Dispatches From the U.S.: Fear, Loathing, Racism & Violence

15 Jul

Fear, loathing, racism and violence in the US

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the 11th in the blog series by Morgan Healey, immediate past President of ALRANZ, who has recently returned to the US. It aims to bring to life the uniquely absurd state of reproductive rights and justice in the US.

It has been another brutal, violent week in the US — the vicious police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile followed by the mass shooting in Dallas, Texas. I have read the stories and heard the calls for more and better gun restrictions, the need to end racial police profiling and killings, and the need for criminal justice reform. And to all of that, I say yes — quickly before more blood is shed.

Perhaps it is because I have never owned a gun, never handled one and never wanted to that I do not understand, nor support a reading of the Second Amendment that asserts it as a right. I have lived in countries with histories of colonization, war, and violence, which in many ways mirror the pain and suffering, the segregation, and the loss of cultural and spiritual identity seen in the US. But in those contexts, police do not as a rule carry guns, gun violence happens but it is rare, and mass shootings do not dominate the evening news. That does not mean that racism has ceased to exist, or high rates of mass incarceration do not disproportionately affect non-white people. Statistics highlight the extent of racial inequality in both the US and New Zealand. However, racism in New Zealand does not appear to lead to dead brown bodies in the streets, gunned down by the people who are supposed to protect society from harm.


Why are the two so inextricably linked in the US?

Unfortunately, I do not have the answer.

But I will say that to my mind gun violence and racism will never be solved unless we understand them as interconnected, two sides of the same coin. We are a nation born of violence and bloodshed, built on the inhumane enslavement of non-white bodies. And yet we assert this has little import in modern society. Instead our national creation myth has always focused on throwing off the chains of British colonization, never the trail of tears it left in its wake. Even the liberal philosophies and tenets that we triumph, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are flawed. Designed and perfected with white, male, property-owning bodies in mind, they remain the reserve of white, heterosexual, economically well-off, cisgender men. So while we hold dear the ability to own and ‘defend’ one’s body and home, we simultaneously and systematically deny safety and autonomy to certain bodies. A black person holding a gun is understood as a threat, a white person holding a gun is a token of liberty. We are a nation of contradictions and inequalities.

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Media Release: Right Decision on Under-16s Petition

10 Jul

Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand


 7 July 2016


Young people in New Zealand will not be obliged to tell their parents if they are having an abortion – and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand says that’s the right decision. 

The Justice and Electoral Select Committee considered a petition from Hillary Kieft, who asked for mandatory parental notification for people under 16 seeking abortions. (The committee’s report is available here.)

MPs considered a range of submissions and chose to focus on the needs of young people confronting an unwanted pregnancy.

“We are relieved the year-long, drawn-out process the Select Committee has engaged in has resulted in a decision that does not punish the most vulnerable teens,” ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak says.

“Any young person having an abortion should ideally have the full support of their parents – but in some cases, that can put them at risk.

“Mandatory reporting would increase the fear and stress on young people who are already in a vulnerable position.”

The committee noted the current presumption that health agencies will make the information available to parents, unless the young person asks them not to do so.

They also noted that only about 60 abortions a year are performed on people under 16 – and of those, fewer than 10 choose not to tell their parents.

“It is important to make sure support is available to these young people, and we welcome the Committee’s recommendations around offering counselling, strengthening oversight and guidelines,” Ms Bellamak says.

“We agree there is a need for best-practice guidelines to be drawn up, and that young people who choose not to inform their parents should be treated with special care.

“But we also believe those best-practice guidelines should be prepared for all people seeking abortions, because New Zealand’s abortion laws are still outdated and treat abortion as a crime – not a health issue.”

For more information, contact:


Thankfully, bullet dodged

7 Jul

ALRANZ notes with relief the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, having wasted taxpayer money on a year-long discovery process at the behest of an anti-reproductive rights campaigner who came to Parliament with seven signatures on a petition and one faithful friend in Chester Borrows, has dropped the matter without doing any harm to teenagers with abusive families. It could have been much worse. They could have felt obligated to justify the time and expense by changing the one aspect of our antiquated and obnoxious legal process around abortion that works well for patients. Thankfully, they did not.

A few days ago I came across a heartbreaking plea from a teen in Georgia who was forced to crowd-fund the legal process she needed to bypass parental notification requirements. Research in the states has shown teens who fear to tell their parents have an accurate understanding of the risks they face. Thankfully, New Zealand teens will be spared this.

The committee heard about spurious research alleging women who have abortions suffer mental harm. It also heard criticism of that research, and learned about more recent and respected peer-reviewed research that demonstrates women suffer no mental harm from abortion, but sometimes experience stress due to abortion stigma. Thankfully, the committee made its decision based on evidence.

All told, there is much to be thankful for.

But abortion is still treated as though there were something wrong with women deciding for themselves whether or not they will carry a pregnancy. Women are still treated as minors requiring the approval of certifying consultants in order to exercise their own will over their own flesh. New Zealand still fails to live up to its obligations under CEDAW, to which it is a signatory, a convention that deems abortion a human right.

It could be worse. But it needs to be better.

Media Release: U.S. Abortion Victory Will Protect NZ Women’s Rights

28 Jun

Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand


28 June 2016


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Texas anti-abortion law should stop activists in New Zealand trying to cut abortion access on spurious health grounds, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand says.

The Court decided not to uphold a Texas law called HB2 which imposed unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics on supposed health and safety grounds.

HB2 required abortion clinics and doctors to meet unreasonably high standards, and this led to more than half the clinics in Texas closing down.

ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak says the law’s been exposed as unreasonable, and the Court’s decision will have an impact here.

“Anti-abortion groups in New Zealand closely follow U.S. tactics, and they’re already misusing safety and health concerns to promote their agenda,” Ms Bellamak says.

“We’re seeing ongoing efforts to impose mandatory parental notification for under-16s seeking abortion care, under the guise of protecting them.

“And just last year, Right to Life went to court to try to shut down an early medication abortion service in Tauranga, making misleading claims about the safety of abortion.”

In her concurring Supreme Court opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “it is beyond rational belief that HB2 could genuinely protect the health of women”.

“The same could be said of every effort to restrict access to abortion here in New Zealand,” Ms Bellamak said.

For more information:

Media Release: Abortion Rate Falls, Law Needs Reform

17 Jun

Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand


17 June 2016


The continued fall in the rate of abortions in New Zealand should not detract from the need for modernisation of our outdated laws, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand says.

Statistics New Zealand reports 13,155 induced abortions were performed in 2015, compared with 13,137 in 2014.

This represents a slight decrease in the abortion rate per 1000 women aged between 15 and 44 years, from 14.4 in 2014 to 14.2 in 2015.

“The abortion rate in New Zealand continues to fall, particularly for younger women which have fallen dramatically since 2013,” ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak says.

“However, abortion remains a crime, and we urge politicians on all sides of the house not to be complacent.

“Access to safe, legal abortion remains an issue in many parts of New Zealand, and there are repeated attempts to limit women’s rights over their own bodies.”

2015 has seen developments like Medsafe considering loosening restrictions on the sale of oral contraceptives without a prescription.

ALRANZ would like to see unlimited pharmacy sales, since the Abortion Supervisory Committee 2015 report showed that 54 percent of the women who had abortions in 2014 were not using any form of contraception.

A telemedicine service launched this year in Australia has given women access to abortion drugs over the phone – but this cannot be replicated here due to New Zealand’s outdated laws.

“Abortion is a health issue, not a crime – and our ancient laws represent a bygone era, where many women were forced to continue pregnancies against their will,” Ms Bellamak says.

“New Zealand’s abortion rates are falling year on year, and a law change would ensure New Zealand’s laws reflect reality.”


          13,155 abortions were performed in New Zealand, compared to 13.137 in 2014

          The general abortion rate fell to 14.2 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44, compared with 14.4 in 2014

          Statistics New Zealand says “the size and/or age structure of the population drove the small increase in the number of abortions, rather than a greater proportion of women having abortions”

          Women aged 20-24 years had the highest abortion rate (23.1 per 1000 women aged 20-24 years) but this has fallen since 2014 (25.2 abortions per 1000)

          Most abortions (63%) were a woman’s first

          55 per cent of abortions were performed before the 10th week of pregnancy

For more information, contact:
Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National President
Jessica Williams, National Executive Member

ALRANZ phone.: 021-082-76474
email: info@alranz.org

ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Assoc NZ)


Abortion Statistics released today are available from Statistics New Zealand.


Review: A Voice in My Head

3 Jun

by Terry Bellamak


Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of seeing “A Voice in My Head”, an original work by Jodie Malloy. I mean original in every sense of the word. The author has discarded the pro-choice and anti-choice framework and delved deeper, into the forces that drive stigma and coercion.

The characters range across time periods and geographical areas, but all have felt the sting of judgment, having been judged, by others or by themselves. The stigma that surrounds women and sex and childbirth boxes them into situations from which they try to break free, with mixed results.

Each woman’s plight is individual; the characters are far too well drawn to stand for boring universal archetypes. Natalie Medlock brings each one to life, full of idiosyncrasies and vastly different perspectives. She remains onstage throughout the production, changing elements of her costume to suit different people and different time periods. The play is set in a train car, a choice that establishes each character’s one act soliloquy as brief moment in a longer journey.

The play is full of astute observations and unexpected humour. It explores the ways in which stigma drives coercion, which drives silence and powerlessness. In a train car suspended in time the characters raise their voices and tell their truths.

“A Voice in My Head” runs through June 4 2016 in Auckland. Here’s hoping the play comes to Wellington. Go see it if you can.

Protected: Tributes to Dame Margaret Sparrow

24 May

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Common Sense

20 May

by Terry Bellamak

It is difficult not to become so accustomed to the dysfunctional status quo around reproductive health care that we lose sight of how messed up it really is.

It is not sensible or reasonable that pregnant patients need certifying consultants to sign off on abortions, women need prescriptions to access oral contraception that has been proven extremely safe over 40 years, women who want permanent sterilisation are denied because they have not borne children, students are told not to have sex because women are like licked lollipops.

What would the world look like if reproductive health care were treated as regular health care, women were treated as adults, and every person was universally acknowledged as owning their own body?

  • Oral contraceptives would be sitting on pharmacy shelves, available without a prescription, and reasonably priced or subsidised.
  • The morning-after pill would be sitting on pharmacy shelves and available without a prescription, and reasonably priced or subsidised.
  • All long-acting reversible contraceptives (I.e. IUDs and implants) would be available to everyone who wanted it, fully subsidised.
  • Sterilisation would be available to every adult who wanted it, without any other approval required.
  • There would be no waiting periods, no time limits, no signoffs, no need to give reasons, and no time-wasting scramble to get an abortion.
  • Ultrasounds would only be given if they were medically necessary.
  • Health practitioners who tried to tell patients abortion would give them breast cancer and mental illness would be laughed at and then sacked for incompetence.
  • Any doctor or nurse practitioner would be able to prescribe pills for a medical abortion, and after giving them instructions, hand the pills to the patient for them to take at home when they are ready.
  • Doctors and nurse practitioners would be trained to perform surgical abortions in regular health-care settings like clinics and doctors’ offices, not just hospitals.
  • Late term abortions would not require the signoff of any authority, like a medical ethics committee or a certifying consultant, once doctor and patient decided it was necessary.
  • Students would receive fact-based, age-appropriate education about relationships, consent, sex, contraception, and abortion throughout their school years.
  • Health practitioners who refused to provide treatment or medicines that were a normal part of their specialty on the basis of their conscience would be disciplined by their licencing body.
  • Health practitioner licencing bodies would condemn and punish discrimination against women patients who need reproductive health care like contraception and abortion.

This list sounds like science fiction. But if it were reality, the health system would save money, people’s lives would be made easier, women would find it easier to succeed economically, and our country would be richer and happier.

Dispatches from the U.S.: The ‘Rights’ Edition

10 May

When rights get in the way of justice and equality

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the tenth in the blog series by Morgan Healey, immediate past President of ALRANZ, who has recently returned to the US. It aims to bring to life the uniquely absurd state of reproductive rights and justice in the US.

Americans love their rights. We celebrate them. In fact, we talk incessantly about how we have the ‘right’ to do ________ [fill in the blank]. Rights also provide a good excuse to get away with outrageous behavior. Perhaps no more so than when we use a rights-based discourse to harm or deny certain groups equality and justice.

For example, we have the right to “keep and bear arms” (2nd Amendment, Bill of Rights). This has been interpreted as the right to own a gun. If you are white person this seems to also include the right to point said gun at a person of colour and pull the trigger. Murder? Yeah, nah. It was self-defense.

We have the right to religious freedom (or more specifically that “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, ” 1st Amendment, Bill of Rights). This is a good one because it allows us to deny people basic health care by refusing care and/or treatment. The ole ‘conscientious objection’ ploy, which was originally used to describe pacifists’ refusal to be enlisted in war and has now been co-opted by the antis to assert their beliefs over the health of their patients.

The beauty of this right is that it can be exercising at the individual level, enabling a medical professional’s ‘conscience’ to trump a person’s ability to access healthcare, or at the system level, by being a religious institution or employer that does not believe in providing sexual and reproductive health care. [MergerWatch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) just released a report that highlights the issue of the growing number of Catholic hospitals in the US. Then there are the two Supreme Court cases relating to religious employers refusing to provide their workers health insurance that covers contraception and/or abortion.]

And thanks to a Kansas jury, we now have the right to threaten abortion providers under the guise of a right to free speech. Antis won big, all in the name of ‘rights’.

Ostensibly the Kansas jury drew a distinction between the meaning of said threat: Angel Dillard never meant to threaten physical violence. Instead she meant to emotionally and spiritually wound Dr. Mila Means (I could not make this shite up if I tried)… When someone threatens that if you continue with your work you might find a bomb under your car, is the aim to maim your spiritual wellbeing alone? Um, no. It is meant to intimidate and strike fear into that person, enough to hopefully alter their actions. In this case to scare Dr. Means so much that she would give up her plans to start providing abortions in Wichita.

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Dispatches from the U.S.: The Selective Abortion Issue

24 Apr

When banning abortion is a cover for discrimination: The selective abortion issue

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the ninth in the blog series by Morgan Healey, immediate past President of ALRANZ, who has recently returned to the US. It aims to bring to life the uniquely absurd state of reproductive rights and justice in the US.

A bill was recently introduced in the US Congress that would impose criminal penalties on any provider that performed an abortion because the pregnant person did not want to give birth to or raise a child of a particular sex or race. In other words, the law would outlaw sex and race selective abortions.  This is not a new concept. This particular legislation has been debated before and there are already eight sex selective abortion bans and one race selective abortion ban enacted at the state level (See Guttmacher’s State Policies in Brief).

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act 2016(HR 4924), commonly referred to as PRENDA, unsurprisingly does the exact opposite of what is says on the tin.  That’s right. Don’t let the title fool you. Hidden under a thinly veiled guise of disingenuity is a bill designed to discriminate, to infantilise, and to police the bodies of non-white people in the US. (Read Rewire’s coverage of the Congressional testimony here.)

What is the likely outcome when medical professionals, fearing that they might be criminally penalized for performing a simple medical procedure, one they were specially trained to perform, are presented with a non-white, pregnant person seeking an abortion? I will go out on a limb here and say the person will be refused care, while simultaneously discriminating against based on their skin colour.

Sound familiar?

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