Just before I start in on the momentous news of the Greens’ policy on abortion, a tiny bit of history. As many of you know, our current laws, which were passed in 1977, place abortion firmly in the Crimes Act, and were based on a 400-plus page Royal Commission report. I spent a whole chapter in my book “Fighting to Choose” pulling it to bits, in between choking on my coffee, but here I’ll just pick out one bit that I found particularly gob-smacking, and that I think has relevance to the 2014 Green-inspired debate over abortion.
The report (and subsequently the law) ended up deciding which reasons for having an abortion would be legal (not criminal) and which would not. (You can look them up in the Act itself if you’re interested, go to section 187(A)1.) The Royal Commissioners had to do a lot of fancy footwork to pull this off (and tripped over themselves numerous times) but one thing they did not do was ever find out the actual reasons people have abortions. Here, I quote directly from the report: “In New Zealand no authoritative study has ever been made of the reasons why women seek abortions.” (p. 201)
Just wow! You’re making a criminal law about something you don’t know the first thing about. If that doesn’t simply say: Sorry, no moral agency for you. No having your very own personal reasons that relate to your very own life. We, MP’s with a “conscience vote”, will decide what reasons are acceptable, even though we actually have absolutely no real knowledge of why any of you do it. (Latest scare-mongering from the antis is that at least some of us are doing it because we don’t want to have babies with female sex organs. They want to outlaw something – sex selective abortion – that we have no evidence is even happening. More on that below.)
So far as I know, the “no authoritative study” of the reasons is still the case. They still don’t know, but still want to say what the reasons “should” be, by law. (Reminder: the Royal Commission decided against recommending that rape be a ground for abortion because women would lie about being raped. A majority of 1977 MPs agreed.)
Which brings me (I know, when was I going to get here?) to the Green Party policy, and why it’s a big deal. It’s basically saying (my words, not theirs) that the Greens believe the state should not treat abortion as a criminal matter that, for the vast majority of us, can only be excused if we can get two certifying consultants to state that we are not mentally sound enough to go through with our pregnancy. And that is what the antis are busy calling “extremist”. Under the policy, abortion care will remain regulated, as every other medical procedure is – it’s not like we have a medical Wild West out there for health care that isn’t in the Crimes Act – i.e. pretty much everything else.
But aside from that really obvious ways it’s a big deal, there are lots of less obvious ones. A couple:
1. Other political parties and leaders are now being asked where they stand, hopefully by all of us (the people) but also by the news media. According to ZB, Labour says it supports modernising the law, but won’t go as far as the Greens. Its policy after rejecting an impressive effort by Young Labour to back decriminalisation is to pass the buck, uh, send the issue to the Law Commission. (Far too much like the Royal Commission of old for my liking, which also came from a Labour government.)
John Key, PM, is quoted in an NZ Herald story as saying this: “My view is that the abortion laws are set about the right place.” As ALRANZ tweeted, that “place” is in the Crimes Act. Does he really think that, or is he just trying to make the issue go away? Let’s press him – let's press all of them – to tell us why abortion should be singled out in the law, why they don't think we should get to make our own choices, why they don't trust us.
2. More people are learning just what our current laws say. I did a 6,600 km (sorry planet!) tour to promote my book last year, which included lots of meetings and street outreach. The most common response I got on the street was: 'I didn’t know abortion was still in the Crimes Act!' And, yes, despite what the antis say, self-abortion is still an offence, under the CS&A Act, and that includes doing it yourself (taking the abortion pill for instance, or using a “foreign object”) or permitting someone else to do it, even if doctors and "providers" are primarily in the sights of the Crimes Act. So this is a "teaching moment" (I know, that cliche is past its use-by date.)
3. It brings lots of anti-incoherence out of the woodwork, which is a good and a bad thing. Just before I briefly discuss just a few of the highlights from the antis, a plea:
What We Should Do:
I think the pro-choice/reproductive justice movement is often, ahem, not that good at supporting our allies and champions. (I’m thinking of what happened to Steve Chadwick, among myriad examples.) MPs often get flooded with anti-material, and not enough in support, when they stick their necks out, just as do letters-to-the-ed columns and the ghastly “comments” sections on news pages and blogs.
So, a few ideas if you have the time: write an op-ed to submit to your local paper; write a letter to the editor; a note or tweet of ‘thanks’ to the Green Party or a Green MP; a blog post and spread the linky love around. And, well, to everyone who has already done that, and to everyone who has done so much pro-choiceness over the past few years – you lovely people know who you are – to get abortion rights onto the political agenda in an election year, thank you!
Now, for your entertainment:
Some Anti Doozies
ProLife NZ: “With almost 15,000 abortions performed in NZ last year, access is clearly not a problem for anyone who seeks one out.”
And you know this how? Sorry, but that has a few logical (and evidentiary) problems. How about this: "With hundreds of thousands of people in NZ holding jobs, getting a job is clearly not a problem for anyone who seeks one out." ALRANZ has a whole category at its blog on “Barriers to Access” but here’s just one nice post: “The Abortion Obstacle Course: A Flow Chart”.
“What is needed right now in this country is better support for women, and better options, not more abortion.”
Um, this isn’t about “more abortion”, you're the ones saying it's about "more abortion". And it's exactly about “better options” and “better support”.
“Prolife New Zealand is also concerned that the Green Party now appears to have aligned itself with the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ (ALRANZ), the extremist abortion lobby group headed by American abortion activist Morgan Healey. For many years ALRANZ has been trying to have an extreme abortion law, which would result in abortion-up-to-birth, introduced in New Zealand.”
Sorry, still rolling around laughing at this one. First Labour was in ALRANZ’s pocket, now the Greens. Who knew ALRANZ was so awesomely powerful. ALRANZ members await offers of highly paid lobby work! Abortion-up-to-birth, because it happens all the time (not) and again, zero information about why later abortion might be needed. Sigh.
Family Life International: “Pre-born children who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome, Spina Bifida and many other conditions prior to birth have been targeted by the Greens as being unworthy of life” said Colleen (Bayer). “As a mother of children with Down syndrome, I find this policy offensive. The Greens have chosen to target these pre-born babies in order to rid our society of them.”
The issue of laws that target fetal abnormality is a serious one, and while I dislike the way it’s used to disguise an across-the-board opposition to abortion rights, some pretty important issues have been raised by disability rights activists, and anti- and pro-choicers alike. (BTW ALRANZ has been working hard on trying to start a discussion on this issue.) The Greens' policy, again as I read it, takes pains to grapple with some of these very difficult issues. However, not so the current law, which makes no bones about targeting fetal abnormality and “subnormal” pregnant women. (And I won't start on how awful the Royal Commission was on this.) Where’s the campaign from the antis to get that changed? And that ghastly language is yet another reason, in my personal view, an ideal law would avoid these kinds of “reasons” or “grounds”. Oh, and hey, Colleen, there are disabled people in my whanau too, and I would guess in every whanau in this country, and I find your argument offensive.
Family First: “A sound law needs to ... not leave women exposed to harms, such as those recently witnessed in the criminal trial of Kermit Gosnell…”
Oh, I was just waiting for someone to come out with Kermit Gosnell, the rogue abortion doctor in Philadelphia convicted last year of murder and manslaughter. Gosnells thrive where safe legal abortion is difficult or impossible to get, where barriers and stigma drive abortion underground. Decriminalisation is the opposite of that. And, as already noted, abortion will be regulated as are all those other medical procedures not governed by criminal laws.
“Taking away these safeguards will simply place more pressure on women to access an abortion without the necessary safeguards for such a life-changing event.”
What are these “safeguards”? Lying to doctors about your mental health? Holding criminal conviction over the doctors’ heads? Rather a blunt instrument, is it not?
“We believe women have the right to the best independent information and advice before making a decision that could impact them later in life.”
Absolutely! Just what the Green policy and reproductive justice advocates call for. And whether or not a person is allowed to have an abortion if they so choose or is forced by the state to continue a pregnancy will impact their life, there’s no “could” about it.
“Ironically, while the Greens talk about no judgement or mistrust, they still want to restrict abortions after 20 weeks. They are being completely inconsistent and hypocritical.”
I think here the antis are just disappointed that they can’t use the shock, horror headline they like to use about, e.g., ALRANZ, i.e. the “abortion-up-to-birth” law. Seriously though, the 20 week limit is worth discussing – I personally don’t support cut-offs because, again, we don’t know the reason a person might need a later abortion. The key here is that if abortion is no longer regulated as a criminal matter, even with some kind of cut off, it will be an improvement on the current law.
Right to Life: (I don’t see this on Scoop, and I’m not linking to the RTL page)
“The Greens now want to legalise the killing of female children in the womb because they are not the desired sex, this is monstrous.”
Oh, is that under the section of their policy that says “Promoting Sex-Selective Abortion”? Dang, I can’t find it. So anyway, this is what the (links to pdf) Abortion Supervisory Committee had to say last year about sex selective abortion in Aotearoa NZ: “Requests for abortion on the grounds of sex, which is illegal, is not an issue in New Zealand. In 2012, 92% of induced abortions were carried out in the first trimester of pregnancy (up to and including 12 weeks gestation). The sex of the foetus is rarely known by the 12th week of pregnancy and therefore cannot be a reason for termination in these cases.” So if RTL really wants to end the non-problem of sex-selective abortion, it should be campaigning for better access to early medication abortion, currently standing at around only 6% of abortions performed here, because those take place even earlier, that is 8 weeks or less. (Let’s face it, there’s some dog-whistling going on here about non-white and/or non-Christian cultures and groups.) Updating with this: "Report Debunks Conservative Case for Sex-Selection Abortion Bans."
“The Greens should now be clearly seen as a serious threat to the lives of our unborn and the health and welfare of our women.”
There’s just something creepy about “our women”, don’t you think? Ken Orr just has a way with words, is all I can say at this point.
There are a lot more treasures in there, but I'm tired. Let's close with some linky love:
Coley Tangerina: Some Things to Remember When Discussing Decriminalising Abortion
KiwiBlog (yup, but don't read the comments): Greens Call for Abortion Law to Reflect Practice
LadyMac at Daily Blog: Congratulations to the Greens for Taking a Stand on Abortion
There are bound to be posts I missed, so add them in comments. Speaking of which, if you want to debate the morality of abortion, go here. Please, no shaming of people who have chosen or may one day choose to not continue a pregnancy. Of people who choose to continue a pregnancy. i.e. of people. Oooh, that's a lot of people, people.