Tuesday, 17 June 2008

NZ's abortion law: musings on the strategy from here

Now that the initial flurry of activity has started to die down, hopefully we can all take a calm breath, stretch our blistered fingers to alleviate the cramp, and consider what is going to happen next. And, crucially, what we want to achieve.

Justice Miller's decision on our existing abortion law may not mean an immediate practical change. But it has highlighted, to the public at large, the actual reality of our law - it is not currently abortion on demand. Some of those writing on this seem to think it is relatively easy to access an abortion under the nudge-nudge wink-wink arrangements Right to Life went to court to challenge (eg Ben Thomas* in his recent NBR column [hat tip: Idiot/Savant]). However the ex-expat's post chronicling the voices of women seeking a termination shows otherwise.

So we are at something of a cross-roads. We can hope that the current legal arrangements still allow women to access an abortion when they choose to, most (?) of the time. We know that this is unlikely to be the last attempt Right to Life and their allies make to restrict access to abortion. And we may want to seek a change to the law that makes it abortion on demand in truth, not just in rhetoric.

It seems to me there are two fronts here, in terms of strategy; short term (this year) and medium term (next three years or so). Neither of the major parties will want to go there in the coming months, certainly not prior to the election. Even if a rogue MP (or someone from a Minor) didn't get the party line ("no comment", "conscience vote", "no proposed legislation to consider", etc) and did put up a Member's Bill then logistically it's unlikely to make it even to Select Committee before E Day. So a law change goes into the medium term basket, which I'll come back to soon.

Turning to the short term, the law is possibly going to be enforced though, and that will (further) limit access to abortion. It will mean there may be women who struggle to get access to an abortion when they choose one. Those who know of medical consultants who are able to help may need to quietly share that information.

We will need to continue to provide pro-choice commentary online, in the media, on the letters to the editor pages, and in our communities. As Anjum has pointed out, those who oppose abortion** are mobilised and organised, and champing at the bit for a bit of dirty ol' woman-bashing. Those of us not of that bent will need to be available to provide some balance, and a counter-point for those women out there who have had abortions, are considering one right now, or choose one in the future. If we work together, and avoid the deliberate rat-holes, we hopefully won't get too absorbed by it.

And we could help by focusing on counter-protests outside abortion clinics. L emailed me with information about a protest that happens every Wednesday outside the clinic at Greenlane, complete with Abortion Kills Children placards and pictures of fetuses. A little bit of balance there might not go astray too, and I'm certainly up to heading along with a pro-choice sign of my own on Wednesdays when I can.*** This might be something that people prefer to organise off blog, and to that end it may be worth getting some kind of email group going to share information?**** I note a Facebook group has been established in the last few days.

Discussing the political strategy of all this with others recently, there seem to be two areas of risk in terms of the forthcoming election:

1. Peter Dunne and United Future. If he is in the position of holding the balance of power then this might be an issue he chooses to force into a coalition agreement. He is Catholic, but his voting record on abortion is actually pretty good (hat tip: Idiot/Savant, who has more on Dunne's views on abortion). The fact that there will be at least two other Christian parties out there thumping the drum on these issues, and thus hoovering up the anti-abortion voters, may make Dunne less likely to seek to appease them in any post-election negotiations.

2. New MPs from National.***** We need to know where any possible new Members from National are coming from, be they list or electorate. Will they change the balance in the caucus enough to make it a difficult environment for pro-choice MPs to operate in? Will they change the balance in Parliament as a whole in such a way that a pro-life Bill (of any kind) might pass? Questions will need to be asked to ascertain which way people swing before they are voted in, because it's likely they will face a vote on abortion in the next Parliament. Idiot/Savant has more on this too.

In the medium term we need to consider organising for a change to the law. I read a comment somewhere in the morass where someone claimed that Right to Life took this legal action just because they wanted the law as it stands to be enforced. This struck me as disingenuous. They are called Right to Life, and their website states:

To work purposefully towards, the achievement of the realisable ideal of no abortions within our society.
Hmmm, "realisable"? Ok, I've already ranted about that. Right to Life, and their allies, will be seeking a law change to restrict access, possibly even abolish it. If we want abortion on demand then we will need to go through the Parliamentary processes too.

In that situation we will need to find a pro-choice MP who is prepared to lobby their party leadership to make it a part of their coalition negotiations, or their Government agenda. Neither Labour nor National are going to want to do that, pro-choice leadership or not. And we haven't exactly had any other parties clamouring to go on the record as pro-choice in the last week now have we?****** So that may be a hard ask. But the work we do in the short term will help, if that's where we decide to go.

And finally a question:

Will opening this debate up, in the interests of seeking an improvement to the
law, make things worse for women who have had abortions, or are trying to have
one in the coming months, by stirring up the pro-lifers? Is it possible that the MSM will be happy to just ignore abortion as an issue, unless their is a fight to cover?
I tend towards no, but I'd be interested in your thoughts. Particulary if you are, unlike me, coming from the perspective of having had an abortion. (Note, anonymous comments are an option). Thanks to Anna McM for raising this issue. It is definitely worth considering whether any campaign may be so toxic that it does more harm than good.

* I want to give Ben some credit here, because that can't have been an easy column to get through the NBR's editorial processes. Ultimately he comes down in favour of a woman's right to choose, and canvasses some of the same issues around Labour and National's unwillingness to put up any reform that Maia looked at.
** I saw an anti-abortion blogger who referred to we pro-choicers as "pro-aborts" and it made me giggle. Perhaps I should respond in kind by labelling them "pro-forced motherhood" but that wouldn't really progress the debate very much now would it.
*** I thought I might rip off the picture I've used to illustrate this post, but if others have good ideas for my placard then please feel free to share.
**** There may well be something already out there for this. If so I'd love to know about it as I'd like to join and other women have already emailed me asking about this too.
*****Actually we can't assume new MPs from Labour will be pro-choice either, although they are more likely to be, but realistically there will be less newbies on the red team than the blue, and we know clearly where the red team leadership stands on abortion already.
****** All the releases I could find on
Scoop, about the High Court decision, are in favour of it, and also in favour of restricting or abolishing access to abortion.


Faye said...

I think you're all a bunch of fake feminists and all this polite talk will do absolutely nothing. I'm going to get active and it starts with protesting against these jerks outside the Women's Clinic. They have been doing this for years. They harrass women going for abortions and shove their horrid literature in their faces.

I'm doing a drive by tomorrow and I'm going to abuse these arseholes.

Anonymous said...

Hey sister lets not start attacking eachother! I think protesting outside the Women's clinic is a good idea - i can't make it tomorrow but will on Wednesday's thereafter. Lets stay together on this issue - it is one where people have many different views and opinions even in the 'pro-choice' camp.
Great post Julie - I really appreciate your well thought out approach. Keep it up.

Confusion said...

Do you know what, if any, protest typically happens in the direction of Chch? I'll admit, I'm a lazy internet user, but coordination by people who know what they're doing is key. I can guarantee that some of my friends would take the time to show up and counter-protest if we had any idea there was a need to.

Lucia Maria said...

What about the concept that encouraging women to kill their babies is not such a good idea?

The reason it's such a hard "Choice" is because women are not so stupid that they equate abortion with having a tooth pulled out. It's far worse than that.

Women over the ages had died to protect their children. The "right" to abortion goes against the heroism of every single woman who has gone without so that her child might live.

Maybe expecting better from women in NZ with tougher abortion access will be a blessing in disguise.

Stephanie said...


1. Being pro-choice and being pro-abortion are two different things.

2. Have you ever stopped to consider that some of the people who rantings might actually be women who have had abortions? And as such you might want to consider that given that they've been a process so bad you'd like to see it banned, that you might want to be careful with your words? No didn't think so. Move along.

Anonymous said...

Women over the ages have also died for the right not to have children, or have any more.

The idea that abortion rates are a sign of the 'weakness' of modern women is utterly fallacious, as are most of the supposed 'statistics' used by [mostly male] people like Larry Baldock who've been propogating that myth in the past week.

Stephanie said...

Returning to the topic at hand, people might want to get in touch with local organizations like alranz or the Women's health action trust to lend support financial or otherwise.

Lucia Maria said...

Ex-expat. Yes. I am being very careful with my words.

I used to debate abortion online a number of years ago. It occupied my thoughts every day for a year or so. I've heard every single "pro-choice" argument, including your point 1.

The biggest thing pro-choicers are afraid of is the humanisation of the child that was killed.

And if you have killed your own child and can't admit it, then I am very sorry for you. But, trying to normalise and excuse it for other women just perpetuates what you yourself went through. In other words, as a victim of society's pressure on women to kill their babies for convenience, you are in turn perpetuating that pressure on other women.

Anonymous said...

My only concern is that counterprotest outside abortion clinics will give the anti-choicers more publicity. At the moment they protest and noone even notices (and look at LM desperately trying to stir up some arguments here). From articles, conversations, and the comment threads I've read, most people seem to think abortion should be on demand - even my decidedly conservative workmate said a ban on abortion would have protesting in the streets:)Even this recent media blow-up has almost already died out. So I think the best policy is non-engagement with the anti-choicers, unless they actually start to make some ground (i.e. if something concrete comes out of court decision) - why risk inadvertently helping them when we already have public opinion behind us?

I think there is a definite need to push to make the law reflect what people want - abortion on demand. But as you say, it won't happen til after the election so maybe we should hold fire until then?

Julie said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone, great to come back from a day away from the keys to find these comments.

As for Wednesdays at Greenlane, I've just synchronised real life and online life and realised I won't be there tomorrow either, but I will try next week.

Lucyna, this isn't really a thread to debate access to abortion full stop. You might have noticed the number of other threads that are. I linked to them in the first sentence of this post. And in fact you've commented on some of them...

You make sweeping assumptions about a) women who've had abortions and b) those writing and commenting at The Hand Mirror, and then wonder why people here aren't listening to you.

The excessively emotive nature of your language is cruel and unnecessary. You might want to rethink it if you want to continue to comment here. Not banning you, just giving you a heads up.

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

ms p I agree. One of the points I meant to put in my post but forgot to mention is that I think at the moment a referendum vote for choice would succeed, same with a vote in Parliament, and that attempts to curtail access, by either method, would fail. But the toxic campaign we might have to go through, under any of those scenarios, could possibly do more harm than good, if the current law's "work-around" (as Maia calls it, and I think that is a good label) can prevail. I'm not sure, I'm in two minds about this.

That's why I can understand Maia's frustration in her post:
and I can also see why Helen Clark isn't going to come out with a Member's Bill for choice tomorrow. She'd get labelled a childless baby-killer by a loud few who would get more coverage as a result. And there would be more pro-lifers protesting outside abortion clinics, and more pictures of fetuses all about the place, and more verbal and written attacks on women in general. On the other hand it might be short term pain for (very significant) long term gain? I just don't know.

I tend to be one of those people who says if you don't ask you don't get, and thus we should be in, boots and all, for a law change for abortion on demand. But I'm also aware that I'm not someone who is receiving the patronising and insincere "sympathy" of people like Lucyna for making choices about my own life.

What do people (other than Lucyna) think about non-engagement? Do you think that will help or hinder?

Julie said...

(Speaking as blog admin slave for a moment, I deleted a spam comment from this thread just now.) (Not the e-e's comment)

Anonymous said...

I can definitely see ms. p's point, and have been musing on similar ideas during the day. However I've realised that I am concerned by the idea of picketing clinics, not for that reason, but because I really feel strongly that it's not appropriate to make a battleground in the very place where women are going through the intensely personal experience of having abortions.

I think we need to differentiate between the very public debate being had, and the very private experiences of women going through an abortion. I know there's an argument that counter-protesting shows support for women attending clinics, but I think it's vital to avoid creating situations where individual women are (involuntarily) made into weapons in the 'war'. Anti-legal-abortion proponents have long since made clinics into the battleground, but counter-protesters would be using the very normalness of the women attending those clinics to make their point, which just isn't fair; women don't choose abortion for political reasons. They deserve to be able to enter the fray personally only when and if they choose.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Alison. The essence of what we should be fighting for is women's right to choose being made in private, not subject to endless public handwringing. Protest's sole purpose is to draw people's attention to something. Drawing people's attention to abortion clinics doesn't do any favours to the women who'll face disapproval for being seen to be associated with them.

We need to draw attention to the idiocy of Right to Life etc, and to how widespread and normal our ideas are, not to extreme antics. Ken Orr has already done a press release on that YouTube video someone did, which while obviously heartfelt isn't going to help anything (good soundtrack though). There's a difference between publicly getting something off your chest and effectively using mass media to persuade others and effect change.

Anna said...

The Maxim Institute pretty much discredited themselves a couple of years ago when the public's attention was drawn to the fact that they were making up statistics. How well does the info used by Right to Life etc withstand scrutiny? IE, is it invented or just distorted?

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with the women above who are against the idea of counter-protesting in places where which might further traumatise those of us who are probably already having one of the worst days of their life with even more conflict.

Any protest directed towards those pro-lifers who protest outside clinics - using shaming as a weapon of emotional abuse - should be taken to them in the places where they meet and organise themselves.

It might not be a popular idea, but it comes the part of me that rages inside for the decades which I have had to fend off those who would make me feel guilt for doing what was best for me and my life wants to picket their churches and offices.

Did anybody here happened to watch the Michael Moore series "The Awful Truth" and see the kinds of tactics that he and his supporters have used to counter-protest groups like those fundie freaks who would turn up at the funerals of AIDS sufferers waving banners such as "God Hates Gays" (which I put in the same class as these clinic protesters)?

...well I imagine these are just some of the many ways we could mobilise against the ever-growing fundie freakshow factions that are infecting this country. However we make our voices heard I think it must be in such a way that DE-normalises what it is that they do - which is essentially just another abuse on women.


Julie said...

So the feedback on counter-protest seems to be that it would make things worse rather than better for the women going to the clinics, fair enough. That does mean I will have more time on Wednesdays to do something else to support choice! Thanks everyone for the discussion on that :-)

Anonymous said...

I don 't think protesting "pro Choice" outside clinics is a good idea or productive - as someoen else said it give publicity to "pro-life" people but also brings the spotlight onto women coming and going who (in my experience) mostly want to remain quite and actually just not to be there. There are LOTS of other ways to support women making this choice. I have thought about just quietly supporting women to walk past the pro-life protestors as a way of helping.

Faye said...

I don't appreciate being compared to God Hates Fags groups and it's totally unfair. I know some of you consider women like me as a lower form of life so I won't be involved in any of your protest activities. I don't run with packs anyway. You're so bloody sad, you can't put your personal feelings aside for the sake of women's rights to choose.

It makes my heart sink to think that you lot are the future of the women's movement. I'm sorry ladies, but not all of us fit into your sanitised little world view of how women should behave.

I can't be bothered with waving candles around at silent vigils and signing petitions. At least I made an impact and gave Ken something decent to moan about. I'm really proud of my video by the way and I'm framing that news article and hanging it on the wall.

Julie said...

Armpit, you can keep trolling for a response if you want, but (beyond this) you are unlikely to get one.

Most recent anon, you mentioned quietly supporting women outside clinics, this was kind of more what I had in mind, perhaps you want to expand a bit on this idea?

Anna said...

Z, you described the actions of Right to Life and co as abuse of women, and I think that's a really powerful phrase. I don't know what could be done with that concept exactly, but I would like to confront them with that very stark message in some way.

I also like recent anon's idea of offering support/understanding - countering the nastiness of R to L with some gesture of caring for women undergoing abortions? I know this is naff, but I'm picturing some sort of symbolic gesture like handing out flowers which each represent a woman needlessly distressed by the actions of R to L...

I don't like the moral highground being captured by those who think it's ok to publicly sink the boot into women.

Anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Oops - I didn't mean to post that "Supporting" comment anonymously. I was just thinking about physically making the walk with women across the carpark past those protesting if you catch my meaning. A quiet but physical stand of support. Flowers might be nice though. - a hug? There are always volunteer positions "within the system" (making tea etc) but they vet pretty pretty seriously

Idiot/Savant said...

Z: my first thought was that they should protest outside their local Catholic of fundie church instead. But no matter how funny and satisfying that might be, it could also be counterproductive (not to mention it acknowledges their relevance, which is just the wrong thing to do with religion).

Anonymous said...

Yeh Anna, I just can't see it as any other than that - and it is (in my view of the world) an abuse on so SO many different levels that we wouldn't think twice about raging against in many other contexts.

It's like that thing when you are in a dysfunctional relationship and have come to accept certain things as the norm - like for instance going along with a male partner who has claimed the right to govern the most deeply personal private things about your relationship to your own body such as what kind of sanitary protection to use (yes I've actually had that happen to me!)

Living, as we do, in a society that still has such a dysfunctional relationship to women it's easy to be numb to things that a person of some healthier culture would find staggeringly primitive (do any of you remember this post from last year, which sums up very effectively what I mean by this). And if you work from the premise (as most of us here do) that terminating a pregnancy is one of those most deeply personal private decisions then the monty python version of what these clinic protestors are doing is at the very least as vulgar as picketing outside a woman's toilet cubicle.

But at it's most extremely vulgar - because in my view of the world, enforcing a pregnancy on a woman who does not want a child is akin to forced slavery - then the people who would protest publically like this against a woman for rejecting uterus-slavery deserve the same rage and shaming being hurled at them as if they where supporting any other form of human slavery. I put it right up there with protesting against those who would stop sex-trafficking, cos it's born from the same core premise that a woman cannot own her own sexual/reproductive organs. (ZOMG it makes me wonder if these guys go as far as organ-trafficking if science found a way to have the female uterus exist outside the body - should we start an urban legend about this like the kidney stealing one maybe???)

For those of you who have known me from other blogs over the years, you will notice that I often tangent off into monty pythonesque scenarios, because sometimes the employment of that kind of humour inside my own head is the only way which I have been able to keep sane - because the python humour satirises these freaks that have somehow hijacked our reality with their own dysfunctional view of the world. So for me it's important to claim that back - and why some of Michael Moore's tactics of shaming people/organisations that (in a sane parallel universe) are downright insane.

Which brings me back to the comment I made earlier and a reply to you I/S (hey great to see you here bro, I've missed being able to comment over at your place, but I also understand why you needed to lock things down)... I just want to clarify that that was the "raging part of myself" speaking. And although the things that my "raging self" feel compelled to do are seldom going to be effective in a real world sense I feel it is still important to honour that voice in me before moving on to more effective (and hopefully constructive) plans of action. (Hairy Armpit I hope these words are resonating with you too - I was not in any way criticising you with what I said above and I agree with you on some points also - because my raging self fantasises about taking a band of pro-choice women and handcuffing ourselves to these fundie freaks!!!)

When I suggested taking the protest to them in the places that they organise I did not say (or mean) in the places where a church service is in progress - cos that's their basic human right to do as they choose and would cross a line I would NEVER want to see us cross which sets a precedent for the rabid right to follow. I was speaking from my own experience of mobilising protest actions - they take a lot of hard work and planning and networking, and as I understand it, this particular group has been protesting regularly for years and that's a very rare thing to keep the momentum of year after year (as many of you here who are also involved in orgs like greenpeace and amnesty would know) that takes some committed organisation.

I am suggesting that we organise protests against those picket organisers, which requires having some kind of insider knowledge of when and where they meet. One example of a counter-protest is find out some particular church-person who is leading this group we should picket his/her official place of organising every Wednesday and deliver each time written testimonies of women who have felt abused by their picketers.

LOL I am actually making a lot of this up as I type, but my fingers seem to have taken on a life of their own... so I'll let my fingers take a pause here and leave this as an incomplete suggestion in the hopes it might evolve into a constructive brainstorming session...

Blessed be,

Faye said...

The Epsom Day Clinic as I knew it has moved and is now in a secure unit at Greenlane Women's Hospital to protect women. The "pro lifers" protest on Wednesday mornings only outside Greenlane Hospital.

Anonymous said...

That video is more harmful than positive for women seeking change - it gives Ken Orr etc ammunition to fire against the broader pro-choice movement.

We live in a democracy. Things change because lots of people vote. Lots of people vote because they identify with a cause, whether it's the spokesperson or the issues. They aren't inspired to do so by torrents of abuse directed at people they disagree with. Mockery, perhaps; abuse, no.

The choice to have an abortion isn't just an issue for radicals. Middle class women need it; poor women need it; young women need it; older women need it; pakeha; Maori; Pacific; Chinese; Indian; conservative women really need it, because they've got the most to lose in having an unplanned pregnancy sometimes, and they can't speak out for themselves on it. We need all their support behind us to effect change. It's harder to move the mainstream, but it's the most powerful political force there is. We can't afford to alienate it.

Anonymous said...

I am a registered midwife and have been working in maternity and wider women's health until about a year ago. You might not think it but as a midwife I ended up doing quite a lot of pre and post abortion care. I have to say that although you have to go to get a referral its pretty easy to get a termination in NZ even though the law is an ass. Its NOT hard other than it’s a difficult decision for everyone I’ve ever come across. One woman’s decision to abort a few years back totally shook my “pro-choice” view though. To me her reason for it was just awful. I came through it still pro-choice but seriously challenged because for that woman it seemed “too easy”. Also every woman I have worked along side has been a complete individual in her reaction, choice, feelings and situation. So I hate generalisations about “who” are getting the terminations.

So I have reservations even though I still 100% believe in individual choice. Maybe the women going to clinics don’t need “fluffy bunnies and hugs” although I personally have hugged many of these women. I am fearful that ANY move to fix the law will make it harder for women - in a BAD way

Thanks for writing about this issue.

Amelia (Barcodes NZ) said...

You are one of my favourite Feminist blogs - and definitely my favourite kiwi blog. I just wanted to say thank you very much Hand Mirror for keeping me up to date on issues for women in NZ ;) I enjoy reading all of your posts. They often raise issues/news for me that I discuss later with my parents.