Monday, 21 November 2011

An Idiosyncratic guide for voting for abortion law reform this election: Part 1 Party Vote

Voting for abortion law reform* is notoriously hard in New Zealand.  In 1978, after parliament passed our current laws – Eric Geireinger wrote an entire book on how to vote for abortion law reform (and the effort generally failed).  In desperation some women suggested ‘Vote prohibition for repeal’ – so there’s this very weird increase in the vote about whether alcohol should be banned in 1978.

It is impossible to vote on a principled basis on abortion – because no party has solid policy on the issue.  The Greens do have some sort of policy, but it does not promise abortion law reform, and other parties just say ‘it’s a conscience vote’.  On top of this most politicians’ strongest view about abortion is “DON’T MAKE ME TALK ABOUT IT”.  So finding out what various candidates’ views are is a combination of taking opportunities to ask questions, gossip, and instinct.

More than that - voting won’t get us abortion law reform.  That will only come about if we educate, agitate, and organise - force MPs’ hands. 

However, I think it’s worth talking about the different parties and some electorate races.  Mostly because it allows for complicated nerdy calculations (I have made spreadsheets to assist me with this post).  There are other places with great information ALRANZ have a blog post discussing the campaign, they also have party guide and a record of how MPs have voted.  Although the voting records need to be read with a careful eye of the history of the votes. Tertiary Women's Focus Group include abortion in their voting guide. There's also Family First's guide which I find amusing.

The second part of this post will be about electorate seats and is considerably more idiosyncratic than this first part, which just runs down the parties. I’ll mostly be talking about MPs who stand out from what is usual in their parties, known supporters of abortion law reform in right wing parties and known opponents in left wing parties (while people’s position on abortion doesn’t shake down along party lines exactly – what is normal within a party does).  But I will also be talking about advocates – mostly on our side who we have reason to believe will actively advocate for abortion law reform.  But I’ll also talk about the leaders of the reactionaries as well. 

I have also focused on the candidates on the cusp of being elected.  Paul Hutchinson from National is the only member of National's caucus to vote against Judith Collins bill for parental notification but he’s number 26 on National’s list and has a seat so he’s going to get elected whatever happens.  Likewise we can’t do much about Clayton Cosgrove, who is anti-abortion, and at number 8 on Labour’s list.

Note: All calculations in this post are based on the assumption that no seats change party and the figures are based on the Curia poll of polls. These are unlikely to pan out exactly.  So it’s probably wise not to be too tactical with your vote

The predominant view in Labour is that abortion law reform in theory (practice is another matter), but that doesn’t mean that we can safely assume any individual Labour MP or candidate supports abortion law reform.  There are definite anti-abortion voices in the party, and unless they’ve been in parliament long enough to have their position on record – or are as vocal as Lesley Soper down in Invercargill – we won’t know who they are.

However, Steve Chadwick is the strongest advocate for abortion law reform currently in parliament.  She is number 34 on the Labour party list, and Kate Sutton, who should be pretty strong on this issue, is number 35.  On current polling neither of them will get in – but it is close.

If Labour rises a little in the polls (or stops sinking) a vote for Labour could be bringing in Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  If the polls continue to sink then it’ll be about bringing in Rick Barker, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Stuart Nash, Michael Wood, or Phil Twyford.  Rick Barker spoke reasonably well to oppose Judith Collins parental notification bill, so can probably be relied upon; the others appear to have avoided making any public record of their position on abortion (although I think this post demonstrates the priority Phil Twyford gives to abortion).

A record of anti-abortion labour MPs and candidates would be useful, but unfortunately the DON’T TALK ABOUT IT desire is strong, and the recent voting record is not necessarily a reliable indicator.  Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove are the two labour MPs that I know are anti-abortion – if people know of others share them in the comments.

The other, equally important and far less accessible information, is who was it who refused to let Steve Chadwick’s bill go forward.

The Greens have policy on abortion – but not policy for abortion law reform.  And that’s not an accident – people are holding that policy up because they are anti-abortion.  I don’t know who that is – I’m not inside the Greens, but I think it’s important to understand that there must be some anti-abortion advocates in there somewhere for the policy not to have got further.

Both Holly Walker and Jan Logie appeared interested in being advocates for abortion law reform at Ladies in the House.  And while you can’t necessarily expect MPs to act based on what they said as candidates to the most sympathetic audience in the country, it’s better than most candidates (another advocate at Ladies in the House was Jordan Carter who is number 40 on the Labour list and unlikely to get in on election night, but may well come in mid-term).  Jan Logie is 9 on the list and currently looking pretty certain, while Holly Walker is 12 and in on current polling – but the Greens have a history of shedding several seats between polling and election day.

The views of other Green candidates on the cusp would be pretty useful to know, but I don’t know them.  I’ve no idea about Steffan Browning, Denise Roche, Julie Genter and Mojo Mathers.  James Shaw who is number 15 supports abortion law reform – my aim is to ensure that at least the Wellington Central candidates don’t get to hide their views.

I actually think Mana is the best bet for ensuring no-one in caucus in opposes abortion law reform.  But that’s mostly based on instinct (and the fact they won’t get many MPs – I certainly wouldn’t begin to guess the position of anyone past Sue Bradford). However, there is no-one who stands out as an abortion law reform advocate in Mana. Mana don’t have policy at the moment, but have said that it will be set by Mana Wahine (and I’d expect that group to come up with good policy).  Getting that position out of Mana took quite a lot of work

I do think it’s to Hone’s credit that he answered Family First’s survey and indicated where he stood on abortion. I find the arrogance of people who want to be representatives, but refuse to say where they stand on issues repulsive and offensive.

Maori Party
The Maori party have taken consistently reactionary positions about abortion.  While I’ve no idea of the position of Waihoroi Shortland or Kaapua Smith (the first two people on the Maori party list) without any indication otherwise it’s probably safest to assume they will not support abortion law reform (and anyway the Maori party are very unlikely to get any list MPs so there’s not much point giving them your list vote – even if you support their actions over the last three years).

National are actually going to get very few list MPs, because they win the vast majority of the electorate seats.  However, any known abortion law reform voices within National would be valuable. Two that I know of are Paul Foster-Bell, who is 56 on the National list and Jackie Blue, who is 46 – and because of the way the electorate seats shake down there’s only 2 actual list places between them. At current polling they are both in, and Claudette Hauiti, Joanne Hayes, Leonie Hapeta, are on the border line. Their opinions are unknown, but people going to electorate meetings in Mangere, Dunedin South, Palmerston North and Wigram could usefully ask.

If polling does slip then voting National will be more likely to bring in Paul Foster-Bell and Jackie Blue.  But then if it slips a bit further (or National does very well in marginals) then Tau Henare number 40 on the list and 57th in if no electorate seats change hands, is probably in trouble.  This would be a very good thing, because he is an extreme reactionary.  However, there are many hazards in the National party when it comes to Abortion Law Reform, starting at number 2.

Fun fact, in 2002, before he was even an MP I wrote to John Key the candidate and asked him where he stood on abortion.  He replied with one of the clearest statements that abortion law should be based the right of the pregnant person to control their body that I received from anyone (I didn’t receive many responses).  Make of that what you will.

To the surprise of no-one ACT’s supposed liberalism is optional when it comes to women.  John Banks is an absolute reactionary.  The only person he is likely to bring in is Don Brash – who doesn’t seem to know what he thinks about abortion (see the family first site I will give ACT candidates some credit for sharing their opinions).

New Zealand First, Conservative Party and United Future must all be considered anti-abortion parties based on their history and their leaders’ positions.

Abortion isn’t the only consideration about how I’m going to party vote – and I’m pretty intense about the issue – so I don’t think it’ll be the only consideration of many readers.  But I think information about who is on the cut off, and their position on abortion can be useful for people who are choosing between parties (which again I’m not).

If you’re choosing between Labour and the Greens, for example, figuring out which vote is more likely to bring in advocates based on polling would be useful.  On the other hand if you’re choosing between National and ACT, figuring out whether you’re bringing in unknowns, vague supporters of abortion law reform or arch reactionaries by voting National is probably relevant – voting for ACT almost certainly brings in someone who doesn’t know what he thinks about abortion (if it brings in anyone).

There are big gaps in this post – a lot of people on the cusp whose views on abortion are a big black hole.  So if you’re at an electorate meeting, or someone wants to shake your hand or kiss your baby, then ask them where they stand and share it in the comments.

But to return to a theme – the sorry state of the information really does demonstrate that it won’t be by voting that we’ll bring about abortion law reform. 

* I have deliberately avoided using the term ‘pro-choice’ in this post.  I believe to support the right of women (and all pregnant people) to choose, you must also support the right to have children. 


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the value of taking opportunities to ask candidates their stances on abortion law reform, however as we realised at Ladies in the House, the occasional candidate will say different things to different audiences. Evidently if you’re really interested in a candidate you have to research their continuity (kudos to you for what appears to be a consistent history of doing that!) however it’s been a learning curve for me.

Ben Craven’s vaguely pro but mostly incomprehensible stance on abortion law reform (with caveats around termination for foetal abnormalities) at Ladies in the House is starkly different to his Family First survey answers here If one of our attendees hadn’t gone hunting after the forum I would have thought he was a little confused and uninformed but mostly supportive.

Maia said...

Thanks Coley. It shows how important it is to be aware of vagueness and double-speak.

Also record the answers we get so we can compare and contrast!

Richard Watts said...

Abortion law reform is difficult. On the one hand if a woman's male partner forces an abortion through whatever means then what crime is that beyond assault? If abortion is completely liberalised then what is the right of the mother and when does the fetus earn rights of it's own? The questions involved are challenging and should not be taken lightly.

Katie said...

I ask this question not as an attack but as genuine curiosity, since I'm not sure what the politics are like New Zealand. Why would being pro-choice not connote supporting the right to have children?

I found this post very interesting. In America, this is such an open and divisive issue. I can't imagine it being such a secret...

LudditeJourno said...

Wonderful post Maia, thank you.

MeToo said...

As one of John Key's constituents, my observation is that he is personally liberal but stands in an electorate with a vocal moral conservative Christian lobby. That tempers his responses - from memory, he changed his stance on prostitution law reform after pressure from a section of the electorate.

So abortion - he may well believe in a pregnant woman's right to control her own body, but if forced to vote on the issue, will he cast a personal vote or a vote to appease the squeaky wheels in Helensville?

anarkaytie said...

Hi Maia,

as I have participated in policy development groups discussions via the members forum on the Greens website only this year, I know it has been a policy area that has been discussed.

I went looking to see how far the description has been worked and found this from the 2009 Summer Policy Conference discussion document:


1. Every woman has a right to the information, education and resources to make the best possible decision about if and when to have a family.
2. Review abortion services to ensure equity of access for women throughout New Zealand.
3. Improving access to family planning and sexual health services and education to all women in New Zealand, especially young women, Maori and Pacific women and rural women, will help to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted.
4. Every woman has the sole right to decide to whether she wishes to terminate a pregnancy.
5. Mothers and fathers need adequate resources and support to raise their children.
6. No one should feel forced to seek an abortion for fear that they cannot afford to feed, clothe, house and look after a child. Increase incomes and benefits and make sure safe and affordable housing is there for all those who need it."
These discussion points within the Women's Issues policy discussion document would normally go to the Women's caucus at an AGM, after moving through the issue group policy development process at SPC's.

There was a question raised in the members forum directly around Steve Chadwick's bill in April 2011, and the main conclusion that was reached (by contributors old and young, female and male) was that this was a topic to debate publicly *after* the elections, within our usual party process of AGM's and SPC's, allowing a better time-frame for policy development than the run-up to the election would give.

It has always been an issue that MP's are given a conscience vote on, and some have been more vocal in their support (eg: Cath Delahunty, Sue Kedgley) than others, but of our current crew, I doubt that any are rabidly anti-abortion. If anything, new MP's coming in this time will only boost the numbers of openly and overtly supportive MP's on this issue.

Hope that helps clarify this issue.


Flynn the Cat said...

Why would being pro-choice not connote supporting the right to have children?

Seconded. That was kinda weird. Isn't the whole point of 'choice' that you can choose either option?

Maia said...

Just to answer the right to have a child question. Right wing parties have been campaigning on making the DPB (benefit for single parents) harder to get, particularly for women who have a child when they are already on the DPB. This is not pro-choice.

I believe that at an absolute minimum a pro-choice party must reverse the benefit cuts that made the DPB unliveable on.

Hugh said...

Maia, which benefit cuts, the more recent ones, the 1990 ones...?

Maia said...

1991 - I don't think there have been any cuts in amounts since then. Although obviously recent restrictions on access to hte benefit are also anti-choice. As is the in work payment not going to beneficiaries.

Flynn the Cat said...

Just to answer the right to have a child question. Right wing parties have been campaigning on making the DPB (benefit for single parents) harder to get, particularly for women who have a child when they are already on the DPB. This is not pro-choice.

As you say, that's not pro-choice. So how does that mean that pro-choice doesn't allow for the right to have a child?

Maia said...

Right - sorry for hte confusion. I wanted to just discuss abortion law in this post and suggest that people who are voting across the right left spectrum might want to vote on abortion law. I didn't use the term pro-choice - because I'm not happy calling ACT party MPs pro-choice even if they support abortion law reform.

I think my wording just wasn't clear.

Flynn the Cat said...

That makes much more sense :D