the RIGHT law in place so that EVERYONE has a choice what to do with their bodily autonomy.

If you don't want an abortion, don't get one.

Anonymous said...

A Nonny

There's a name for a political situation where having the RIGHT (sic) law is prioritised over having the law the majority wants. The name isn't 'democracy'.

Boganette said...

What Julie and Mikaere and A Nonny Moose said! Seconded! A thousand times.

And anon above - come on! I bet you're secretly ashamed of putting down such a pathetic comment. You really must try harder son.

A Nonny Moose said...

Anon, I guess you missed one of the basic tenets of democracy - freedom of choice.

And stop derailing AGAIN. Get back to debating what THIS topic is about - the unsubstantiated claim that this is a minority position. If you're not going to contribute in a non-troll way, get the hell out of thread.

Anonymous said...

A Nonny I agree that one of the tenets of democracy is that individuals are allowed to take actions that disagree with the majority's position if the decisions only affect themselves. But the question of which decisions affect the self and which don't depends on where you interpret the self as beginning and ending. That's essentially where the disagreement in the abortion debate begins and ends. So while to you this might be the right policy, to others - potentially the majority - it's not.

As to where majority support lies on the abortion issue now, let alone in the 1970s, who knows? I'd be confident saying there's probably more support for more abortion rights now than there were back then, but other than that, I think we're really stargazing.

But if there's majority or minority support is, actually, I think a 'derail' from the issue as a whole. Maia has clearly stated that she feels the law should allow abortion right up until birth - a position which I think we can agree there probably isn't majority support for. So I'm confused as to why she feels the need to debate whether or not Chadwick's bill has majority support.

Anonymous said...

More proof reform is desperately needed:

Women feel wait for abortion too long

Women are waiting nearly a month on average to get an abortion - and they feel that is too long, research by Auckland University has found.

The study, published in the journal Reproductive Health, looked at the timeliness of services provided by nine New Zealand clinics.

More than half of women at the clinics were having abortions in or after their 10th week of pregnancy, with an average wait of 25 days after seeing their referring doctor.

Lead researcher Martha Silva said abortion was a safe procedure but the risk of complications increased with gestational age.

Clinics and referring doctors needed to make an effort to reduce waiting times, she said.