Showing posts with label abortion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abortion. Show all posts

Monday, 16 June 2014

Not what abortion "on demand" looks like, folks

In the recent discussion about abortion (and big ups to the Greens for getting it on the political agenda), several commentators who identify as pro-choice have stated sentiments to the effect that we have abortion on demand now.  Except that we really clearly don't.

Getting an ingrown toe nail cut out is a medical procedure you can get on demand.  You don't need anyone else's permission, you just need to have an ingrown toe nail and find someone who can cut it out to do so for you.  The same with getting moles removed, whether possibly cancerous or not, having most forms of plastic surgery like rhinoplasty (nose job) or breast implants.

But to get an abortion, be it medical (ie by pills at an early stage of pregnancy) or surgical, two different people have to give their permission, after seeing your own doctor.  Those people have to also be certified to give you that permission.  For people with resources who are seeking terminations in Wellington or Auckland this probably isn't a big deal, and I can understand how some might think, from the outside, that it is basically abortion on demand (although to the best of my knowledge no definition of on demand includes requiring permission from other people).  However that is a) not what the law says and b) not what the practice is.

To use a rather silly example, say that getting a can of Coca Cola (Symbol of the Free West) worked the same way as access to abortion.  If Coke is on demand then you can rock up to an appropriate outlet and get one, no one else gets to say yes or no as long as you pay your $2.

If you could only get Coke in the same way as people can access abortion under NZ law then it would look something like this:

1.  Find one of the limited number of dairies that offer Coca Cola cans.  It may be in an out of the way place, there may be protesters outside (with signs reading "Coke promotes a culture of DEATH").

2.  Once you've found a Coke-supplying dairy, seek and gain the permission of a person who works there and has certification.  The certifying dairy worker will need to approve that you can have the Coca Cola for one or more of a small number of reasons that are outlined in law; most likely "thirst relief" which is found to be the reason for 98% of Coke purchases.  You may not be thirsty right now, but you know you are going to be thirsty in the future, but you will need to carefully convince the certifying dairy worker that you should have the Coca Cola for "thirst relief" now.  Other allowable reasons include high risk of diabetic coma without it.

3.  You'll then need to go through Step 2 again with another certifying dairy worker.  Hopefully there is more than one at that dairy, but if there isn't then you will have to go somewhere else.

4.  It's likely you will then be referred to another dairy, which will actually have the can of Coke.  You'll need to get an appointment there.  Again it may be in an out of the way place, there may be protesters outside (with signs reading "Every Coke Kills a Living Thirst").

5.  When you get to the dairy for your can of Coke you'll possibly be required to go through counselling to consider the consequences of drinking a can of Coca Cola and talk through other options, such as water, milk or going through with being thirsty.

6.  You will then have to undergo a dietary examination, to assess precisely how thirsty you are, any other dietary influences that may lead to complications when you drink the Coke, a full history of your drinking history, and examine your suitability for drinking Coca Cola at this time.  You'll be given advice on whether the Coke is a good idea or not.  Likely there will also be a discussion about planning your future liquid intake so that you can avoid thirst again in the future.

7.  Finally you get your can of Coca Cola.  It's possible this will happen on the same day as the counselling and examination, but maybe not.  Enjoy.

Imagine living in a small town with only one dairy, which didn't have Coke.  The nearest bigger town also didn't have Coca Cola, and you'd have to fly or drive quite a way to get some, possibly taking time off work to do so and at some personal expense in regard to travel costs.  That'd suck.

And that would not be availability on demand.

Abortion is NOT available on demand in Aotearoa New Zealand.  In my opinion to continue to claim that it is does not help get the law or the practice changed to make abortion more available.  It's not defacto on demand, it's not almost on demand.  It is only allowed with the permission of two other people, neither of whom is the pregnant person (although their consent gets the ball rolling), and only for a limited list of reasons outlined by a law set over 30 years ago.

In my opinion the best place to get practical information on accessing abortion services in Aotearoa New Zealand is

Edited to Add:  After I wrote this, but before it was scheduled to post, the Sunday Star Times published this article, including one person recounting her experience of accessing abortion under the current law.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The fundamentally anti-women notion at the heart of anti-abortion campaigns laid bare

Content warning:  This is a post about the tactics of an anti-abortion campaign currently underway, the arguments they make, and as such will include some unpleasantness.  I'm just going to turn off comments on my posts about abortion at the moment because I don't have time to monitor a comment thread and some people won't respect the rules.  If you want to tell me something in particular as a result of this post then you can email us or tweet me @juliefairey.


I blogged last week about the paradox of Choose Life, a new campaign (launched for Lent donchaknow) aimed at pressuring and intimidating people seeking an abortion (but it's your choice, honest), and ultimately wanting to have forced pregnancies, rather than allow anyone to terminate.

Well today we have the people who are supporting this contradiction positively bragging about enabling someone to harass their pregnant partner, who was seeking an abortion at a clinic in Auckland, to the point where the police were called twice.

Let's be clear; this example shows us precisely what the opposition to abortion are all about: denying those with uteruses power over their own bodies, and encouraging those who aren't pregnant to hold sway over those who are.  Most of the time that is going to be a woman disempowered, harassed, upset, abused, and a man taking power, harassing, hectoring, abusing.  And that is fundamentally anti-women.

The 40 Days For Life crew have the gall to argue, in the above linked  post, that:

  • Men should step up and speak out about abortion, especially "post-abortive men".  First up you need to understand that "post-abortive men" are not chaps who were going to mail a letter but then decided not to.  Then you need to ignore the fact that the Go To Anti Abortion Media Commentariat in our country are (both) male (Ken Orr and Bob McCroskrie for those following along at home). Finally please do deny the really rather undeniable biological fact that if men get to decide about abortions then that would mean that in most cases the actual pregnant person doesn't get to decide about continuing their own pregnancy.  And I rather suspect that those who are anti-abortion aren't keen on giving men who do get pregnant a say either.
  • Abortion allows the objectification of women, and no doubt without it we would all be living in a feminist paradise in which women ate chocolates constantly while men served their every whim, in recognition of their divine role as wombs, or something.  I rather doubt the feminist commitment of a group whose main campaign is in favour of forced pregnancy.
  • They helped a "distraught father."  To harass a distraught, and pregnant, mother, if you follow their line of argument.  Oh good, that'll help everybody involved, except that it won't.  How about instead of saying "think about the father, think about the baby!!11!!" it was "think about that pregnant person, that human being who is likely in a tricky spot and deserves some compassion and some respect."
In the specific instance linked we don't know a whole lot about the circumstances, and what we do is based on a rather subjective source.  But statistics tell us that at least half of all terminations each year are the result of contraceptive failure.  Chances are that the harasser in this situation had sex not intending to have a child as a result, and was possibly actively involved in undertaking contraceptive efforts to ensure that.  

Even if that weren't the case he doesn't have a right to force someone else to continue a pregnancy, give birth, become a parent or expand their family further.  The conversation seems to go "If you want to go through with this pregnancy then you can do it yourself" followed by "I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't, but you should".  No one should be able to force someone to continue a pregnancy they don't want to continue; no one.  The only person who can ultimately decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy is the person who is pregnant.  They can seek advice from anyone they like, but it should be their decision.

In a culture that shames women for having sex, having bodies, having abortions, using contraception, being sexy, not being sexy, and much much more, anti-abortion campaigners actively increase the possibility that pregnancy can cause distress and mental ill health.  By praying outside clinics, displaying anti-abortion signs, encouraging people opposed to abortion (either in general or in a specific case) to pressure others, Choose Life and their ilk are intimidating and harming people who are already vulnerable.  It's hateful and cruel and I wish they would stop.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"Choose Life" is not about choice; it's about force

There's a new campaign by one of my least favourite lobby groups (Family First in case you were wondering), which is encouraging people to wear special pink and blue ribbons to say "Choose Life," by which they mean don't have abortions.

The use of the word "choose" implies that Family First is asking people to make a choice.  But in fact what they actually want to do is take away the very choice they are supposedly promoting.


Me too.

It's like this.

Family First are anti-abortion.  The code they most commonly use for this is something along the lines of supporting the rights of the unborn child, but no make no bones about it, they are opposed to abortion.

Family First are asking people to wear dinky ribbons in boringly gender-referenced colours (never mind that some people aren't girls or boys, or that pink ribbons are already very widely associated with breast cancer support).  Everybody say "awwwwww", cute widdle ribbons in baby colours!

Family First's ribbons are worn as a symbol that you want people to not have abortions.

Family First want to remove the current (flawed, fettered, and not autonomous) right to choose an abortion.

Family First want to take away any ability to "choose life" and instead are keen to force people to continue pregnancies when they don't want to.

In effect what they want to do is force you to choose life.  Not much of a choice is it?

Edited to add:  I've turned off and hidden comments.  I don't have time to moderate these posts and while there are some good comments the bad ones are annoying and I just can't be bothered.  If you particularly want me to know something then you can easily find me on email, twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Ready, Set, Go: The Prochoice Highway

This post is a bit long and comes in two parts. First, a bit about the Prochoice Highway; and then this thing I’ve been burning to write about for a while on abortion shaming and stigma, (I've called it "Against Public Displays of Cruelty") and our acquiescence to it. The two are, of course, related:

The Prochoice Highway 

For about a year, myself and a few others have been working on putting together an information campaign and book tour around reproductive justice issues called the Prochoice Highway, or, full title: The Prochoice Highway: On the Road for Reproductive Justice.

For me, a major impetus was writing my book Fighting to Choose: The Abortion Rights Struggle in New Zealand, (VUP, 2013); for others, I think it was just wanting to make some positive pro-choice activism, since so often we seem to be playing defence. Oh, and me bugging them for help! [Which we still need, Go Here!] Most of the financial support has come from WONAAC, the Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign (ngā mihi maioha to those women and for everything they've done over the years) while ALRANZ has contributed time, energy and resources; but the person who has done perhaps more work on this than anyone else is Zenaida Beatson, the genius behind the poster, badgeTee, postcard and other designs and the amazing 2014 Body Politics Calendar that is going to be printed next week. (Yup, Zenaida does all that in her “spare” time.)

The Highway is setting off on 15 September, heading to Northland, and as I’ve been Tweeting and FBing lately, we really hope to network with people and groups across Aotearoa NZ who are interested in reproductive justice issues and who might like to meet up with us for a chat, or help organise something (from a coffee to a potluck to a public meeting) or who might have local intel on good places to set up the stall. So please, if you know of good peeps anywhere, get in touch! As much as it is aimed at raising awareness about Aotearoa NZ’s backward and punitive criminalised abortion laws -- and all the baggage those bring with them -- this is a listening/discussing/kōrero tour.

The move toward reproductive justice and away from “choice” is a hotly debated one, and you’ll notice that with its title, the Highway has a bit of a dollar each way. But the more I read about reproductive justice, which has been spearheaded by women of colour, the more I like the way it allows the discussion to be made a lot broader. (A friend pointed me toward a great publication by the US group Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice on this issue. Pdf warning: This link is to a pdf. And another good resource is Sister Song: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective) Just last weekend, for example, I met up with a group of people wanting to do some work around what I’ll loosely call the policing and criminalisation of pregnancy, of pregnant bodies, of pregnant women. When you start looking at what’s going on it turns out it’s going on everywhere: in the public square, in medicine, in the judiciary, in state agencies, in legislation aimed at preventing child abuse, the list is long and a bit depressing. (I wrote a bit about the issue a while ago in Werewolf and here about a related "careless driving" case.)

This is part of the reproductive justice orbit, and it is related to abortion because it stems from the same resistance, which has a long history, to fully respecting the autonomy and lived experience of women around reproductive health decisions, be that decisions around abortion, contraception, sterilisation; or around choosing to be a single parent, around antenatal care and so on. As Sister Song puts it, the justice lens shifts from a narrower focus on legal access to include analyses of racial, economic, cultural and structural constraints. Queer and trans people face particular reproductive health discrimination and oppression, too, that "choice" isn't really rich enough to address, but reproductive justice can.

So much to discuss, so little time. (If anyone knows of any good writing about reproductive justice in the context of Aotearoa NZ, please add links in comments.) 

Sunday, 28 July 2013


Anger, oh how often you have visited me lately, let me count some of the ways:

  • The frequently women-hating reaction to Labour daring to suggest that they make take some deliberate, transparent and necessary structural steps towards lifting their number of women MPs.  
  • Trevor Mallard baiting another MP in the House by calling him "cougar bait."
  • People who don't lay out their arguments properly and then don't come to the meeting to discuss the issue so you never really know where they stand before you make the decision.
  • Changing a law because some state agencies broke it and the solution to that problem is somehow to make it legal, with the consequence that a whole heap of people who should have privacy no longer will.
  • Promulgation by supposed lefties of the antiquated idea that women are precious flowers who should not be sullied by the putrid compost of politics and the stale water of being politicians or something like that, this metaphor is tortured enough already without actually trying to get it to make sense.
  • Reflecting on how unfair and wrong and conservative New Zealand's abortion laws and provision actually are, yet again.
  • Cancer.  Always.  
  • The increasingly dirty SkyCity pokies for convention centre deal.  
  • Doctors who want to be GPs but don't want to prescribe contraception.  It's your JOB, yo.
Ok, enough ragey bullet points from me - what's angrifying you?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Who Was That Woman, Anyway?

It’s trite to say that books take you places. But true nonetheless. With books, you can disappear into other times, cultures, imaginary worlds. “Foreign” fiction is better than any guide-book at introducing you to a place and its people, and sometimes even better than going there if you want to see beneath the surface.
But if you live here and read enough of the stuff (say novels from the two Anglophone powerhouses – the United States and the UK-plus-Ireland) then a different feeling starts to kick in. Like what you’re getting to know is really life inside the American novel, not life inside America. At about the same point, for me anyway, “local” fiction itself starts to feel a bit foreign. Not in the way “foreign” fiction is foreign, but in the way local fiction feels rare, like something you don’t see very often. Which, when it’s good local fiction, also makes it feel precious and exciting and new.
I felt this way reading Aorewa McLeod’s new book “Who Was That Woman, Anyway? Snapshots of a Lesbian Life.” It’s a novel, yes, but as McLeod explains in the book’s front matter, it’s inspired by real life events. “Some details happened in real life, some did not,” she writes. “The characters are fictionalised and given fictional names.” The book’s 10 chapters, ordered by date, span roughly 40 years in the life of Ngaio, McLeod’s protagonist who, like the author, is an English lecturer at a university in Auckland.
The subtitle is sweet in the way it undersells the book. These are not only snapshots of a lesbian life, but of life in New Zealand, and life in Aotearoa. Snapshots of what it can be like to grow up here, and live here.
Its starting point is the 1960s with Ngaio, a university student, heading to Nelson to spend her summer break as a nurse’s aide because “an ex-schoolmate’s father was someone high up in the mental health service and he had suggested that nurse-aiding in psychiatric hospitals was a lucrative way of earning money in the holidays”. Ngaio is put in a ward with bedridden, severely disabled children. “There were enormous hydrocephalic water heads, tiny pinheads, huge slobbering mouths, bent bodies, contorted hands waving in the air, grasping blindly, clutching as if there were something to reach for. They could grip me with such desperate strength that I had to pry their fingers off. Many were blind. I couldn’t tell how old they were.” McLeod’s writing, particularly in the first half of the novel, is like that: direct and piercing.
It’s while she’s working in Nelson that Ngaio meets Suzy, her first love. Suzy is a Māori woman from a Mormon family who works as a charge nurse at the children’s ward in town. “She only goes for white girls,” a friend tells Ngaio. “All her family’s married white. That’s what the Mormons encourage them to do, to make it in the white world.” Who cares! Ngaio is in heaven. “This was it; this was what it meant to make love. This was the transformational moment of my life.”

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

'Truth' in the Abortion Debate

So Karl du Fresne has joined Right to Life in piling on Sunday Star Times journalist Marika Hill over her article this past Sunday titled “Family Planning Association’s Charity Status Comes Under Fire”. Although he hasn’t gone as far as Ken Orr of Right to Life, who says the article is a “slanderous and libellous attack on Right to Life”, du Fresne accuses Hill of having been “captured by the pro-abortion lobby” and writing something “straight from the feminist propaganda handbook”.

What offended du Fresne and Orr so much was the lead paragraph, which said this: “Anti-abortionists are taking aim at the charity status of the Family Planning Association in their latest assault against women and pro-choice organisations.” In particular it was the “latest assault against women” the prompted du Fresne’s, um, assault against Hill.

I have to admit, I was surprised when I read that lead. As someone steeped in mainstream media speak myself (disclosure: du Fresne was actually my boss at the Dominion many moons ago), I just know you can’t write things on issues like abortion or women’s rights or reproductive justice (well, on anything really) that tread as closely to the truth of the matter as that phrase does. And I’m sure du Fresne’s outrage on behalf of the “objective” news media will have its supporters.

But why such outrage in this particular case? I suspect it’s because du Fresne himself is a committed opponent of abortion rights, something he didn’t point out in his post, and he doesn't care much for feminists. If this were on any other issue, I wonder if his commitment to “unbiased” journalism would be quite this fierce. (Though, to be fair, he’s recently written about the “objectivity” issue in more general terms.)

For my part, I found the lead utterly refreshing, because in this case, that statement actually did reflect the truth of the matter. Yes, despite the women du Fresne apparently knows who are hostile to Family Planning (fellow anti-choice travellers, perhaps?) and the endless claims by Orr that he is motivated in his efforts by his concern for women.

(It was also a bit amusing to see how much of the material in du Fresne’s post itself came straight from the anti-abortion propaganda handbook – like “feminist propaganda handbook”, “pro-abortion lobby”. Where is that feminist handbook? I want a copy!)

To assess whether or not Hill’s lead had more truthiness than not, I’d advise (or not, maybe) readers to take a spin through Right to Life’s Web site, (at www.righttolife[dot]org[dot]nz) which is filled with highly inflammatory material that attacks not just women, but anyone who isn’t in a straight, church-sanctioned marriage that has or will produce (and not via ivf) children. (I wrote about that here.) Among other things, in attacking Family Planning’s “Keeping it Safe” guide, RTL essentially calls “same-sex attracted women” amoral, and their sexual practices “unnatural and degrading”. Not an attack on women?  

Or how about this curious classic from the RTL site: “No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. No one has the right to choose to kill another human being.” (That first part about the ice cream and the Porsche is actually a quote from a U.S. anti-abortion activist. I don't know if it says what RTL wants it to say, but then again I don't really know exactly what it's trying to say. Pregnant women as trapped animals? Porsches? Murder?)

Or, considering how widespread the use of contraception is among all New Zealanders, this: “Contraception is the ‘mother of abortion.’” (Then re-read above on abortion.)

And of course, those of us who are pro-choice are frequently attacked, if not libeled and slandered – though we are quite used to it. We’re likened to Nazis, to supporters of genocide, to championing a “culture of death” – Orr even suggested Alranz may have “contrived” a recent threat it received “with the objective of discrediting the pro-life movement”, and said Family Planning “regularly smuggles girls out of school to have an abortion”.

The truth of the matter is that the truth of what Right to Life is calling for is actually never expressed in the mainstream media. It is tip-toed around, avoided, sanitised. Right to Life (I don’t know about du Fresne) wants: No contraception. No abortion. No homosexuality. (And that’s just for starters.) All of which, presumably, should be legislated for and enforced by the agents of the state. Think about what that means for just a second? Actually, it’s quite unthinkable. It’s so unthinkable that it never makes it into articles about Right to Life’s campaigns.

Truth, anyone?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Roe Anniversary Roundup

Forty years ago today, on 22 January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 decision, on a case known as Roe v Wade, declaring that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy to term. The original case that the court agreed to hear was a challenge to a 19th Century Texas law that prohibited abortion except where necessary to save a woman’s life.

Given the efforts since Roe to curtail abortion access in the U.S., and the publicity it gets, some are surprised to learn that New Zealand’s abortion law is actually much more regressive than U.S. federal law on abortion. Here, abortion remains criminalised (that is, governed by the Crimes Act); in the U.S., it generally is not.

What throws people off is that although our law is worse, the practice here is often much more liberal – at least, more liberal than it is in conservative U.S. states. Which just goes to show that it’s often just as much how a law is implemented as it is what that law actually says that makes the difference. (It also shows that no matter what the law on the books, abortion access is always vulnerable to rollback.)

There have already been lots of articles written to mark the anniversary of Roe, and there will surely be more. But today’s the day, so what follows is a (limited) round-up that tries to traverse a few of the main issues. Please feel free to add links to other good pieces in comments. Oh, and the usual rule applies: The place to debate the morality of abortion is here, not here.

Perhaps the biggest splash in anniversary reporting was made just over a week ago in a Time magazine cover story headlined like this: “Forty Years Ago Abortion-Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory With Roe V. Wade: They’ve Been Losing Ever Since”  One of the controversies it sparked was its coverage of “a rebellion” in the pro-choice movement between younger feminists and what the author, Kate Pickert, called “legacy feminist organisations” – a rebellion, she wrote, that “threatens to tear it in two”.

Several writers at the reproductive health site RH Reality Check responded to Pickert, including Steph Herold with  Young People Are Not Fragmenting the Pro-Choice Movement, Renee Chellan’s The End of Right to Lies, and a piece by Charlotte Taft, who works in abortion care and was interviewed by Pickert, titled “What Choice? *Our* Choice”.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Defend Family Planning

Back when Christchurch anti-choice activist Andy Moore was still around (he’s gone and left us, and moved to Texas), he and a few others set up a campaign called Stop Family Planning (FP) – a campaign that looked a lot like the one in the U.S. against Planned Parenthood.

The campaign here was prompted by FP’s proposal, which began in 2009, to provide early medication abortion at its Hamilton clinic – which was to be a sort of a test clinic for possibly offering this option elsewhere. FP waited two long years for a decision from the Abortion Supervisory Committee, while the anti-choicers got busy whipping up a frenzy. Eventually, in 2011, FP withdrew the application, and last time I checked, women from the Waikato who wanted an early medication rather than a surgical abortion had to travel to Auckland for it. You can thank, in part, our backward laws for that – and for the fact that we’re way behind comparable nations in providing this early abortion option. But not helping the situation of course were the sterling efforts by Right to Life and Voice for Life and ProLife NZ and all those charities like Family First and Family Life International, who are only doing this because they care so much about the health and well-being of (certain) women.

Things had died down on the Stop Family Planning front since then. So much, in fact, that when I looked this past week, their old Web site ( was gone and the domain name was available. (If you feel brave, you can still look at the site using the Web archive/Wayback Machine.)

Family Planning has always been vulnerable to attack from conservatives, and the attacks always come. So I suppose it’s not surprising that the new year has brought a fresh round of invective being directed at FP, this time from Ken Orr of Right to Life. (The others will no doubt pile on at some point.) RTL just ended a 7-year-court case which it mostly lost aimed at ending abortion in New Zealand, so I suppose they have some time on their hands.

The latest attacks, which so far include a complaint to the Charities Commission about FP’s (and Women’s Health Action’s) charitable status (here’s Red Queen on that), a letter to the Minister of Health demanding FP be defunded (yes, following the U.S. ‘Defund Planned Parenthood’ playbook to the letter), and, on Saturday, one of the most – I don’t think I have the words – vile screeds I’ve had the misfortune to read in a long time. (I’m not linking to all this for various reasons, including its offensive nature, but if you want, you can hop over to the site. Just search “Right to Life New Zealand”. Don’t say you weren’t warned…)

That latest effort is titled, wait for it, “Family Planning Declares War on Women”.
Aside from the usual attacks on abortion and the “culture of death” etc. etc., this piece contains a lot of stuff that, as one person has already suggested, is quite likely defamatory and is most definitely highly offensive and insulting to, well, pretty much everyone. Everyone who isn’t in a heterosexual marriage and only having sex for procreative purposes, which means most straight men and women, and definitely all lesbians, gays, transgender people, questioning, queer… (trigger warning for misogyny, homophobia, transphobia over the jump)

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Guest post: Abortion access being undermined in NZ

Reproduced from the November ALRANZ newsletter with permission from the really rather awesome author, Alison McCullough.

The Abortion Supervisory Committee’s annual report has been released. The report includes
the abortion stats previously released by Stats New Zealand in June (See ALRANZ’s August
Newsletter for a report on those, downloadable at, plus a few extras and the ASC’s
commentary. A PDF of the report is available for download at under “The Latest”

As ALRANZ wrote on their blog, the impression the report gives is of a system that is increasingly unworkable, with fewer certifying consultants who, the ASC reports, are facing distressing amounts of harassment (as are patients and others associated with abortion care), and all this as timeliness of abortion care and uptake of early medical abortion are barely budging. No matter what the situation on the ground is for providers and women, though, you can be sure that Parliament will do nothing to fix any of it.

The ASC report addresses the harassment of certifying consultants and patients in general,
and of Invercargill staff in particular. Here’s what the report says:
 “We are … concerned about the impact of being known as a certifying consultant in some locations.  During the last year the Committee has heard distressing reports from certifying consultants where they, their families, patients and wider public have been the subject of harassment.  Particularly distressing are reports of women seeking fertility assistance who have been harassed when they were mistakenly thought to be seeking pregnancy termination.”

It’s important that the ASC is talking about this, though it’s pretty hard not to draw the
conclusion from that last sentence that it’s of less concern to the committee if women seeking
abortions are harassed than, say, women mistaken for those seeking abortion. Way to go to reinforce
abortion stigma ASC!

And here’s what the ASC had to say about Invercargill:
“It has also come to our attention that harassment of medical staff is taking place in Invercargill resulting from services now being offered at Southland Hospital. We are disappointed that this is occurring.”
“Disappointed”! Strong words. Not. And no mention of what the ASC intends to do about

Readers will recall that the seven-year-long Right to Life v ASC case finally ended on 9
August of this year when the Supreme Court dismissed RTL’s appeal. In its decision, the Court ruled
that the ASC did not have the power to scrutinize individual doctors’ decisions regarding approval of
abortion but that the ASC could ask consultants how they were approaching their decision-making in
general. This report is the first comment we’ve had from the ASC on that case, and it writes:
“The Committee notes it already makes regular enquiries of all certifying consultants. At the time of annual reapplication consultants report on qualifications, continuing professional education, peer support, intended years of service and the nature of the practitioner’s practice. Other enquiries will continue to be made as issues arise.”
The ASC is not saying much here, but this seems to suggest that it thinks it’s already doing
what the court said it should do.

The ASC notes the continued downward trend in abortion numbers overall, and points
particularly to the sharpest decline being in child to teenage groups. It expresses concern that there is
no decline in abortions sought by women who have had two or more previous terminations:
“Key to reaching these women will be further increasing the availability of various forms of
long-term contraception as well as increasing access to publicly funded tubal ligation or ablation so
that unwanted pregnancies are avoided. It is concerning to note that the number of publicly funded
tubal ligations performed has been declining.”

Cue the media focus: According to a report in the DomPost, reality TV shows are helping
push a decline in teen pregnancy. The ASC says this is because “extensive reality television
programming depicts the struggle most young people have in attempting to raise a child of their

It goes on to say, that “the decline is also likely a result of younger New Zealanders
practising safer sex and having less sex overall”. Apparently not watching so much reality TV are
the 20-24 year olds. There’s a new graph this year on “no contraception by age group.” In other
words, what were the ages of the 52% of women who had abortions and said they’d been using no
contraception? According to the report, the biggest group, at 32%, were 20 to 24 year olds; the next
biggest, at 20% each were under-20s and 25-29 year olds.

When it comes to timeliness, Northland and Southland are still coming in last, meaning
women in those districts are accessing abortion care much later than those elsewhere. (The median
gestation in those districts for first trimester abortion is nearly 10 weeks! That is not a good stat, and
that’s the median, meaning access is much later for some women.) Here’s hoping the Invercargill
service will help improve that stat for Southland. But what is going on in Northland?

Finally, there are 170 certifying consultants, down from 175 in the previous year’s report,
and the amount spent on certifying consultants was $4,427,120, also slightly down on the previous

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Abortion in NZ stories

A new blog has been set up to collect and tell stories of abortion in New Zealand. Check it out - and submit your story - at

(The comments of this post are not a place for debating the morality of abortion, thanks.)

Monday, 20 August 2012

"Legitimate rape" is illogical cant

Content warning:  Rants related to rape, victim blaming, rape apologists, and ridiculous sex education that helps no one, all contained within.

"If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down."
So said Republican nominee for the US Senate Todd Akin.  

"That whole thing" refers to pregnancy.  Mr Akin is saying that women don't get pregnant from rape.  And if they do then it wasn't really rape, it wasn't "legitimate rape."

The whole concept of "legitimate rape" appals me.  I believe that Mr Akin is meaning to say "real" or "genuine", when he says legitimate, but I can't help thinking of that other meaning of legitimate, which is "acceptable."  

It is not up to Mr Akin to decide what does and does not constitute rape, or even this bizarre sub-set of rape that he's carved out in his head.  Rape is sex without consent.  There is nothing legitimate, as in acceptable, about rape EVER.  And as for there being illegitimate rape, fake rape; there is NO evidence to suggest that false rape claims are made at any higher rate than any other level of fraudulent reporting, which tends to be about 5%.  

Many of the reactions I've seen to Akin's comments have been focused on the sheer biological illogicality of his claim that rape cannot result in pregnancy.  Yet that's exactly what I was taught in my teens at a school in New Zealand in the early 1990s.  I recall quite clearly during a health class a teacher (who was not a science teacher and I suspect very unsupported to run these discussions) telling us that pregnancy did not result from rape because the woman's body (only women can get raped you see) was simply not receptive, wasn't producing the correct juices, was hostile to the sperm.  This wasn't a biology class I hasten to add.  For a long time I believed her.*  

The point of this discussion was to refute the idea that abortion in cases of rape was even to be considered.  If you were pregnant it couldn't have been rape, "legitimate rape" as Akin would no doubt say, therefore no termination for you, evil slut!

Ellen and Minnie helped to dispel this myth.  You remember Ellen right?  Ellen Crozier?  She was Cheryl West, before there was Cheryl West.  You know who I mean, that Shortie nurse, the one who was Carla's good sister.  The origins of her daughter, Minnie, were shrouded in mystery for many a season on the Great New Zealand Soap, and it eventually turned out that that pregnancy was the result of rape.  

In my own life I've studied biology a fair bit, and I know, now, how untrue the line I was sold all those years ago is.  I know it also second hand from the bitter, horrible, experience of a number of women who have disclosed such stories in their own pasts; resulting in adoption, miscarriage, abortion, and keeping the resultant child and raising them well.  The feeling of being violated over again, in finding out about the pregnancy, and then having to make hard decisions with no correct answer due to the proprietary, selfish, harmful act of another.  

There are, sadly, so many myths about rape, and about reproductive health.  When one that seems so obviously wrong to us pops up let's consider that there will be those who have been taught the lie as truth and who may not yet have had the additional learning, or the life experience, to show them otherwise.  

*  She also helpfully told us, in the same session, that if someone wanted to rape us there was no point lying that we had our periods as the rapist wouldn't care.  It's odd what sticks in the teen brain through to adulthood.

Monday, 23 July 2012

This report card is incomplete - must do better

Minister of Women's Affairs Jo Goodhew has been giving a "report card" over the last few days to the United Nations on how well women in New Zealand are doing.  This is the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women - CEDAW - and we report very four years, a kinda road map to gender equality.

Unfortunately, our GPS system seems to be malfunctioning.  Women's Health Action found a number of concerns they wanted to raise related to contraceptive coercion for women on benefits, failures for comprehensive sexual and reproductive education in schools to reach all young people, an increasing tendency for the definition of "child" to be broadened to include the unborn in legislation and interpretation, and barriers for up to one sixth of women in seeking first trimester abortions.

And then there is violence against women.  As Gordon Campbell points out - and his form around sexual violence is not unblemished, so this is interesting - under this government, survivors of sexual violence have been restricted from accessing potentially life-saving therapy by deliberate policy changes within ACC.  Even when those policy changes were ripped up on review, ACC has continued to stop people getting the help they needs - just 3.6% of survivors who applied had their therapy funded by ACC in 2011.

Report backs from Women's Health Action confirm Minister Goodhew is getting a grilling over violence against women - partly because here in Aotearoa we're too scared to acknowledge that domestic and sexual violence are about as gendered as an experience gets.  Apparently the Minister for Women's Affairs is struggling to acknowledge, at CEDAW, that violence against women is a problem.

Incredibly, Minister Goodhew's list of government plans for reducing violence against women as reported to CEDAW do not mention sexual violence even once.
The CEDAW committee aren't loving us making Family Court processes more expensive and less safe for women in "relationship disputes" and they are not loving the fact that the 2009 Taskforce Report for Action on Sexual Violence is still largely unacted upon.  This of course, includes the fact that the Law Commission review of trial processes for sexual violence seems to be sitting in limbo.

I suggested last week that I believe it is time to email Justice Minister Judith Collins and ask what is happening to improve the justice sector response to crimes of sexual violence.  The ACC insensitive claims unit and the CEDAW experience has me even more strongly convinced - this government will forget about rape and sexual abuse unless we tell them this is unacceptable to us.

Email Judith Collins and ask her where the Law Commission is at.  And cc in Jo Goodhew, if you believe that reporting on women's lives should include how well our government is responding to and working to end sexual violence.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Auckland screening of The Coathanger Project - 23rd July

ProChoice People, ALRANZ and the Auckland Women’s Centre bring you a screening of

The Coathanger Project

A documentary film about reproductive rights in the United States

Monday 23 July at 6.30pm

Please register at so that we can contact you with venue details.

See for information about the documentary.

Thanks to Pro-Choice People for setting this up. There’s also a FB event page.


I'm hoping to make it along after another meeting :-)

Monday, 9 July 2012

Guest Post: Abortion & maternal mental health report

Many thanks to Family Planning NZ for allowing me to publish the below from their e-newsletter:

A report released in December 2011 by the United Kingdom National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health was commissioned to review the best available evidence on any association between induced abortion and mental health outcomes, and draw conclusions where possible.  The report concluded that, on the best evidence available: 
  • The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.
  • An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.
  • The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems for women was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion. 
  • The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population and following abortion were similar. 
  • There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortions in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of the abortion. 
Here's a link to the full PDF of the report.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Abortion stats out today - UPDATED

The raw statistics will be released today for abortions in the year to December 2011.  The full commentary and data doesn't come out until the Abortion Supervisory Committee report towards the end of this year.

The bits I'll be watching for are the abortions by duration of pregnancy (anecdotal evidence lately suggests there are real problems getting early abortions at some services), and by previous live births (I think it's always helpful to bust the stereotype that those having abortions are never parents already).

Will hopefully update when they come out, although if it's after 2pm I probably won't be able to until tonight.


Here's the info on the Statistics website.  The headline points, from the Stats NZ release are below:

In the year ended December 2011:

  • 15,863 abortions were performed in New Zealand, the lowest number since 1999 (15,501).
  • The general abortion rate was 17.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, down from 18.1 per 1,000 in 2010.
  • Women aged 20–24 years had the highest abortion rate (33 abortions per 1,000 women aged 20–24 years).
  • The median age of women having an abortion was 25 years.
  • Most abortions (62 percent) were a woman's first abortion.
  • 55 percent of abortions were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.

Please consider this an open thread for discussion of the stats and the general state of access to abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This is NOT a thread for discussing the morality of abortion, which you can do over here.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A response to the Can't Feed Don't Breed Brigade

On Monday the NZ Herald started a week-long series looking at the gap between rich and poor in Auckland.  On the first day they examined two families - one well-off and one struggling.  The first had two kids, 10 and 13, the second three children, all aged 3 and under.

The article was widely shared online by leftie progressive types I follow and I was startled by some of the responses, particularly on the issue of the struggling family including three children.

Comments such as these were made:
"Agree though that life is all about choices and looking at the big picture of deciding to have 3 kids (and another from a prior relationship) to support when not in a strong enough financial position points to perhaps the wrong choices being made along the way."
"I agree that an average worker should expect to be able to support a family on average pay, but three or more kids I think is pushing it. You shouldn't enter into a situation you can't afford to maintain, that's irresponsible in my view."
When did we decide that having three kids constitutes a large family?

In the whole of human history there has been a massive period of time with average family sizes of more than 3 children born to one couple.  In many countries in the world now women are likely to have more than two children over the course of their fertile years, indeed the world average fertility rate is a bit over 2.5 on all three measures Wikipedia lists.   Why is it unreasonable to expect to be able to have three children and be able to get by in Aotearoa New Zealand, a comparatively well-off place to live?

What also bugs me is how, like with so many issues that come up through a feminist prism, this is about pretending that you know more about someone else's life than they know about it themselves.  Second guessing the life choices of others is a game I'd rather not play.  There could be many reasons why people have 2< children (or indeed any children, one child, no children).  Maybe there was a contraceptive failure, or cultural pressure to have a big family, or a desire to have children of different sexes, or they had the financial resources at the time of conception, or any range of other reasons that are theirs and not yours, or mine.

And what's are the assumptions made by those saying the equivalent of "you shouldn't breed more mouths than you can feed"?  
  • People's financial situations don't change over time - or at least they don't get worse.
  • Someone can totally foresee how much more each child will add to their outgoings.
  • Contraception is fool-proof and freely available and widely used and not socially, religiously or culturally discouraged for anyone.
  • Abortion for economic reasons is legal and accessible.
None of these is an accurate assumption.  Taken together they in fact look quite ludicrous, and the last one in particular I find quite chilling.  Those advocating for the termination of pregnancies which are going to put financial pressure on a parent, based on projected income, well, there's a name for that.  

And if you don't take it that far, if you merely encourage people who are on tight incomes to end pregnancies, then you are actually asking them to break to law, because, as we frequently discuss on this blog, an abortion for reasons other than the physical or mental health of the pregnant person is illegal in this country.  While personally I'll be working to change that law, it isn't likely that abortions on economic grounds will be allowable in the near future.

So if the "Can't Feed Don't Breed" brigade don't want to force poor people to have abortions, or even encourage them to break the law, then what's the next thing?  Use contraception?  Not 100% effective, so no guarantee of children resulting to impoverish their siblings and parents.  Oh wait I know, don't have consensual heterosexual sex!  At least not during the fertile years - so that's never for men and not until post-menopause for women.  This would certainly be good for that Homosexual Recruitment Drive we've all heard so much about.  

Let's not lose sight of the original point of discussion that the Herald article was about - the widening income disparity in Auckland.  How about we actually look at the real problem, rather than getting distracted.  The issue here is not too many children but too little money; low incomes, whether it be from paid employment or social welfare or a combination of both.

It's not that long ago that most people in this country could expect a reasonable standard of living for their family based on the income of one full time worker, even with three or more children in the household.  The area I represent at Auckland Council, Puketapapa, had the 18th lowest median income in the Herald's stats, despite having a lower percentage of people on benefits (10.5%) than many of the suburbs higher up.  I live here, in one of the poorer suburbs, and I work all over this part of town.  This gap is not about the choices of individuals, it is about a system that distributes wealth in a way that is all wrong.  We simply must lift incomes.  And we do that not by bagging people for having kids but by investing in education, in infrastructure, in social welfare, in job creation, in innovation, in pay equity and, in the public sector, in actual pay to public servants of all hues.  Focusing on procreation is a distraction, not a solution.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Guest Post: Abortion as Society's Mirror

Many thanks to Alison McCulloch for permission to cross-post her recent guest post at the ALRANZ blog, and my apologies for tardiness.

The discussion sparked by Richard Boock’s blog posts (“A Woman’s Right to Choose” and “Defending Your Right to An Opinion”) got me thinking about the how so many moral debates wind up with abortion as their end point. It’s not breaking news that societies tend to act out so many of their moral fears and panics by restricting sexual expression and reproductive rights. That they use contraception and abortion as tools to try to control what they fear or disapprove of. New Zealand has its own long history of doing this, be it trying to get white women to have children in order to avoid “race suicide” to keeping contraceptive information away from teenagers for fear of runaway teen sex – or something.
In a society that devalues certain groups, like those with Down syndrome or others who don’t fit a particular mold, as ours does, again we find the sharp end of the debate being focused on abortion. As if this, and so many other problems, could be solved if only women would stop having abortions for the “wrong” reasons.
The view of the 1977 Royal Commission report on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion, on which our current abortion laws are based, is stuffed full of moral fears and prejudices that quite neatly reflected 1970s society (and, I’d argue, 2011 society, too.) Here, I’ll just offer an excerpt that’s closely related to the issue at hand, from page 200 of the report.
(5) It is not immoral to terminate a pregnancy where the fetus is likely to be born with a severe physical or mental handicap, because the burden of the handicapped person to himself and to his parents may be greater than the sum total of their happiness.
(6) The termination of unborn life for reasons of social convenience is morally wrong.
One could make a good case that (6) and (5) are at odds, that the utilitarian rule used in (5) is completely bizarre and that the use of “fetus” in one case and “unborn life” in the other displays a clear agenda. But aside from all that, look at what this says about societal attitudes.
Then, as now, there’s a desire to condemn abortions that take place for “social convenience” (a nicely loaded phrase the Commission used frequently to conjure up images of women rushing off to the clinic because that pregnancy was going to interfere with their party plans). At the same time, the Commission gave a hearty thumbs up to aborting fetuses that were likely to be a “burden” because society did, and largely still does, both devalue the disabled and approve of such abortions
So the cry goes up: let’s clamp down on the abortions. Let’s ban abortions for X or Y reason to fix X or Y problem. Let’s ban abortions for reasons that we find offensive or trivial or discriminatory or “socially convenient”. That will resolve the difficulty and absolve us. Of course it won’t. Women’s choices cannot but be influenced by the society they live in, the pressures they face, the judgments made by those around them. In a society that devalues women and girls, there’s pressure to abort females, just as in this society, there’s pressure to abort fetuses with certain conditions.
The next step is to make abortion-seeking women (and those who support and facilitate their choice) the culprits for wider society’s perceived failings. It is she who is the root cause of a particular moral problem or a particular group’s being devalued if she has an abortion for the “wrong” reason. It is she who is the cause of promiscuity or moral decline or the breakdown of the family (which hasn’t actually broken down yet). It is she who is the cause of child abuse or our inability to fund superannuation. (A shout-out to Garth George on these last two.)
While we still live under laws that try to pick and choose who should and who should not be able to access abortion care, campaigns to ban abortion for X and Y reason, reflecting X and Y societal failing, will continue. Which is why abortion should be, as of right, up to the individual, its availability not contingent on your having a “worthy” reason, where that reason is dictated and enforced by the state. No, it won’t be a choice made in a vacuum, so campaigns to eliminate, or at least reduce, the kind of pressure to abort that some women say they’ve felt on receiving certain fetal diagnoses, are crucial. Just as important are efforts to stop dumping society’s short-comings at the door of pregnant women and calling them names for choosing to have an abortion.
Abortion restrictions should not be used as a tool to try to deal with wider problems – be they real or imaginary. The social goal might be just, but enforced pregnancy cannot be an answer.
Alison McCulloch is on the National Executive of ALRANZ. The opinions in this post are her own.