Sunday 4 July 2010

Holding the line

So I have lots to say about Steve Chadwick's proposed private members bill, but I want to start with the nature of abortion law.

New Zealand abortion law is appalling. Parliament is not short of people who know this, but it is short of people who are afraid to do anything about it:
Helen Clark and Phil Goff spoke out about how bad the law we have now is back when it passed, but they haven't done anything about it, since they had the power to.* Sue Bradford, Sue Kedgley, Keith Locke, Ruth Dyson, Margaret Wilson, Marianne Hobbes, Maryann Street - they were prepared to fight this battle in the 1970s, before they got into parliament, they were feminists (or feminist supporters) then. And it's not just those who are in parliament now the numbers have been there for at least the last nine years, others had their chance: Jonathan Hunt, Matt Robeson, Laila Harre, and especially Phillida Bunkle.
So the fact that Steve Chadwick has stepped up - is far more impressive than it should be.

But it's barely even a beginning. Those of us who support women's right to access abortion and make choices about our own bodies cannot just wait for those in parliament to do the right thing. Because they probably won't.

It's not just about whether Steve Chadwick's bill ever gets put in the ballot. It's about what happens next; the Herald's report makes the bill sound very solid. Not my idea of perfect abortion law - but an abortion law that will not put up barriers or demand resources from women before they can access abortion (again I'll write more about that in the next few days).

But abortion law is a strange thing - and often those making it succumb to: "Yes women have a right to access abortion, but we have to remember that abortion is icky".

As Idiot/Savant points out - the danger isn't just that this law won't get through, but that it'll get through with various hooks in it. That those who theoretically believe in a woman's right to chose will bow to the backlash, and use the 'icky' instinct as a justification. Parental notification laws are an obvious example of ways to put huge obstacles in the way for some women, but the US has so many examples of ways to make things difficult for women, while theoretically maintaining a right to abortion.

In order to get meaningful change in abortion law, that'll make a difference to women's lives, everyone involved has to hold the line. Those in parliament won't suppress their 'abortion is icky response' if the organising all comes from misogynist anti-abortionists.

Deborah suggests writing to MPs, which is a start, but only a start. We'll need to do so much more than that to make sure the MPs have no choice but to hold the line.

I think a really good start would be public meetings of those who support the proposed bill. Anyone interested in organising them?

Note for commenters: This post is not for a discussion of the morality of abortion. But a space to talk about how those of us who oppose the current law can organise.


Trouble said...

I'm not sure about the public meetings tactic. They work well when you either have a mass of people newly affected by a policy who want to know more, or a group with a good history of public organising. It's easier to whip up outrage than support - it would be way too easy for pro-lifers who are very good at whipping up outrage and mobilising their troops to crash public meetings.

I think the support that mainstream childcare agencies provided for the s59 repeal bill was important. It would be great to get public support for reform from a broader range of agencies than the FPA and other usual suspects.

Anonymous said...

Some ALRANZ supporters and members are chatting about organising options. We're at

Also, re your pointing, in the post below, Maia, to Bernard Moran's argument that decriminalisation would mean asserting "the child has no value" -- that was indeed an argument made in the Royal Commission report in 1977 on which the current law is based. Then, as now, the assertion assumes that only 'value' (the report calls it "status") attributed by some state agency/law counts. That the pregnant woman cannot attribute any 'value' or 'status' to her pregnancy or that any 'value'/'status' she gives it doesn't count. We contend the exact opposite is true. It is the woman who is the source of status/value here and as such should get to make the decision.

Julie said...

I too am nervous about public meetings. I think that perhaps the first step is about setting up local organising groups, as ALRANZ appear to be doing from the comment above, who will be able to determine best tactics in their area, and be able to determine the best timing for a public meeting (in terms of when during the campaign to do it to best effect and with less likeliness of crashing).

Thanks for the info Anon, I will email that address to express interest in helping out in Auckland :-)

Maia said...

I wasn't thinking about public meetings as a tactic in themself, but as a way of organising. If you're going to get people involved, you need to do it early on.

I agree that one prong will have to be getting respectable health organisations on board. And there are people who will be well placed to do that. I don't disagree with Julie that some people thinking tactically will be useful.

But to really build something strong enough that will help hold the line there's going to need to be a multitude of tactics - including lots that ordinary people can get involved in. We don't have anything like enough organisiations/basis for this to happen now. We need to build them. And I think the best place to start is to get people together who have common ground to figure out what could be done.

Anonymous said...

Outside of blogging about it, - which is effective in an indirect way - the way to involve "lots of ordinary people" would be to do a mail drop. Use a pamphlet to outline the injustices of existing law, and the improvements of the new proposal, in terms that are accessible and rational rather than reactionary. It also must be truthful and not in any way deceptive, because it will be examined by the opposition in detail. With an issue like abortion, any distributed publication is going to catapult into the mainstream media within minutes and once in the MSM it is influencial. It's a way of framing the debate before your opposition does. If there were, say, 5 simple points, and the 24 week issue was one of them, the focus is wide enough to avoid a debate stall on a single issue. It needn't go to every house hold or every neighbourhood. In the urban residential/city fringe district of a major city, 5000 would be enough.

Trouble said...

Mail drops are very expensive. We don't have John Banks in our ranks or church-funded American pressure groups, and there are ways to get the message out that are a lot more cost effective. We should definitely find ways to talk about these offline.

Anonymous said...

"We don't have John Banks in our ranks or church-funded American pressure groups..."

You may have deeper potential pockets than you think. This issue isn't a feminist issue: it effects people from every part of society.

Anonymous said...

"This issue isn't a feminist issue: it effects people from every part of society."

Very true. But people don't seem to want to talk about it. To "out" themselves as pro-choice for lack of a better word. It's that "ick" factor.

Trouble said...

Well, I definitely don't have $5000 for postage and printing for 5000 pamphlets. And if I did, I'd spend it on a decent website and some posters, which wouldn't end up in the rubbish bin if the first person who looked at it wasn't interested. The Atheist Bus crowd raised about $20000 for their billboards, and got a lot of free publicity alongside it. 5000 leaflets each in 4 cities wouldn't have had nearly that impact.

Kira said...

I agree that we should set up some local groups to think about organising and tactics, I for one would certainly like to get involved. I have written to my local MP (um, Rodney Hide) and to Steve Chadwick expressing my support. I have also emailed ALRANZ to find out what action they are considering and to offer my assistance.

I'm not sure if a leaflet drop would be productive - I for one just pull out my mail and put the rest in the recycling without reading it. I think the key would be to get our stance in the mainstream media: a perspectives column in the Herald for instance, and we all know they will interview anyone on Breakfast!

We need to all come out of the woodwork and show the government that support for this law change runs wide and deep.