From Our Files: Remembering Bob Tizard

5 Feb

Bob Tizard, a former Labour MP and deputy prime minister, died on 28 January 2016, and he’s been remembered via obituaries in The New Zealand Herald, Stuff and Radio New Zealand. What you won’t read about in those outlets is Tizard’s involvement in the abortion rights struggle of the 1970s, when the current abortion laws were passed. (Similarly, as noted here, the role of his contemporary, the pro-choice National politician George Gair, who died last August.)

Students of history may know that in 1974, a brand new abortion clinic opened in Auckland laying down a challenge to both law and practice around abortion in New Zealand. Among the efforts to shut it down was a bill introduced by Labour MP and anti-choicer, Gerard Wall. It became known variously as “the Wall bill” and “the knitting needle bill” (the latter for obvious reasons, and a phrase coined by pro-choice advocate Dr. Erich Geiringer), and sought to close the clinic by restricting abortions to hospital settings, an effort that — rather like the modern-day T.R.A.P. laws of the U.S. — was spun as necessary to protect women’s health. Here’s Dame Cath Tizard, at that time Bob Tizard’s wife, on what happened next:

The introduction to Parliament that same year (1974) of the Hospitals Amendment Bill (the Wall Bill) to restrict abortions to public hospitals heightened the debate.

I was persuaded to come out publicly and speak on the steps of Parliament on the the day of its introduction. I was nervous about Bob’s reaction and told him about it beforehand. It could have been an embarrassment  for him, as Minister of Health, and, believe it or not, I did not know his views on the issue. In family discussions he had always been equivocal. On this occasion he just shrugged and said I had to do what I believed in. A most unflattering photograph of me on the steps of Parliament, wearing a rather shapeless gabardine raincoat, was published in the next day’s newspaper and I received abusive mail for a few days. One guy likened me to a ‘female Mussolini’ and looking at the photograph I had to agree there was a certain likeness.

Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library. Dame Cath on the steps of Parliament, 20 September 1974, at a rally against the Wall Bill aimed at closing the AMAC clinic in Auckland.

Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library. Dame Cath on the steps of Parliament, 20 September 1974, at a rally against the Wall Bill aimed at closing the AMAC clinic in Auckland.

Bob had always refused to engage with the family on this topic and never let on what his position was. He was, of course, going to have to vote on the issue in the House and as Minister of Health could hardly keep his head down forever. Nigel and I were driving to Auckland when the Bill came up for its second reading. We were just about out of radio range when Bob rose to his feet. I told Nigel to stop the car and crouched down to the car radio to listen. When Bob had finished, I said to our son that he could drive on and that he still had both a mother and a father. That’s how strongly I felt about this controversy by then. [By then, April 1975 he was Deputy Prime Minister.] Source: ‘Cat Among the Pigeons: A memoir‘, by Dame Cath Tizard. pp 115-6

Yep, Bob came out as pro-choice!

Those were busy times. Soon after the Wall Bill was introduced, PM Norman Kirk died, the clinic was raided and its operating doctor, Jim Woolnough, arrested. The bill did eventually pass, in 1975, and came into effect on 1 Sept of that year. But in a workaround, the clinic turned itself into a ‘hospital’ and was able to keep its doors open – till the next bill. Then, of course, came the Royal Commission on Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion, and the 1977 law that we still have. Against which Bob Tizard voted, as one of that Parliament’s most unequivocally pro-choice MPs.

From The Evening Post, 30 April 1975

Wall Bill Evening Post 30 April 1975

From The Dominion, 29 April 1975.

Wall Bill Dominion 29 April 1975

Thanks to Dame Margaret Sparrow for quote, pic and newspaper clippings.



Media Release: Over-the-Counter ‘Pill’ Sales a Good Start

27 Jan

Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand

27 January 2016                                                                                  Media Release

ALRANZ Applauds Over-the-Counter ‘Pill’ Sales as a Good Start

Medsafe’s decision to allow limited sales of oral contraceptives without a prescription is a good start that must eventually lead to unlimited access, the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ), Terry Bellamak, said today.

In its decision, posted online on 22 January, the Medicines Classification Committee recommended reclassifying the oral contraceptives as ‘restricted medicine’ instead of ‘prescription medicine’, but rejected unlimited pharmacy sales. Instead pharmacy sales will be restricted to women who have previously been prescribed an oral contraceptive within the last 3 years.

“All women deserve to manage their own fertility free of paternalism by the medical establishment,” Ms Bellamak said. “So while we applaud this step, it’s disappointing that access to women who haven’t already visited their GP is still being denied.”

Keeping the Pill chained to the prescription pad flies in the face of evidence showing it is one of the safest medications available, and a hugely popular and effective method of birth control, Ms. Bellamak said. Pharmacy access without these kinds of restrictions has already been shown to work in New Zealand for emergency contraception, so it makes no sense not to expand that to the Pill.

Past president of ALRANZ, Dame Margaret Sparrow, said she hoped the success of the new classification would prompt the committee to eventually widen access further. She said as well as oral contraceptives, women needed better access to other forms as well.

The Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) 2015 report, released in November, showed that 54 percent of the women who had abortions in 2014 were not using any form of contraception.

“The ASC focused on the lack of funding for long-acting reversible methods (known as LARC’s), but ALRANZ believes all methods need be much more easily available, including oral contraception,” Dame Margaret said.

To read the Medsafe Committee’s decision, click here:

To read ALRANZ’s submission, click here:

To read Dame Margaret Sparrow’s submission, click here:

For more information, contact:

Terry Bellamak, National President

Dame Margaret Sparrow, National Executive Member and Former President


Addendum: Some coverage of the decision from Stuff is here.




Dispatches from the US: Remembering MLK and the fight for justice

19 Jan


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is the fourth 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.

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebNormally at this time of year I am preparing my annual blog commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on the 22nd of January. But instead, in celebration of an incredible life, I want to take the time and space to remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and the importance of the civil rights movement’s fight for justice in thinking about abortion politics.

Here in the US, Martin Luther King Jr. day is a public holiday. In theory, such holidays are designed so that we can take time to contemplate the legacies that we have chosen to venerate – veterans, presidents, workers, etc. However, often these holidays inspire nothing more than a passing thought – a day off for some, an ordinary day of work for most. I would imagine that many in this country do not take too much time to consider who or what these days memorialize, and more importantly why, in terms of national identity, we, as a country, have selected certain individuals for commemoration. MLK day (observed on the third Monday in January each year) recognizes both the past and the present: a movement and man that fundamentally challenged the political system of race, and a nation that today is at the cross-roads of racial justice.


As one of the most well known architects of the US civil rights movement (but certainly not the only one – see here for more on black women’s leadership then and now), MLK’s push for equal rights for black people came at a time when more overt forms of racism were socially accepted and de facto (if not de jure) segregation was the norm. Remember, ‘separate but equal’ was the law of the land until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and it would take ongoing struggles to begin to integrate public spaces. In 1950s US, equality was a construct denied to generations of people of colour despite Civil War-era constitutional amendments that sought to inscribe black men (and later black women with the 19th Amendment) with equal political rights. The rise of MLK in the 1960s spoke to the anger and frustration of centuries of oppression, and paralleled important challenges to US social and racial mores, with movements like the civil rights movement helping to lay the ground work for reproductive rights success like Roe v. Wade in 1972.

Continue reading

Dispatches from the US: Why 2016 is so important

12 Jan

by Dr. Morgan Healey

This is the third 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.

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebOne of President Obama’s first acts as President this year was to veto a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and repealed part of the Affordable Care Act. This is the world people in the US inhabit: a world where Republicans have nothing else to do but deny those most in need of access to affordable and preventative medical care. Increasing inequalities and injustices seem to be the plat du jour in the US at the moment, making the gap between rich and poor, have and have-nots even greater. Nowhere does this become more apparent than the fight for reproductive justice: a framework that I believe is imperative for discussing not just access to abortion, but the fundamental racial, gender and economic justice required to enable people to make reproductive decisions free from stigma, shame, violence, and intolerance. (For more on just how ‘shocking’ some of these inequalities are see the UN expert report on discrimination against women in the US.)

So when I look forward to 2016, the prospective political and judicial landscape seems pretty terrifying. Given what we saw in 2015 in terms of anti-choice legislation sweeping the country, it seems highly probable that this trend will continue in 2016. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, in 2015 over 400 bills were introduced and 47 laws enacted that restricted abortion. The majority of the laws enacted were TRAP laws (targeted regulations of abortion providers), which the Center points out are “politically motivated restrictions that do not apply to any other similar health care, interfere with patient’s personal decision-making, and ultimately block access to abortion care” (See its 2015 State of the States: Fighting Back By Pushing Forward report).
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Dispatches from the US: The US has a problem with abortion terrorism

29 Nov
by Dr. Morgan Healey

This is the second 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.

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThe US witnessed yet another attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, which the newspapers have described as a siege. On Friday, 27 November, a man entered the Colorado clinic and for five hours exchanged gunfire with police. Three people were killed and nine wounded. At the moment not much is known. The man taken into custody alive has been named as Robert Lewis Dear, 59 (a good point has been made that if the suspect had not been white, odds are that he would have been shot dead at the scene). It will take time to piece together a narrative of what occurred yesterday – who Robert Dear is, where he got his high power assault rifle, and what his motive was.

Denver_PostWhat is known is that this community will take time to heal from this event. I cannot begin to imagine the intense anguish and fear the victims, their families, the staff that work at the clinic and their patients must be feeling. My heartfelt condolences go out to all those involved. They deserve our compassion and sympathy but also our anger. Anger that such acts of aggression could occur inside a medical clinic. It seems unlikely given the vituperous battle against Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which released a series of surreptitious, heavily-edited videos this summer (see RH Reality Check for more information), and subsequent moves by Republicans to defund the organization, that this was anything but a targeted attack aimed at terrorizing Planned Parenthood. In some ways Dear’s motives are irrelevant. Yesterday’s tragedy highlights a growing intensity of terrorizing acts aimed at reproductive health clinics, and the fact that hateful speech can flame these acts of violence.

In Ilyse Hogue’s statement, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, she described yesterday’s horrible event as an act of domestic terrorism (see Dahlia Lithwick’s October 2015 piece for the link between the burning of black churches, abortion clinic attacks, domestic terrorism and why we should be horrified). Violence against abortion clinics has been a common occurrence since Roe v Wade (Vox has a good graphic of the types of violence here). Clinic and staff members have been subject to daily threats against their lives – death and bomb threats – harassment, including their family members, and arson and bombing attacks. Before yesterday, eight people had been murdered by anti-choice terrorists. Patients coming to reproductive health clinics, regardless of the care they are seeking, face protestors, harassment and intimidation.

Continue reading

Funny Numbers

31 Oct

By Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ President

320,000. That is how many signatures activists gathered back in 1978 on a petition to repeal the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977. There were no public hearings; the Petitions Select Committee decided it would hear the matter in private, with only written submissions and written responses to questions, with no spectators and no media present. The committee further decided that repeal activists must not speak to the media about these restrictions; if they did they would be in breach of Parliament.

The Petitions Committee invited only one entity to present evidence, apart from the repeal activists: the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (now called Voice for Life).

In 1977 New Zealand’s population was 3.12 million. The repeal petition contained the signatures of over 10% of New Zealand’s entire population. Parliament, treating the will of the New Zealand public with outrageous disregard, buried the petition. Not democracy’s finest hour.

Seven. That is how many signatures there are on Hilary Kieft’s petition to Parliament requiring parental notification if pregnant teens under 16 seek abortion. That would require repealing part of the Care of Children Act 2004. There have now been eight public hearings before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. For a petition containing seven signatures. Still not democracy’s finest hour.

The committee has now heard from numerous professional bodies, like the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, Family Planning, and the Abortion Supervisory Committee, to name a few. These organisations unanimously called for Parliament to leave the Care of Children Act alone. They spoke of the dire consequences for the most vulnerable of teens should the seven-signature petition be acted upon. ALRANZ agrees with them.

Until last week the only person who spoke in favour of the petition’s objective was Hilary Kieft herself. But on Thursday petition supporters on the committee sought to even the score by inviting … two people who run a crisis pregnancy centre, and a woman who collects buttons.

History repeats itself: one of the people from the CPC, Pregnancy Counselling Services, is a former president of Voice for Life.

The theme for the day was “informed consent”. But informed consent has no bearing on the issue the committee is supposedly investigating. The whole point the Kieft petition is attempting to make about under-16s is that teens are not mature enough to consent to abortion without parental guidance. Giving them more information would not address that supposed lack of maturity. Was this hearing expanding the scope of the inquiry to include all pregnant people?

The CPC folks want to make sure someone tells pregnant people abortion causes breast cancer and mental health issues. Of course, abortion does not cause breast cancer[1] nor does it cause mental health issues.[2] When an MP pointed out that the Lancet and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges had thoroughly debunked these claims, the former Voice for Life president explained to the MP that her “background in accountancy” made her more competent to evaluate and interpret evidence than the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges was.

When asked, they admitted the counsellors at their CPC were not accredited.

The button collector collects buttons from people who regret their abortions. She has collected about 20,000 buttons over seven years. She said she has spoken to about 150 people who say they regret their abortions over that time frame. Apparently they send her multiple buttons.

The button collector and the representatives of the CPC conceded that the people they spoke to who regretted their abortions were self-selected and there was no evidence they were representative of the majority of pregnant people who had terminations.

Something crossed my mind as I listened to the submissions. Some members of the committee seemed to assume that because pregnant people were granted abortions on mental health grounds, they had actual mental health issues. This is not usually the case. When patients cannot get an abortion without ticking one of the boxes, one of the boxes must get ticked, and mental health is the go-to box. This artefact of our broken laws makes patients with actual mental health issues indistinguishable from mentally healthy people who want an abortion because they don’t want to be parents. When the health system cannot make this distinction, people who need more help and support do not get it. And they suffer from that lack of support. How many patients fall into that category is a number we will never know until Parliament reforms the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act and removes abortion from the Crimes Act.

[1] Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, “Breast cancer and abortion: collaborative reanalysis of data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 83 000 women with breast cancer from 16 countries” [2004] The Lancet, 1007, Vol 363.


Dispatches from the US: Gun Violence and Reproductive Justice

29 Oct
by Dr. Morgan Healey

This is the first of a new 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.

I had been in the US for less than a week before I was confronted with a white man openly carrying a handgun. It was 4pm in the afternoon in a mobile phone store in the middle of central Massachusetts. This was not a high risk or high security setting. In fact, the only perceived threat I could see was the man toting the gun.

guns-ammoMassachusetts state law requires those with a gun license to carry these openly – i.e. the gun cannot be concealed. So I guess in some ways I should be thankful that this muppet was wearing his gun so that everyone could see it! Perhaps I just wasn’t feeling very thankful that day. While I found the scene rather distressing, and found I needed to monitor this man’s every move to see if I would need to react quickly to avoid being shot, the strangest part was the fact that no one else in the store seemed to notice or care. Have we as a society in Massachusetts become so desensitized to guns and gun violence that the sight of a man in broad daylight carrying a gun is normal?

A few days later there were two mass shooting on two separate US college campuses. The media were awash with debate about the need for better gun control in the country. My mind went back to the mobile phone store – what would it have taken for that man to use his gun? (And how quickly could I get back to NZ, where I could never imagine having a similar experience?!) Continue reading

A Questionable Honour

3 Oct
By Dame Margaret Sparrow

Inaugural Doris Gordon Memorial Oration delivered by Professor Ronald W Jones CNZM at the Annual Scientific Meeting of RANZCOG (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) Friday 2 October 2015, Wellington.

Professor Jones retired after 37 years as a visiting obstetrician and gynaecologist at the National Women’s Hospital and more latterly as a clinical professor at the University of Auckland. He co-authored the paper that led to the cervical cancer inquiry and in a 2010 New Zealand Herald article by Martin Johnston described himself as a whistleblower. This article also recalls how he stood up for abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality in 1977 when the new abortion laws came into effect.

Professor Jones has spent the last two years researching the contributions to maternal health of Dr Doris Gordon, MBE, which were indeed many, including the formation of the chair in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Otago University and the eventual formation of a postgraduate school of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in Auckland which evolved into National Women’s Hospital.

Continue reading

Court Rules to Keep Clinic Open

2 Oct

Good news! The early medication abortion service at Family Planning’s Tauranga clinic is to stay open, thanks to a ruling in the High Court yesterday (1 Oct.), which came four months after the anti-abortion group Right to Life made its case that the licence for the clinic was unlawful.

Here are some useful links:

• A .pdf of the High Court decision is here.

• Family Planning’s media release.

• Coverage in NZ Herald and Radio New Zealand.

• Some background on the case, including a post by ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak, Making Abortion Dearer, and Alison McCulloch, Abortion Access Goes Back to Court.

And here’s ALRANZ’s media release:

             Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand

2 October 2015                                                                       Media Release


The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand today applauded the High Court decision allowing the Family Planning Clinic in Tauranga to continue providing medical abortions.

Yesterday’s judgment came four months after the challenge to Family Planning’s licence by the anti-abortion group Right to Life was heard in the court, and effectively ruled the licence is lawful. In its decision, the High Court found that the usual rules of statutory interpretation apply, meaning the law is taken to evolve to cover situations that may not have existed when it was written.

Early medical abortion did not exist when the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 was passed. The court’s decision allows the Abortion Supervisory Committee to take into account how safe early medical abortion is.

“We are delighted that the pioneering Tauranga Family Planning clinic will be able to continue its work, and would like to see this model expanded to other regions that have little or no access to services,” ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak said. “But pregnant people still have to jump through the usual paternalistic hoops to access the health care they need.”

“As long as Parliament continues to turn a blind eye to the Rube Goldberg abortion laws in New Zealand, groups like Right to Life that believe bodily autonomy and consent do not apply to pregnant people will continue to find ways of challenging in the old legal regime,” she said.

“The Government will continue to spend money defending an obsolete, dysfunctional legal regime, DHBs will continue to waste money administering unnecessary regulations and funding unnecessary consultations to prove the boxes have been ticked. And pregnant people will continue to waste time and money jumping through hoops,” Ms. Bellamak said.

ALRANZ calls upon Parliament to end the farce and finally bring New Zealand’s abortion law into the 21st century.

For more information, contact:
mob: 021 082-76474 

ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Assoc NZ)



Media Release: NZ Needs Telemedicine Abortion Service

29 Sep

 Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand

29 September 2015                                                                 Media Release


A breakthrough telemedicine abortion service in Australia that will help cut abortion wait times and improve access should be replicated in New Zealand, but is precluded by our outdated criminalised abortion laws, the Abortion Law Reform Association said today.

“This is precisely the kind of service that New Zealand women need, given our poor statistics on access to early abortion, but it’s also precisely the kind of service denied us by our 38-year-old abortion laws,” ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak said.

The Australian initiative, offered by medical abortion provider the Tabbot Foundation, will assess people seeking abortion over the phone, and post them the medications they need. We’re strongly supportive of this kind of initiative, Ms. Bellamak said, although it’s disappointing it won’t be available in all states, and may be unaffordable for some women.

Ms. Bellamak said New Zealand has a poor record when it comes to providing abortions as early as possible, as well as in providing early medication abortion.

“New Zealand law, which criminalises abortion, mandates a convoluted approval procedure that delays access,” she said. “And because it was written nearly 40 years ago, before medical abortions were possible, it forces women to travel to a clinic or hospital to take the abortion medication,” she said.

“It’s deeply irresponsible of Parliament to fail to fix a law that is directly preventing patients from receiving the latest and best medical care,” she said.

Local initiatives here, like the 0800-Abortion service set up this year to smooth the referral process for abortion in New Zealand, are a great start, Ms. Bellamak said. A full telemedicine service would be the next best step.

Latest figures show only 39 percent of abortions performed in New Zealand in 2014 took place before the 9th week of pregnancy compared with 69 percent in Scotland. Meanwhile, early medication abortions make up around 10 percent of all abortions in New Zealand, compared with 51 percent in England and Wales.

Relevant Links:

For more information, contact:

ALRANZ: 021-082-76474




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