On abortion stigma, and Thames

16 Aug

by Terry Bellamak


Last weekend Stuff published an excellent article on abortion stigma. If you haven’t read Michelle Duff’s piece yet, go read it – very insightful and full of good historical information.

It’s also timely, coming a week after pro-choice locals and ALRANZ supporters in Thames took back the corner near the hospital where for years radical anti-choice busybodies have been harassing patients accessing the Thames abortion service. The Thames community had grown used to gritting their teeth and pretending not to see them. They seemed relieved to see us on the corner instead.

A study from 2013 showed how effective anti-choice protesters outside clinics are at getting patients to change their minds about abortion: not effective at all. It showed patients may have found the protesters upsetting, but patients’ reasons for getting an abortion were so compelling that nothing the protesters said could have changed their minds. Some anti-choicers acknowledge this fact themselves.

Another study from 2015 shows patients trying to access abortion find protesters intrusive and intimidating even when they stand silently. It isn’t hard to see why. Most people who access abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand have been raised as women in Western culture, so they are all too familiar with street harassment. How did you feel the last time you walked by the local dairy and the guys on the corner silently watched you walk on by? Did you feel judged? Annoyed? Threatened? How is it any different if they are older and carrying gory signs?

I find it impossible to credit the idea that the anti-choice busybodies with gory signs aren’t fully aware that their presence makes patients feel unsafe. That’s why they are there. Their presence, their judgmental silence, their scaremongering signs, may be the only punishment a patient having an abortion ever experiences.

Punishing women for behaving like the sexual beings they are is crucial to the perpetuation of abortion stigma. Abortion stigma, the vague sense that someone getting an abortion is doing something wrong, is the only weapon in the anti-choicers’ arsenal. Apart from real weapons, of course. Once you reject abortion stigma, there is no viable argument against abortion.

Abortion stigma keeps women silent about their abortions, but more and more women are owning their choices without fear. As time goes on, the circle of people unafraid to talk about their abortions grows, and the reach of abortion stigma shrinks.

Anti-choicers can never let go of abortion stigma. It’s all they’ve got.

Media Release: Thames Takes Action

5 Aug


5 August 2016

Thames Community Takes Action Against Abortion Harassment

A community meeting in Thames on anti-abortion harassment was followed on Friday morning by a peaceful demonstration in support of Thames hospital abortion patients.

More than 40 people attended the Thursday night meeting to discuss the on-going harassment of abortion patients  in Thames, and resolved to take action to counter the anti-choice protests.

Speakers included Jan Logie, Green MP, who told the meeting of the need to decriminalise abortion, which is still regulated as a crime. Ms. Logie said the criminalised law reinforced abortion stigma, which anti-choice protesters appeal to with their actions.

“Both the current law and the anti-abortion protests are based on a lack of trust for women,” Ms. Logie said. 

ALRANZ President, Terry Bellamak, also spoke at the meeting, saying “women experience harassment as intrusive and intimidating, even if protesters are silent.”  She said that anti-abortion harassment is another form of the street harassment all women experience. 

Rachel Harrison a longtime sexual violence prevention worker in Thames made links between the abuse and control of women at the hands of violent partners and what women feel when they pass anti-abortion protests. “Both are about trying to control women,” she said.

IMG_1220Scott Summerfield, an ALRANZ member and local organiser, said it was really positive that the Thames community, which has looked at the harassment and intimidation for so many years, has decided to take action towards supporting women in Thames and informing the community about the challenges facing women seeking abortion services in New Zealand.

Anti-abortion protesters gather outside Thames Hospital every Friday when abortion services take place. Because the Bay of Plenty District Health Board does not provide a surgical abortion service, many Bay of Plenty women must travel to Thames for care, along with women from Waikato DHB.

Last year, 180 abortions were performed in Thames out of a national total of 13,155. Waikato District Health Board says it has received complaints that the protests are distressing to patients and their families, but pro-choice advocates say little action has been taken and the protests continue.

The meeting resolved to continue with on-going action to ensure Thames is a safe place for women needing abortion care.

For more information: info@alranz.org

This links to a flier for the event, with some Facts and Figures about abortion in Aotearoa and the Thames service.

And here’s some media coverage by Stuff and NewsHub.


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.

Continue reading

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.

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