An Interview With George Gair

20 Aug
by Alison McCulloch

Former National Party MP George Gair has died at the age of 88. Gair was key player in the abortion rights struggle in the 1970s that culminated in passage of the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, which we still have and under which abortion remains criminalised. Gair was the leader inside the governing George-Gair_avatar_1408424532-96x96National caucus of the liberal pro-choice faction, a role that ultimately led to his falling out with his leader, the then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, a conservative on abortion rights. Although he didn’t take an unequivocal ‘woman’s right to choose’ position, Gair fought hard against the conservative factions in Parliament to try to liberalise the CS&A bill – a fight that was ultimately lost.

I interviewed George Gair for my book “Fighting to Choose: The Abortion Rights Struggle in New Zealand”, and exchanged correspondence with him as the book progressed. He was unfailingly kind and encouraging, and at the time I felt lucky to have been able to talk to him about just what had gone on inside the National Party caucus at such a pivotal time for abortion rights. I was very sad to hear of his death.

By way of tribute, or history, or something, I thought I’d post some excerpts from the interview I did, which was conducted on 12 March 2008 at Mr. Gair’s home north of Auckland.

In the National Party, how was it that you were – or ended up being – pro-choice, one of the few members of the party?

I had never had to address the question of abortion, certainly not seriously, in my family, to my best knowledge anyone in my family. The reason why I came to be interested in the first place is a rather unusual story. Let me tell you. Gerry Wall was the member of Parliament for Porirua, he was a Labour member, he was a doctor, but he was very pro-life – I don’t know if they called it that in those days – and I think probably a devout Catholic. He was also Speaker of the House at one stage. Now Gerry Wall introduced a bill, I’m sure it was in the form of a – inaudible – and he and some of those that were supporting him, this is in about 1974, referred to babies being murdered in Remuera. This was quite a serious allegation. Continue reading

A New President for ALRANZ

27 Jun

ALRANZ has a new president! Terry Bellamak took the reins from Dr. Morgan Healey at our AGM on 20 June 2015.

Terry is a former executive at Goldman Sachs. She owned and operated a consulting Terry600-BW_Webpractice, providing technology services to financials on Wall Street and across the US. In 2005, she visited New Zealand and emigrated the following year, and has been a New Zealand citizen since 2011. She completed her LLB at Victoria University of Wellington in 2014.

Terry’s focus on feminism and reproductive rights began in her youth, when she studied history at Arizona State University and became involved with Women’s Studies. In 2014, she was instrumental in building the MyDecision website, which provides patients with information about health care workers who refused to provide reproductive health care on grounds of ‘conscientious objection’.

In her last president’s address to the AGM, Morgan told the meeting that she was stepping down with a heavy heart. “Some of you may be aware that my partner and I are looking to move to the US in a few months. While I plan to still be active in ALRANZ, you deserve a present and dedicated person at the helm. I will greatly miss the role, but I know the stewardship of ALRANZ will be in steady hands.”

morganMorgan thanked the executive for all their support and aroha during her four years at the helm, and gave a “big thank you” to the members who support the organisation. “I have enjoyed working with all of you over the last few of years. And while this isn’t goodbye, I do want to recognize your contribution and commitment to ALRANZ during my term as president.”

In her address, Morgan looked at reproductive rights progress – and setbacks – around the world over the past year, as well as the struggles here at home. What follows is an edited version of Morgan’s talk, please click to continue reading:

Continue reading

Media Release: RTL Owes $72,500 in Court Costs

24 Jun


24 June 2015                                                   FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


The anti-abortion group in the middle of legal action aimed at shutting down Family Planning’s early medication abortion service in Tauranga still owes the government $72,500 in court costs over its previous case, information just released under the Official Information Act reveals.

Information issued on Tuesday by the Crown Law Office shows that the anti-choice group Right to Life owes the money in Court of Appeal and High Court costs in relation to its seven-year case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which it eventually lost in the Supreme Court in 2012, the newly elected president of ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand), Terry Bellamak, said today.

“Our outdated criminalised abortion laws invite these kinds of cases,” Ms. Bellamak said. “And the government’s failure to recover what it is owed three years after the end of Right to Life’s last case certainly doesn’t help discourage them.”

Ms. Bellamak said that both the 2012 case and the current legal action were aimed at exploiting New Zealand’s 38-year-old abortion laws, which can’t accommodate either modern medicine or women’s reproductive rights.

ALRANZ Secretary, Annabel Henderson Morrell voiced dismay that the government has taken so long to recover money in a case that likely cost taxpayers at least 10 times the amount owed by Right to Life.

“The Abortion Supervisory Committee told us in 2012 it had spent nearly half a million dollars defending itself in that case,” she said, “It’s appalling they had to resort to that. That funding could’ve been used for far more beneficial outcomes such as increased resourcing for comprehensive sexuality education in schools, or wider subsidisation of contraceptive options,” she said.

In its Official Information Act response, Crown Law wrote that it “is continuing to pursue payment of that amount and has most recently advised RTL that it must pay costs before 31 July 2015.”

A ruling is pending from the High Court in Right to Life’s current case, which challenges the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s granting of a licence for Family Planning to provide early medication abortions at its Tauranga clinic.

A timeline of the 7-year court case that ended in 2012 is here:

Click this link for a .pdf of the OIA Letter (Address of recipient redacted by ALRANZ): Crown_Law_23_June_2015.


ALRANZ: 021-082-76474


Media Release: Politicians Must Act Now

10 Jun


MEDIA RELEASE   9 June 2015                              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Politicians must act now on abortion law reform

The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) is calling on the politicians to reform the current abortion laws. Events in recent weeks, including Right to Life’s case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) (see here and here), a petition to parliament on requiring parental notification for under-16s and the need for the new 0800-Abortion phone service (New Zealand Abortion Assessment Clinic), once again highlight the draconian and fragile nature of our current laws.

“Women deserve comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care in this country, including decriminalised, accessible, affordable and reliable abortion services,” said ALRANZ President, Dr Morgan Healey.

“What we have now does not meet these standards. Instead, we have groups like, Right to Life, constantly trying to chip away at the current services in an attempt to limit access. They can do this because our laws are so tenuous and medically out-of date,” she said.

Similar the recent petition before Parliament around parental notification for under- 16s would be a step backwards in abortion services.

“The current law, which does not mandate parental notification, is one of the few positives of our current law,” said ALRANZ Secretary, Annabel Henderson Morrell.

“ALRANZ appreciates that this is a sensitive issue for parents. We understand that most young women do seek support from their parents or relatives when making this decision. Decreasing personal bodily autonomy is unlikely to reduce the number of young girls seeking abortions,” said Henderson Morrell.

“Ultimately, who bears the brunt of these attacks on abortion? Pregnant people. Personally, I am very tired of women being the ones who have to grin and bear the barriers of our current laws,” said Healey.

The new abortion service, the New Zealand Abortion Assessment Clinic, which was launched last week, seeks to tackle some of these barriers by taking a woman-centred approach to abortion care. It aims to decrease waiting times and increase access.

“ALRANZ is certainly a champion of what Dr Snook and his colleagues are doing, but it also exemplifies how ineffective the current laws are. A small group of medical professionals should not have to take it upon themselves to make a bad law work, said Healey.

“How much longer are we going to allow this to be an acceptable excuse for delaying law reform? It is time that politicians acted in the best interests of women. The time is now to decriminalise abortion,” said Henderson Morrell.

Contact details:

ALRANZ: 021-082-76474



New Service to Tackle Wait Times

26 May

by Dr. Morgan Healey

(This is a longer version of an article included in our May Newsletter.)

At ALRANZ’s 2015 pro-choice gathering in March, Dr. Simon Snook announced the introduction of a  new service, New Zealand Abortion Assessment Clinic or NZAAC that seeks to streamline abortion referrals over the telephone. Pregnant people will be able to ring 0800-ABORTION (226784)  be assessed over the phone by a medical professional. This person will help the woman locate the nearest clinic/hospital, provide advice on options regarding the type of abortion available (early medication or surgical), schedule the procedure along with any counselling, lab work and scans that are required by the operating physician. It will also enable the first certification to be done without a face-to-face appointment (one of two required to have a legal abortion in Aotearoa/New Zealand).

The service, which expected to be live the first week of June, is designed to reduce the wait times women are currently forced to endure (sometimes up to 3 to 4 weeks) and help to reduce the gestational age of terminations (currently only 56% of New Zealand’s abortions are done before 10 weeks). This is not only good medical practice (World Health Organisation guidelines suggest best medical practice is before 8 weeks), but one that is specifically woman-focused.

As Dr. Snook described, the idea for the new service came from 2010 research conducting on abortion wait times – “Ladies in Waiting: the timeliness of first trimester services in New Zealand” by Martha Silva, Rob McNeill and Toni Ashton. Silva et al. found that delays in treatment was primarily caused by the fact that women cannot self-refer to a clinic that performs abortions, and instead must go through a primary care provider. Some women have to ‘shop around’ for a doctor who is willing to provide the referral to the appropriate abortion provider. The time between first contact with the health care system and first certification was such a contributing factor, that Dr Snook saw the potential for improvement. To put it into perspective, Silva et al. stated:

Overall, there was a 24.9 days difference between the first contact with the health care system to procure a TOP and the date of the TOP procedure. An average of 10 days went by between first contact and the date the appointment at the TOP clinic was booked, and another 10 days went by between the date the appointment was booked and the first appointment with the TOP clinic. From the first appointment with the TOP clinic to the date of termination, an average of 4 days went by (2010: 8).

For those who have ever had to wait for a medical procedure, one where time is of the essence, we all know that 25 days is far too long to wait. The stress and anxiety this creates is completely unnecessary and is not replicated in other Western countries like the United Kingdom or the United States where abortions can be done almost immediately or within days.

The service is a simple idea, but one that has the potential to greatly reduce waiting times, barriers to access and provide greater choice in terms of the type of abortion procedure available – medication abortions can only be done up to 9 weeks. This could be particularly helpful for women in rural areas, women with limited means of accessing transportation to and from appointments, or those with physicians that refuse to refer women for an abortion. Pregnant people will now have the choice between anonymous medical advice or the personalised assistance of their GP. It is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of improving abortion services in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Dr Snook should be applauded for leading in an area of medical care that is not popular or often lauded for innovation. ALRANZ is incredibly grateful for launching the service at the gathering and for all the work he does to ensure abortion care is safe, available and tailored to the needs of those who access the service.



Making abortion dearer

21 Apr

by Terry B

Right to Life New Zealand talks a good game. Its website talks about “protecting women” from abortion. It says “abortion is violence against women” and frets about women “left with a lifetime of sorrow, guilt and regret.”

But their alleged concern for women is a lie. They demonstrated as much with their action in the High Court, seeking a judgment that would deny women access to a safer, cheaper, and less traumatic medical abortion in the first nine weeks. Perhaps they figure if a woman is going to get an abortion, she should suffer for it as much as possible.

With this action Right to Life has brought New Zealand closer to the day when the government has to decide what kind of a country we are. Are we a country that decides scientific questions on the basis of peer-reviewed science, and medical questions on the basis of evidence-based medicine? Or do we pander to people who want to force other people to live by their religious beliefs whether those other people share them or not?

For almost 40 years successive governments have allowed abortion to remain a crime while doctors committed to women’s bodily autonomy have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s to make abortion more or less accessible. But government’s cowardly dance of avoidance is becoming untenable.

If the High Court decides in Right to Life’s favour, will the government allow women to receive sub-standard abortion care relative to other Western democracies? Will it allow tax dollars to be wasted on surgical abortions that could have been accomplished medically? How much is the government willing to sacrifice to pander to the religious right?

Abortion Access Goes Back to Court

9 Apr

By Alison M

(Cross-posted from The Hand Mirror)

What if you had a way of providing an essential medical service that was safer, cheaper, less traumatic for patients, and meant they didn’t have to travel more than an hour each way to access it? Well, if it was for anything other than abortion, you’d be its champion. But this is abortion, and now the pioneering Tauranga Family Planning clinic, which has been providing early medication abortions in the Bay of Plenty since 2013, is under threat by anti-abortion court action that could worsen New Zealand’s already poor record on abortion access.

The court action by the Catholic anti-choice group Right to Life is a direct result of our now 38-year-old abortion laws, which criminalise abortion and continue to block the use of newer and better ways of providing it. And it’s not the first time our backward laws have been recruited for the purpose of banning or restricting abortion access. A 7-year case by the same group seeking to wind back access went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 2012 Right to Life lost by a frighteningly narrow 2-3 ruling. The fact that abortion access in New Zealand was one justice away from being severely restricted in 2012 should have been a wake-up call that our criminalised abortion laws need urgent change. But, again, this is abortion and if there’s one thing (almost) all politicians agree on, it’s that they’d rather do nothing than wade into a debate about reproductive justice.

So nothing happened, and so here we are again, with abortion access back in the dock. The implications of this case are significant (more on that below), and underscore the urgent need for supporters of reproductive choice and access to press politicians to take action to give our fragile abortion access a secure foundation.

MPs have been on notice for decades that our laws are barely able to function: the Abortion Supervisory Committee has said so, the courts have said so, even the United Nations has said so. And still there is silence. To quote Prime Minister John Key during the 2014 election campaign: “I’m opposed to changing the law … I think the law broadly works.” And that’s been the standard line from the abortion liberals in Parliament for decades now – apart, that is, from a few stand-outs in the Green Party, which became the first-ever major party to adopt a pro-choice platform in 2014, some impressive Young Labour activism and a bold stand in 2010 by former Labour MP Steve Chadwick.

Importing U.S.-Style TRAP Laws

The new case at hand was publicly announced on Sunday, when Right to Life said it was headed to the High Court to challenge the Abortion Supervisory Committee over granting a licence to Family Planning to provide early medication abortions at its Tauranga clinic. (Family Planning is only an “interested party” in this case, and it will be the Crown Law Office that plays defence.)

Though we haven’t yet seen Right to Life’s formal arguments, the media release and RTL’s previous posts about the Tauranga clinic indicate this effort is straight from the American TRAP law playbook (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). In this case, RTL plans to argue that our law requires any institution providing abortion have “adequate surgical and other facilities” for the performance of safe abortions. As even RTL acknowledges, when the 1977 Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act was enacted, there were no medical abortions. Since Family Planning’s Tauranga clinic isn’t a hospital or a surgical facility, I’m assuming RTL will claim it doesn’t have the “adequate surgical and other facilities” needed to hold an abortion licence under the law so the ASC shouldn’t have given it one. (A hearing will take place at the High Court in Wellington on 2 June starting at 10 a.m. According to the court, it should be open to the public.)

It’s important to explain a bit about what early medication abortion is. At the Tauranga clinic, medication abortions are available only up until 9 weeks of pregnancy (63 days), and involve bringing on a miscarriage using two medications usually taken 48 hours apart, Mifegyne or Mifepristone (formerly known as RU486) and Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec). You can read more here from Family Planning itself about what an early medication abortion entails. It’s also worth a reminder that people seeking abortions in the Bay of Plenty – as elsewhere – muststill meet the requirements of our criminal statutes: Before you can get an abortion, two doctors (certifying consultants) must agree that your case meets one of the half dozen criteria listed in the Crimes Act.

Continue reading

Media Release: 2015 Prochoice Gathering

23 Feb


MEDIA RELEASE   22 February 2015                                                                         FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALRANZ to Host 21-22 March Pro-Choice Gathering in Wellington

 The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) announced today it would be holding a pro-choice gathering on Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22, in Wellington. The gathering will cover a range of topics relating to the politics of abortion while providing an opportunity for pro-choice activists to come together and share ideas.

ALRANZ President, Dr Morgan Healey, said, “ALRANZ helped to organise a similar event in 2011, which was a great occasion for awareness raising and networking, so we thought it was time to hold another one. The event will provide a chance for anyone interested in abortion – from service delivery to law reform – to listen to amazing speakers, engage with like-minded people and to have a bit of fun”.

Organisers are still finalising the schedule of sessions and speakers. However, several experts and activists in the field have already been confirmed.

“ALRANZ is really honoured to have confirmed some fantastic speakers, including Marama Davidson, Gill Greer, Dr Simon Snook and Jackie Edmond, to name just a few. We really hope people will consider joining us in the conversation and brain-storm about where we can take the movement over the next few years,” Healey said.

ALRANZ encourages people to register for the event by 8 March. People interested in attending are asked to pay as much as they feel this opportunity it worth to them.

“We encourage people to spread the word. Anyone interested in abortion or reproductive health is welcome to attend. Given the sensitivity of the topics open for discussion, the organisers will be looking to create a safe space for respectful, non-judgmental and thoughtful discussion. We ask all attendees to bear this in mind, ” Healey said.

For more details on the event and how to register, visit:




Why We Need to Talk About Later Term Abortions

22 Jan

On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the United States House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would make all abortions after 20 weeks illegal. This is likely just a symbolic gesture on the part of the anti-choice, anti-woman Republican establishment; a reassertion of their general disdain for women’s access to necessary health care, like abortion, which few of us need reminding of (also see recent research on the increased maternal mortality in the US and its link to anti-choice policies over the last few years). Why focus on combating climate change, growing economic inequalities, the mistreatment of immigrants and racially driven police violence against black people (yes #blacklivesmatter), when controlling pregnant bodies is so much easier?

Beyond the sarcasm, the statements that many anti-choice Republicans make in defense of such policies, often based on spurious and inaccurate medical science (i.e. fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, which isn’t true), serve only to perpetuate stigma around later term abortions. Gestational limits have a tendency to draw lines between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ terminations, redrawing the point at which the state’s interest in ‘protecting’ life trumps that of a woman’s sovereignty and autonomy over her body (acknowledging that a person’s bodily autonomy might already be contested depending on the individual’s raced, classed, gendered body). Legislation, like the one that is likely to pass the House, often occur because politicians do not care to listen to pregnant people’s stories about why they may need or choose a termination after 20 weeks.

So let’s talk 20 weeks… Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, under the Crimes Act, abortion is legal under certain grounds (with the consent of two certifying consultants) until 20 weeks. At 20 weeks and beyond, the ability to access care is severely constrained and is limited to instances where it is necessary to save the life of the woman or girl or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health [Crimes Act 1961; 187A(3)]. The Green Party, which is the only political party with a policy on abortion (so not having a go at them specifically), would maintain a 20 week gestational limit even after removing abortion from the Crimes Act. The question is – why? Medically, this is an arbitrary limit – the fetus is not viable at 20 weeks; it can’t feel pain; and while there are increased risks/complications associated with later term abortions, they are still much safer than giving birth. So why is 20 weeks a seemingly acceptable limitation? And why does 20 weeks get so much airtime when abortions at this stage make up such a small percentage overall (i.e. this is a non-issue issue)?

Before leaping into some thoughts on why later term abortions remain contentious, let’s review some facts about abortions after the first trimester:

  • Globally, abortions after the first trimester (greater than 13 weeks) account for approximately 10% of all abortions (except for South Africa, which is around 25%)[1]. This has been a static number over the last 2-3 decades, remaining relatively stable despite improvements in contraception and a trend in many Western countries of decreasing abortion rates.
  • In the United States, of the 11% post 12 weeks, 1.8% are performed between 18 and 20 weeks and 1.2% are [2]21 weeks or greater.
  • In Aotearoa/New Zealand, where only 56% of abortions are performed before 10 weeks, those beyond 14 weeks still only accounted for 6% of abortions (790 abortions out of 14,073; see release of 2013 statistics).
  • In 2012, of the abortions performed in Aotearoa/New Zealand during the second trimester, only 0.4% (66 out of 14, 745) were performed over 20 weeks.

These numbers are not meant as a judgment about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ abortions or to suggest that strict laws equate to fewer later term terminations (anecdotal stories suggest that in some instances pregnant people are instead forced to travel to Australia for care.) However, the figures question the focus on drawing a particular line in the sand – , 20 weeks?

I think there are two reasons for this, both of which require some considered thought and engagement: the cultural imaginary (aided by ever advancing technology) of a more ‘human’ looking fetus makes later term abortions seem ‘icky’; and the fact that pro-choice advocates often use the later diagnosis of foetal abnormalities (typically around 20 weeks) as a rationale for extending limits, which raises some very fraught concerns about the value of dis/abled people’s lives.

These are not insurmountable reasons to finding some common ground or contesting the need for gestational limits more broadly. However, they do require sincere and open dialogue amongst pro-choice activists ourselves (as we all don’t agree on limits and where these should sit – 20, 24, 26 weeks?) and with those who support disability rights, but who are uncomfortable or against abortions performed in response to a fetal diagnosis. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, a lot more work needs to be done in this area. Trying to bridge the real or assumed divides intra- and inter- groups through a willingness to listen and respectfully engage would be a great place to start.


[1] This figure comes from a lecture given by Dr. Dan Grossman, Vice President Research for Ibis Reproductive Health in November 2014 as part of the open online course Abortion: Quality Care and Pubic Health Implications. Grossman also noted that post first trimester abortions are very safe and carry some additional abortion-related risks associated with the later gestational age, but still being safer than full term pregnancy and delivery.

[2] These figures were presented as part the same open online course in a lecture by Dr Eleanor Drey, the Medical Director of the Women’s Options Center of San Francisco General Hospital and an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences of the University of California, San Francisco, on abortion after the first trimester.



Media Release: Support for NCW Law Reform Remit

11 Oct


11 October 2014              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALRANZ Backs National Council of Women Remit on Abortion Law Reform; Urges Govt. Action

A remit calling for abortion law reform up for debate at this weekend’s National Council of Women conference adds to a growing chorus of voices that the new government should not ignore, Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ president, Dr. Morgan Healey, said today.

This government has the chance to act on an important issue that has been neglected for far too long, she said. Our outdated criminalised abortion laws have already been flagged by the U.N., and states and countries with similar laws are, one by one, changing them, Dr. Healey said.

“It’s curious that a government so committed to getting rid of regulations won’t address one of the most offensive statutes of all,” she said.

Dr. Healey pointed out that the Australian state of Tasmania decriminalised abortion last year, and Victoria did so in 2008. Meanwhile, in the UK, a meeting next week at the Houses of Parliament will discuss ‘whether, in the 21st century, we can find a better way to regulate abortion than through an antiquated Victorian law’.

“We already know there’s a better way to regulate abortion – and that’s to treat it as a health matter, not a criminal one,” she said.

The remit, from NCW’s Auckland branch, reads: “That NCWNZ request the government to review abortion law and practice with a view to simplifying it and ensuring a woman’s right to choose.” {ed update: The remit passed later on Saturday with a good majority; the June NCW circular (pdf) contains the remits and rationale.}

ALRANZ, which is a member of NCW, fully supports the remit, and hopes its passage will continue the discussion that began during the election campaign, when the Green Party adopted policy to remove abortion from the Crimes Act, Dr. Healey said.

The rationale for the remit urges NCW, as an organisation which has represented women for more than 120 years, to “take a leadership role in securing a review of the law, and clearly [state] a position in favour of legal and practical arrangements that give women the bodily autonomy they have in regard to other medical and personal decisions.”

For more information about ALRANZ visit


Dr. Morgan Healey

ALRANZ National President 

ALRANZ: 021-082-76474



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