I attended two conferences in Lisbon May/June 2014
13th Congress of the European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health (ESC) held in Lisbon, Portugal 28-31 May 2014. Theme: Challenges in Sexual and Reproductive Health.
This was a well organised congress with 2,400 registrants including several from Australia and three from New Zealand. An interesting feature was the electronic display of posters. Six separate screens enabled six readers to access all of the 251 poster presentations on user-friendly touch screens and these were also made available on the internet to conference participants.
The opening address was historical: “Introducing the Dutch Cap: Dr Aletta Jacobs, first woman medical doctor in Holland” by Professor Saskia Wieringa, University of Amsterdam. This resonated with my interest in the history of contraception and we found we had a lot in common. I was able to tell her that there is a photo of Dr Jacobs in my new book Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-century New Zealand.
An interesting session was on Green Contraception, promoting contraception with low environmental impact including the reduction of ethinyloestradiol (used in many oral contraceptives) which is harmful to fish and other wildlife when excreted into water. There were several papers discussion the use of long acting reversible contraception (LARCs) i.e. IUDs and implants. These devices are strongly recommended to prevent repeat abortions.
By Dr. Morgan Healey, ALRANZ President
I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at ‘That’s What She Said: Intersectional Feminist Day Conference’ hosted by the University of Canterbury Feminist Society in collaboration with NZ Tertiary Women’s Focus Group on feminism and intersectionality. I took the opportunity to position abortion law reform within a wider reproductive justice framework. While reproductive justice came out of the black women/women of color feminist movements in the US, it offers an important critique of pro -choice movements that have historically focused singularly on abortion. In doing so, pro-choice activists have often erased the multiple oppressions that different women and pregnant people experience.
In summary, and to quote Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Health Collective, reproductive justice is:
the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.
As part of my talk I used the framework to make connections between current events and reproductive justice. The excerpt below was entitled ‘when race and reproductive intersect’ and is a call to all reproductive activists to acknowledge that bodily autonomy extends to more than just the right to an abortion: it requires challenging racial injustices which position certain raced bodies in unsafe and unequal power relationships.
Many of you will likely be aware of the protests happenings in Ferguson, Missouri in the US, where an unarmed black 18 year old, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by the police. His death is not uncommon: it is estimated that ten black people, mostly men, are shot per week in the US by the police, or another statistic that stated that a black person is killed by the police every 28 hours. In a recent article from the US media outlet, Slate, it was noted that St. Louis has a long history of racial segregation. This persistent inequality and marginalization is exacerbating the current protests, with large crowds taking to the streets to express their outrage at the ubiquity of such incidences.
In the Slate piece, the author talked to several young men taking part in the protests, and they explained that on average they are stopped by the police for nothing more than walking down the street ‘while black’ sometimes 10 times a month or once a week. And this level of racial profiling isn’t unique to Ferguson. Urban segregation is said to be increasing in cities across the US caused by the growth of social and economic inequality post -global financial crisis.
But what does racial segregation have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a bit. As multiple media sites have reported – Colorlines, MS, the Huffington Post and RH Reality Check – the ability of women of colour to be able to have and raise children safely and free from violence is paramount to the concept of justice. These are necessary and important connections to make. Racism and racial inequality play a huge role in the reproductive decisions many women make.
Specifically, would-be-parents have to consider their children’s daily safety, wondering if their children will be stopped by the police for nothing more than ‘walking or driving while black’. These are serious concerns that no parent should have to face, and ones that is essential in not only understanding women’s reproductive decision-making and options for parenting but also the importance of reproductive activists advocating for racial equality.
For more on reproductive justice and the articles mentioned above check out:
Colorlines: Black Feminists Respond to Ferguson by Miriam Ziola Perez
MS: Black youth in the Crosshairs by Anita Little
RH Reality Check: What is a woman’s issue? Women of color challenge the prevailing narrative by Emma Akpan
Huffington Post: What Does the Crisis in Ferguson Have to Do With Reproductive Justice? by Terry O’Neill, Nat President of NOW
Slate: Why the Fires in Ferguson Won’t End Soon by Jamelle Bouie
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Prochoice advocates are holding a solidarity demo tomorrow (Wed, 20 Aug) from 8:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. outside the Irish Consulate at 205 Queen Street in Auckland. The demos are to support rallies across Ireland and Europe also on the 20th protesting the latest horrendous case of what can only be considered the torture of a pregnant woman.
Make some signs. Wear some green.
Sunday Times: State denied abortion to rape victim
Letter to the Irish Government
Like most people around the world the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) was saddened and appalled by the most recent denial of of yet another pregnant person’s reproductive rights. The continued refusal of the current and subsequent Irish governments to do anything more than the bare minimum to ensure access (I.e the right to travel and information) to abortion services is beyond disappointing, it is an infringement on a woman’s human right to health and to be free from torture.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for a young woman to flee persecution in one country only to be confronted with more of the same in a country that was supposed to be a safe haven? To exchange one violation of her body through sexual assault for another form; to have your body commandeered by a government and forced to not only carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, but forcibly fed with liquids, and cut open by a doctor sworn to do no harm. What kind of world are you, the Irish Government, bringing this child into when you absolutely refuse to acknowledge its mother’s basic humanity?
For what purpose and to what end? In the name of preserving some notion of an Irish, postcolonial identity as sanctified in the 1937 Constitution where a woman’s position is clearly defined in relationship to her ability to reproduce the nation: mothers/incubators, not autonomous beings charged with determining their own reproductive destinies. The desire to sustain the nascent Irish state has lead to women’s bodies being a key battle ground for this contestation; to cleanse the liberalising, pro-abortion influences of the British from the Republic. And yet, it would seem the majority of the Irish people have moved on. Year on year, polls produce increasing not decreasing support for access to abortion. Referendums in 1993 and 2002 both failed in their goals of trying to roll back the decision in the X case.
Why is it only politicians who are trapped in anachronistic understandings of reproductive rights? Would the status quo still operate without external forces intervening? It took the European Court of Human Rights and the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar to finally bring in legislation around the X case. A full 30 years after the 1983 8th Amendment equated the right to life of the fetus with its mother, and 21 years since the X case when the then Government interned a 14 year old rape victim in the country, refusing her right to travel for an abortion in England. Even the recently passed Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is badly flawed as suggested by multiple, venerable medical professionals and activists before it was passed. And who is left to bear the brunt of this ineptitude? Pregnant people.
It is time for this to end. No more women should be tortured like this young asylum seeker. Abortion should not just be for those with the privilege and means to be able to access abortion off shore. ALRANZ calls on the Irish Government to do what it should have done 30 years ago- repeal the 8th Amendment. Send the message that you trust women to make decisions about their bodies; not the medical community, not the Catholic Church and not you, the legislators. Repeal, repeal, repeal. It is the only humane option left.
Dr Morgan Healey
On behalf of ALRANZ
My Decision. Kei a au te Whakataunga
MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17 August 2014
NEW WEBSITE LISTS DOCTORS WHO OPPOSE CONTRACEPTION
A new grassroots project aimed at sharing information about doctors and other medical professionals who hinder reproductive health-care access because of moral or religious reasons is being launched today online.
Called My Decision/Kei a au te Whakataunga (www.mydecision.org.nz), the project invites people seeking services like contraception or abortion to report any experiences of hostile or unhelpful health professionals to the website.
But the site is not just for patients. My Decision spokesperson Terry Bellamak said organisers were also inviting doctors and others who “conscientiously object” to some services to list what options they do and do not offer.
“From the standpoint of consumer protection, it makes no sense to keep potential patients in the dark about their health care providers’ intentions. ‘Conscientious objectors’ who agree can demonstrate their good faith by registering on our site,” she said.
Ms. Bellamak said the project, which has been a year in the making, was sparked in part by the 2010 court judgment that expanded conscientious objection rights of doctors, and the Medical Council’s subsequent decision not to mount a challenge, nor to publish doctors’ conscientious objection status on their website.
Since then, there have been several worrying cases, including one in Blenheim last year, when a woman was denied contraception by a doctor who was reported as saying he didn’t “want to interfere with the process of producing life“.
“In the spirit of the old ‘Hot and Cold Doctor files’ compiled by women’s health activists in the 1970s, we decided we’d have to do this work ourselves,” Ms. Bellamak said.
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By Michele A’Court, ALRANZ Member
(originally written for the Christchurch Press, June 2014)
Two weeks ago, the Greens reignited our conversation about abortion, describing our current legislation as “dishonest” and proposing that all terminations be decriminalised.
Ok, “reignited” is a strong word. As a conversation starter, raising the subject of abortion pretty much guarantees most politicians are going to dash away like they’ve just remembered they left the iron on at home.
Anti-abortionists worry a fresh look at our 37-year-old legislation will mean we’ll end up with something more liberal; pro-choice advocates fear new regulations could end up more restrictive. And so we stop talking about it at all.
Here’s the thing: If we really want to change our abortion law, we need to change the way we talk about it amongst ourselves. Ordinary women – the 15,000 of us each year who terminate a pregnancy – need to be more open and honest about our experience of it. I’ll start.
Several years ago, I had an abortion. It took some courage and it made me sad, but it was the right thing to do – for me, and for the child I already had, and the other people I care for.
I felt ashamed at the time for becoming pregnant – I was, I felt, old enough and smart enough to know better. But I am not at all ashamed of terminating the pregnancy. I am endlessly grateful to the medical practitioners who cared for me through the process. Not everyone was kind, but most of them were.
I have imagined what my life would have been like if terminating an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy had not been an option for me, and what I feel more than anything is a tremendous sense of relief that one moment of my own recklessness was not allowed to completely redefine all of our lives.
Several years after my own abortion, I met a woman who works at an Australian clinic which specialises in late-term abortions. Wendy said all kinds of people go there – you will see married couples who simply can’t manage another child; very young girls with their parents; and middle-aged women who have mistaken pregnancy for menopause.
In the state of Victoria, abortion is available up to 24 weeks on request. Women, Wendy said, come from all over Australia and New Zealand – there are few practitioners in either country who will perform terminations after 18 weeks, even though it is legal.
Abortions after 18 weeks are more complicated – a surgical rather than medical procedure – and women arrive at the clinic where Wendy works each Monday and stay – usually with family or friends for support – for the whole week.
I asked Wendy why she chose to work there. She said it was for the remarkable change she saw each week in the women – from arriving on Monday, hunched and sad, and leaving on Friday “looking like they can do anything, like they can take on the world”.
And so I stand firmly with Hillary Clinton on this: abortion should be safe, legal and rare.
For more from Michele, visit http://www.micheleacourt.co.nz/. If you’d like to write a post for us, we’d love to hear from you!
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By Dr. Morgan Healey, President ALRANZ
Note: Alranz exec members wrote two op-eds that were submitted to The New Zealand Herald (APN) and The Waikato Times (Fairfax) on 8 June, two days after the Green’s policy was announced. They weren’t published so we thought we’d reproduce them here. This is the first, by Morgan Healey, submitted to the Herald. We will post the second in a few days.)
The Green Party last week [6 June] became the first political party in Aotearoa New Zealand to set formal policy on abortion. With the ratification of their women’s health policy, the Greens took a momentous step forward in the fight for abortion law reform; something organisations like the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) have been advocating for since 1971. Despite what anti-abortion groups have said, this is not a radical or extreme policy. It actually places abortion within the continuum of sexual and reproductive health care – asserting what most of us already know – abortion is a necessary medical service that does not need to be regulated by archaic, confusing or harmful laws that restrict access and limit bodily autonomy. The Greens’ spokesperson on the policy, MP Jan Logie, was unambiguous in her statement about this: abortion is not a crime, so let’s stop treating it as such!
While this policy does not change the current criminalisation of abortion, it is important for two reasons: it makes abortion a topic for discussion in an election year, and it sends the message that women must be trusted to make their own reproductive decisions.
Talking about abortion in an election year is a brave step and one I applaud the Greens for taking. I know it would have been just as easy to wait and release the policy after the election or not bother to talk about abortion at all (which seems to be the political default), but they didn’t. This sends a clear signal not just to the electorate but also to the other parties: women’s autonomy and rights should not be ignored for political gain. We haven’t seen this type of political commitment to reproductive justice since then Labour MP Steve Chadwick tried to tackle abortion in 2010, and was subsequently punished for her bold efforts.
I recognize that abortion is not going to be the defining issue of this election. ALRANZ is a non-partisan organisation, and as such hopes Labour, National, New Zealand First, Māori and Internet/Mana sit up and take notice of the Greens’ action; not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it also contests the ‘scariness’ of abortion as a political issue. If the Greens’ policy can begin to normalise abortion as topic for discussion, then this is indeed a win for the pro-choice movement.
And this leads into the second reason the Greens’ policy is so important – taking the exceptional out of abortion and attempting to destigmatise it. On average, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. In 2012, 14, 745 women had an abortion in Aotearoa. I doubt any of these women planned to have an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, but for whatever reason they made the best choice for themselves in that moment. Whether or not they realized it, their actions were governed by the Crimes Act, their decision was not their own, but sanctioned by two certifying consultants; and 98% of them were deemed mentally at risk in order to meet the restrictive grounds for an abortion. The only thing exceptional about New Zealand’s abortions laws is how unacceptable they are, and that in 2014 women continue to be treated as second-class citizens. What is even more appalling is that in general politicians have allowed this to happen.
The Greens have challenged this reality, asserting it is time to trust pregnant people to make decisions about their reproduction. To quote Logie,
“…it is time that abortion is removed from the Crimes Act, and brought out from that shadow of judgment and mistrust of women, because ultimately it is a health issue.”
For far too long politicians have been able to remain silent on abortion. I am hopeful that this new policy will encourage and enable other political parties to step out of shadows of anti-choice intimidation and fear mongering. The pregnant people of this country deserve more than fragmented and criminalised reproductive health care. The electorate of this country can help to change this – ask your local candidate or political party about abortion this election year. Make sure politicians know that the continued criminalization of abortion is not acceptable and it is time for law reform.
[Authorised by Dr. Morgan Healey, President, Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, P.O. Box 28-008, Wellington, 6150]
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ABORTION LAW REFORM ASSOCIATION OF NEW ZEALAND
1 July 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Book Launch: The Untold Stories of Abortion in 19th Century New Zealand
The tragic toll of unsafe illegal abortion in 19th Century New Zealand is the focus of a powerful new book by longtime women’s health advocate Dame Margaret Sparrow that is being launched today in Wellington. (Photos of launch by Noemi.)
The book Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-Century New Zealand (Victoria University Press) tells the stories of 25 women who died at a time when choices were severely limited.