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

The need for abortion law reform

I wrote yesterday about Right to Life’s latest attack on abortion access in New Zealand, so it’s timely to talk about the issue.

Abortion is one of the great untouchable topics in New Zealand politics. In the 80s we could fully decriminalise homosexuality, but we couldn’t decriminalise abortion. In the 2000s we could decriminalise sex work, but we couldn’t decriminalise abortion. We have absolute marriage equality now … and abortion is still the issue that people, especially on the left, freak out about every time.

As Alison McCulloch said in a post I linked to yesterday:

If this were any other issue, if the lives at stake were any other than those of people seeking abortions, action to provide this health service locally and more safely would be swift. But this is abortion. So even though this is about a procedure roughly one in four New Zealand women will undergo in their lifetimes, and even though abortion is something that is absolutely crucial to the autonomy and freedom of at least half of the population, politicians will continue to say everything is fine, judges will continue to make the law and doctors will continue to have control over our bodies, and our lives.

Alison’s book on the history of the abortion rights struggle in New Zealand, Fighting to Choose, is an absolute must-read.

Why is this the line? Why, at the recent Region 4 conference of the Labour Party I attended, did a remit on medical funding for trans people pass with no problems (I’m not going near the subsequent media statements by Labour MPs), and a remit on end of life choice pass with no problems, but a remit on abortion failed?

I can’t speak for the people who voted against it or spoke against it. I can only guess, and probably unfairly, about why abortion gets treated as a special issue.

But these are the facts.

Abortion is a crime in New Zealand. It is only allowed under certain circumstances, on the agreement of two separate physicians. Rape is not grounds for an abortion – it was specifically omitted because our lawmakers assumed pregnant people would just lie about being raped. You know, the way we always do.

Abortion access is very difficult for some people. The Abortion Supervisory Committee has regularly highlighted this. Until very recently, pregnant people seeking abortions who live in Invercargill had to travel to Christchurch, on a specific day of the week, sometimes staying overnight, to have their terminations. Pregnant people from the West Coast still have to do this.

Our abortion laws were written in the late 70s. Medical technology has moved on – that’s why Right to Life hope to be able to force the Family Planning clinic in Tauranga to stop providing safer, easier, cheaper medication abortions. Society has moved on.

I cannot accept that it is impossible to explain this issue clearly and concisely to people – and get a good, constructive response.

In fact, I know it’s not impossible. In 2013 Alison McCulloch did a Prochoice Highway tour across New Zealand, and received overwhelmingly positive reactions. When you have a chat to people and say “Hey, did you know abortion is still a crime in New Zealand law? Did you know pregnant people have to get two different doctors to sign off on their procedure, and have to plead mental illness to get it?” they are surprised. That’s not the New Zealand they know – the liberal hippie paradise which gave women the vote first and kicked out American nuclear subs. Our abortion laws are worse that America’s – that shocks people.

And when you tell them that people still have to raise money to fly to Australia for abortions if they don’t find out they’re pregnant early enough, they’re shocked. Or that abortion providers are still targeted for vandalism and abuse, in this day and age.

The message is simple: abortion is a common, safe medical procedure, governed by laws from the 70s. There’s nothing radical about acknowledging they need to change. There’s nothing scary about letting pregnant people be in control of their own bodies.

Yes, the religious extremists will howl and wail and threaten divine retribution. Just like they did for prostitution law reform. Just like they did for civil unions. Just like they did for marriage equality. But for God’s sake, New Zealand. Maurice Williamson of all people became an international star on the basis of mocking that kind of ridiculous scare-mongering.

They are bullies. They attack us to make us back down. And time and time again, on this issue, we – the progressive left of New Zealand politics – have rewarded their behaviour by shying away from it.

All we need is the courage to say “our abortion laws are outdated. Bringing them in line with modern medical knowledge will save taxpayer dollars and provide huge benefits to New Zealand women.* It’s the right thing to do and you’re right. There are other important issues too. So isn’t it great how quickly we can fix this one and move on?”

This issue isn’t going away. So why not make it a win?

 

 

*Not only women get pregnant.

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.

QOTD: myself on parental notification for abortion

This is one of those issues which just makes me tired every time it rears its head, so instead of burning energy writing up a big post on it I just blurted out some thoughts on Twitter. And people seemed to like them! So for posterity:

(I’ve only copied every second one since I cannot find how to stop them displaying the previous tweet with each one!)

Later this week: a post on abortion which I DID have the energy to write.