I aten’t dead

April 2017: a hell of a month offline, so damned quiet around here. But I’ve managed to do a bit of writing elsewhere, so don’t fret!

Today at The Spinoff: Enough bullshit. After all these years the Pike River families deserve answers

Something you notice about with the Pike crew is how they speak in the abstract. “Our boys.” “Our men.” It’s a natural coping mechanism. No one could survive six years with no closure, no justice, and very little hope, feeling every bit of the grief you’re entitled to when your husband or son goes to work one day and never comes home. Fighting just to get a basic investigation of the crime scene where he died, and accountability from the people whose inaction or negligence or outright greed killed him.

I got involved early with Stand With Pike, by virtue of being the closest millennial to hand when the crew were trying to get the word out about their picket, battling West Coast cellphone drop-outs and Facebook’s clunky Page Manager app. Contrary to the fever-dreams of Matthew Hooton, I’m not paid for it. It’s just the right thing to do. Because it’s so counter to every value I hold, that after six years, no one has been really held to account for letting 29 men die. Anna and Sonya and Dean and the others should not still be fighting for answers and justice. They should never have had to fight for it at all.

And a few weeks back at Overland: In New Zealand, where abortion is still a crime

Today, getting an abortion in New Zealand can involve five separate medical appointments: the initial pregnancy test and referral to an abortion provider (if your doctor provides referrals), two appointments with certifying consultants (if they both approve you), an initial consultation at the abortion clinic, and the procedure itself. …

In the 1970s, the Sisters Overseas Service helped fly women who wanted an abortion to New South Wales. We like to think those days are behind us, but in 2013, a young woman from Wellington was reduced to crowdfunding $7,000 to fly to Melbourne for hers.

How have we let this go on?

Back to the keyboard …

Victory for Family Planning, but we still need abortion law reform

Family Planning have won again:

Family Planning has maintained its licence to operate an early medical abortion service at its Tauranga clinic.

…However, Ms Edmond commented on how lucky Family Planning was. The decision could easily have gone the other way and women may not have continued to have the choice of having an early medical abortion in their home town. What this latest legal challenge highlights is the need for abortion law reform.

“As a provider of abortion services, Family Planning is keenly aware of the fragility of the current law. We know that groups, like Right to Life, will continue to try to poke holes in our failing and antiquated laws. What happens if next time they are successful?” says Ms Edmond.

The issue is this: Family Planning in Tauranga offers early medical abortion, where the pregnant person takes two pills to induce a miscarriage. It’s safer and far less invasive that a surgical abortion.

But when our abortion law was passed in the 70s, medical abortion didn’t exist. So when regulating the facilities where abortions are done, it was assumed that surgery is involved. Right to Life’s argument was that the law should thus be interpreted so that only clinics with surgical facilities can perform abortions – even when the abortion itself involves no surgery.

They literally want medical practice in 2015 to be dictated by what politicians in 1977 assumed was the way to do things.

If there’s clearer evidence that the anti-abortion lobby are solely motivated by controlling pregnant people’s bodies, I don’t know what it is. They aren’t interested in safety and best medical practice – early medical abortion is safer and does reflect best medical practice. They just want to create delay. Force pregnant people to travel further to access medical care. Tell them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to undergo a safe medical procedure. Make them wait until there aren’t any choices left.

This is why we need abortion law reform. I can’t think of another issue which is literally stuck in the 70s, with a law that’s almost totally irrelevant in the context of 2015, yet constantly met with cries of “Ew, no, don’t bring that up!”

There is nothing radical about saying “this law was passed in 1977, and it didn’t even reflect best practice then. It creates pointless red tape and costs time and taxpayer dollars. Medical science has advanced. Let’s update our law so it’s practical, cost-effective, and fair.”

mean girls duh

The opposition is an extremist, powerless minority. They couldn’t stop prostitution law reform, they couldn’t stop civil unions, they couldn’t stop the repeal of section 59, they couldn’t stop marriage equality. Their greatest recent victory was a temporary injunction against a book which helped it score an international publishing deal.

But politicians are afraid to take a stand. Even though there are many people who would actively campaign for abortion law reform. Right to Life always likes to sneer about the size of organisations like ALRANZ, but there’s also the Greens, whose policy is to decriminalise abortion, and Young Labour who have consistently campaigned for and spoken out on abortion issues.

We do a pretty good rally, too.

Rally for abortion rights at Parliament

A post shared by @msstephaniecatherine on

This is a winnable argument. Most people are shocked to learn abortion is still in the Crimes Act. They don’t realise some DHBs don’t offer abortion services, or that people still fly to Australia for terminations. We can get that message out there – but the people with the big public platforms to do it need to stop flinching and saying “oh no, we can’t mention the A-word!” first.

We’re leaving the field open for the extremists, to take vexatious cases against Family Planning, to drum up baseless anxiety about parental notifications, to keep telling us that pregnant people can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. And that’s not okay.

And now, an unintentionally pro-choice ditty from Twisted Sister.

Prolife NZ: importing premium US intimidation tactics

(Content note: antichoice violence and intimidation tactics)

A “pro-life” group in NZ has decided to post an article at their website screaming blue (baby-)murder about the latest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood in the United States.

And wouldn’t you know it, there I am! Standing on the right with some friends from ALRANZ and the thoroughly inspirational Cecile Richards. It was taken at a Family Planning conference in 2014, where according to Prolife NZ, Ms Richards

[was] flown [in] … to train up New Zealand abortion activists on rolling out their US style abortion strategy to New Zealand

… or, if you’re not a religious extremist who hates women, “gave a keynote speech at a conference.”

The actual “accusations” against Planned Parenthood this time are the usual laughable slurs, presented in a heavily-edited, one might almost say dishonestly-presented video. Trying to make a connection to New Zealand Family Planning just because they got the head of PP to talk to their conference one time is the same (poor) calibre of argument.

But here’s the irony. As Prolife NZ try to smear ALRANZ and Family Planning over their “close ties” to the USA prochoice movement, they’re importing the dishonest, abusive tactics of the USA antichoice movement wholesale. From the absolute beat-up of a story which has zero credibility and even less relevance to the state of abortion in New Zealand, right down to the intimidation tactics: posting pictures of people without their consent and deliberately naming them in order to direct hostility at them.

If you think that’s an overreaction, consider this comment left on Prolife NZ’s Facebook – under a photo of me and my friends.

prolife threat edit 230715

That’s right. Go to a conference to hear a woman talk, get people on Facebook wishing violent dismemberment on you.

This kind of thing is usually met with defensive cries of “oh but we don’t support violence” (though they’ve left the comment up.) It’s nonsense. When Dr George Tiller was murdered in 2009, prominent antichoicers even tried to deny that his assassin, Scott Roeder, was part of their movement – despite a 20-year history of antichoice activism.

But there is simply no other plausible explanation for Prolife NZ’s post than intimidation. There is no significant connection between Planned Parenthood’s services and ALRANZ. There is no need to reproduce a year-old photo, and no need to name three of the women in it, except to make them targets for hatred (and hopefully not worse).

The New Zealand antichoice movement has form for this; a few years back there was even a wiki maintained of prochoice activists, with photos and records of events they’d attended.

It’s bullying. It’s intimidation. And it perfectly illustrates the real goal of the “pro-life” movement: to keep women in their place.

Here’s what I have to say to that.

underwood go fuck yourself

Rally for abortion rights in Wellington today

I meant to write this post a while ago, but it’s been much more pleasant to have a long weekend playing the Defiance MMO and finishing off a manuscript.

Abortion access in New Zealand (such as it is) is under threat again, with “Right to Life” going to court to argue that the Family Planning clinic in Tauranga shouldn’t be allowed

And you know what, they may, technically, be right. Our abortion laws (such as they are) were passed in 1977. Medical technology has moved on (along with the rest of the world.) So our laws don’t make allowance for medication abortion. It didn’t exist then.

The benefits of medication abortion are huge. It’s far safer (though it bears noting that no one has ever died from complications relating to an abortion in New Zealand. The idea that abortion is horribly dangerous is an antichoice lie.) It’s easier to administer. It doesn’t require surgery.

Of course the antichoice movement hate it. As Alison McCulloch puts it at the ALRANZ blog:

It’s commonsense, and borne out in numerous studies, that the earlier an abortion is performed, the safer it is and – as anyone who’s had to wait for abortion access will know viscerally – the better it is for patients.  So, of course, Right to Life, in its latest effort to chip away at access, wants women to have the wait longer and travel farther. This is harassment no less than the more overt kind encountered on the pavement outside pretty much every abortion provider in this country – something else the ASC said in its report it was concerned about: “We have received reports of instances of verbal abuse and the distribution of offensive material to people entering hospital facilities. … We have addressed this in previous reports and feel it is necessary to highlight again this issue affecting the provision of services throughout New Zealand.”

If you want to take a stand for abortion access and you’re in Wellington tomorrow at noon, come along to the High Court on Molesworth Street.

There’s a Facebook event, but be advised – the New Zealand antichoice movement has form for recording and publishing the names and photographs of people who RSVP on Facebook events for prochoice demonstrations.

Because that’s just how full of love and compassion they are.

David Farrar gets it wrong on abortion law in NZ

Oops, two posts criticising DPF in a row, that’s a little weird – a consequence of the Labour Party’s leadership dominating the news, and my reticence about wading into that issue, I suspect!

But I have to correct him on this. In a post today about abortion rights around the world (linking to a really good interactive graphic from The Guardian) he says:

Oceania is low also, but in NZ we effectively have abortion on request – but not as a legal right.

Farrar is wrong. We don’t have abortion on request in New Zealand. Not literally, and not “effectively.”

Admittedly, abortion is a topic which doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Like most “morality” issues, it gets treated as taboo, dirty, not Proper Conversation. But it does get raised every now and then – The Wireless did some fantastic reporting as part of their “free” theme – so really, there’s no excuse to keep making these kinds of incorrect assumptions.

As ALRANZ’s “16 reasons to change New Zealand’s abortion laws” factsheet states, our current laws dictate an onerous, expensive, dehumanizing process, where people have to see up to four different medical practitioners, often involving huge amounts of travel and time off work and childcare,

As ALRANZ says in another factsheet on the law, the reason some people have relatively good access to abortion services is because there is a strong network of doctors and providers in some parts of the country. If you’re not in an urban centre, it gets much more difficult.

And the current situation is repeatedly threatened by anti-abortion activists mounting legal action.

That isn’t “effectively abortion on request” at all.

Now, if we really did have easily-accessible abortion on request, even if not in name, I’d still have a problem with our laws. People deserve to be treated with dignity. Women (the majority of people who get pregnant are women, but not all) deserve not to have laws which explicitly assume that they as a class can’t make decisions about their own bodies, and can’t be trusted to tell the truth (rape isn’t included in the grounds for abortion, because – isn’t it always? – it was assumed women would lie about it).

But this isn’t just about the wording of our laws. This is about people having to crowdfund for tickets to Melbourne in order to get an abortion, in 2013.

Our abortion laws are outdated and harmful. And it’s not going to change if high-profile commentators like David Farrar keep spreading misinformation about it.

(Disclaimer: I am a proud member of ALRANZ.)