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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Nope, abortion STILL does not cause breast cancer

17 Apr

Right to Life NZ has published a blog post railing against the NZ Cancer Society for refusing to amplify RTL’s spurious claim that abortion causes breast cancer, in a post entitled “The Inconvenient Truth – Abortion Breast Cancer Link”.

The truth is a great deal more inconvenient for RTL than it is for the following organisations whose research has repeatedly emphasised there is no link between abortion and breast cancer: the National Cancer Institute (USA), the American Cancer Society, the Canadian Cancer Society, the German Cancer Research Centre, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the World Health Organisation.

The theory RTL refers to, about differentiation of breast tissue cells, is a theory first proposed in the 1980s, and still lacking supporting evidence.

The only researchers still touting this thoroughly rubbished theory are avowed anti-choicers.

Right to Life seemingly wonders why it cannot impose on the NZ Cancer Society to amplify its unsupported claims about abortion causing breast cancer. The reason is simple: the Cancer Society uses evidence-based research in the study and treatment of cancer, not hysterical propaganda.

Dispatches from the U.S.: Trump’s Reality

4 Apr

The reality at the heart of Trump’s abortion punishment statement

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the eighth 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.

Firstly don’t let the title of this dispatch fool you. I dislike Donald Trump and think that most of his words are drivel. He is a bombastic, bully. But he has proven successful at tapping into the heart of American white nationalism/supremacy. In some ways, he holds a mirror up to us all (and I will include myself in this, as a white privileged American), reflecting back often disavowed ‘truths’ about this country. His racial and gendered diatribes are manifest of a country built off the backs of slave labour, colonized at the expense and blood of the indigenous nations/peoples, and based on misogynist gender binaries, which despite ostensibly gender-neutral language, continues to promote cisgender (particularly non-white) women as second-class citizens and erased the realities of those who do not conform to gender dichotomies.

Insert public safety warning here: As Americans, we would be wise to neither ignore nor underestimate the popularity of Trump’s hatred and fearmongering.

In his ‘telling it like it is’ rhetoric, which apparently was too truthful as he has subsequently stepped back from his abortion comments much like he did when he accepted the endorsement of David Duke of the KKK, the discourse that Trump uses to sell himself as a candidate personifies the repugnance of our racist, classist, and discriminatory past and present. So when he said that abortion should be illegal and women should be punished, he did more than align himself with the antis, bluntly stating what they have always believed (read Jill Filipovic’s article on this here). He brought to the fore (at least for me) a much deeper thread that runs through social laws and mores governing abortion – the constitution and production of gender binaries and the idea that women’s sexual activity outside heteronormative, procreative situations is abhorrent and must be regulated (and yes, these constructions assume a cisgendered body, leaving non-heterosexual and non-gender conforming people well outside the pale and marginalized). This is the root of abortion stigma; the belief that people with anatomical features that allow for reproduction should do nothing more than that. In other words, womanhood equals motherhood period. Socially such beliefs still translate into laws designed to control and prescribe certain gendered bodies: eliding sex with gender, and assuming an essentialist or biologically determined understanding of what it means to be a ‘woman’.

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It’s Time to Free the Pill

31 Mar

Cross-posted from The Hand Mirror.

By Alison McCulloch

Back in the 1960s, when the Pill became available in Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association (the precursor to today’s NZMA) decided it would be unethical for doctors to let unmarried women get their hands on it. Doing so, it was argued, would be akin to doctors giving extra-marital relationships a stamp of approval, and the NZMA wasn’t about to do that.

If you thought doctors keeping us from the Pill for our own good was a thing of the past, think again. Sure, it’s no longer under the guise of protecting our moral purity – (most) doctors have (mostly) given up on that argument. Now, it’s all about protecting our health.

As recently as 1996, both the Royal College of General Practitioners and the NZMA opposed the reclassification of the Emergency Contraceptive Pill. “We have concerns that in a pharmacy the patient may be disadvantaged from receiving the greater advice that would occur in a general practice consultation,” the college’s chairman, Professor Gregor Coster, was quoted as saying in an article in the British Medical Journal.

Fast forward to 2016, and a new front in this seemingly endless struggle is focused on efforts to get the Pill, aka oral contraception, liberated from doctors’ prescription pads and made available over the counter. The most recent round began in 2014, when Pharmacybrands Ltd (now Green Cross Health, which represents 300 community pharmacies and has an equity interest in 80) and Pharma Projects Ltd, now Natalie Gauld Ltd., made an application to Medsafe’s Medicines Classifications Committee to reclassify the Pill so it could be sold in pharmacies without prescription, though only by specially trained pharmacists, following the model that’s now used for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill.

That application was turned down in the face of stiff opposition from general practitioners and the NZMA: the latter said they didn’t think prescription only access was a barrier to the Pill and wanted to make sure doctors continued to provide “the advice and counselling about its use and about sexual health in general”, while the College of GPs, apparently felt “as if they are being excluded from an important part of primary health care”. (Never mind that the actual users of this “important part of primary health care” were – and continue to be – excluded.)

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Dispatch from Ireland : The General Election and abortion law 

11 Mar

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the seventh in the blog series by Morgan Healey, immediate past President of ALRANZ, who has recently returned to the US. It (usually) aims to bring to life the uniquely absurd state of reproductive rights and justice in the US. But this time, it’s about the also absurd situation in Ireland.

We shall return to our normally scheduled programming, where I unload on reproductive rights and justice in the US, next time.
Instead, this dispatch will focus on my other, other life – the one where I studied women in politics and abortion rights in Ireland (the Republic of Ireland). Specifically, I want to discuss the recent General Election and the impact that could have on the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment (that pernicious law that pretty much outlaws all abortion except where there is a risk to the life of the mother (as distinct from her health), including a threat of suicide). Read Sinead Corcoran’s article for a short history lesson on the 8th Amendment.

I have been unable to help myself. I have been consumed reading articles on the outcome of the 2016 General Election. With the pressure on to repeal the 8th Amendment, the election, which took place on 26 February 2016, could play a substantive role in determining the success of the campaign (or not) for the next five years (that timescale assumes that whatever coalition government is formed goes the full term allowed by the Constitution, which seems unlikely particularly in light of rumors of a ‘grand coalition’ between the two intra-nationalist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil).

The results highlight a different Ireland than the one I left in 2008. The Ireland I left had condensed the number of political parties, with Labour trying to refocus as the predominant ‘left’ party, alongside Sinn Féin, who was regaining a foothold in the South, and the Greens slowly making ground (they were part of the Fianna Fáil led Government in 2007). Independents made up no more than a handful of elected TDs (short for Teachtaí Dála, Irish for Member of Parliament). At this time, there was also little or no conversation about abortion law reform, let alone all out repeal.

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What Acrimony on the Protest Line?

29 Feb

by Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ President

In a recent post on RTL’s website Ken Orr accuses ALRANZ, by name, of “conducting a campaign of 40 days harassment of those praying in these vigils. There has been verbal abuse, theft of signs and prayer material.”

For Wellington at least, this is pure fantasy.

I have been at several counter protests this year outside the hospital in Wellington, and been in close contact with the organisers of others. We have not seen anything like the kind of confrontation Ken writes about. In fact, I have been surprised and pleased at the degree of amity between the two groups of protesters.

The day we took treats and gifts to the Te Mahoe abortion services clinic both groups were quite large. They did not interfere with one another in any way. At one point a random angry anti-choicer verbally abused us, but he had nothing to do with the other protesters. When we broke for the day my friend Sam approached the anti-choice protesters to thank them for coming out and exercising their right of free speech. As I walked away we all smiled and waved and said goodbye.

Another day, a random person who said he was angry about religion verbally abused the anti-choice protesters. He was not with us, and I doubt he had any feelings one way or another on the subject of abortion; he was just angry. The pro-choice protesters tried to get him to leave, and checked in with the anti-choice protesters to make sure they were OK.

None of this peaceful, supportive behaviour should surprise anyone. It’s the Kiwi way.

So why is Ken stirring up drama with accusations of harassment?

Is he trying to import the acrimony of the abortion debate in the States into Aotearoa?

Does Ken dream of a New Zealand where right-wingers can pass laws restricting access to abortion at will, as they do in Texas?

Is he worried that if his followers come to realise pro-choice folks are not demons, and have good points about preventing harm to women and other pregnant people from illegal, unsafe abortion and not forcing pregnant people to endure childbirth against their will, they will soften their stance to something more like, “I wouldn’t have an abortion, but everyone should decide for themselves” as other religious people have done?

Does Ken dream of a New Zealand where people who support abortion and other reproductive rights are sometimes murdered by “pro-life” activists? ON EDIT: You know, I don’t think Ken dreams of a New Zealand quite so much like the States as that, because that would make Ken a monster. Ken is not a monster. He’s just a guy who feels compelled to compel others to live by his religious code.

Such dreams sound like nightmares for Aotearoa.

Q&A: Dr. Simon Snook

25 Feb

Last year, abortion provider Dr. Simon Snook launched a telemedicine service 0800-ABORTION, aimed at easing the referral path for women seeking abortions in New Zealand. Alison McCulloch of ALRANZ spoke with Dr. Snook about setting up the service, and how it’s been going since the launch last August.

Q. When did you start thinking about setting up 0800 ABORTION?

Simon Head ShotA. It’s been an idea for the past few years really because it’s an idea that formed out of an ongoing discussion with patients as you realise the potential failings of the current system. Women were finding it difficult to access abortion services, so you start to formulate ways that you might overcome that. So the idea’s sort of grown. But in terms of sitting down and really putting together how that might be done, it was probably six months or so prior to when we first launched the pilot in August of last year. So beginning of 2015 we really got active thinking about it.


Q. What obstacles did you have to overcome in setting it up?

A. We needed to make sure that what we were planning to do was both legal within the CSA Act and also correct within Medical Council guidelines for telehealth. That’s an area that’s expanding, and the Medical Council guidelines are quite strict on what you can and can’t do without having a patient directly in front of you. So there was quite a bit of research that went into that and discussion. We met with the Abortion Supervisory Committee on a couple of occasions to make sure that they were aware of what we were planning and that they were comfortable that it was within the Act. So that was one side of things. Another side was purely logistical and technical in terms of how we were going to conduct note taking, referral, getting swabs and ultrasounds done. Covering the whole country, there’s quite a lot of background you have to do to know where to refer people for ultrasounds wherever they might be, for example. So there’s quite a bit of background in that process stuff. And the third arm really was to make sure that the people that we had to talk on the phone would be skilled enough and know what they were talking about to give out the best quality advice and information. So those were the three arms of the obstacles we had to overcome.

Q. Can you explain how it works to someone who doesn’t know anything about the system in New Zealand or your service? Continue reading

Dispatches from the US: Supreme Madness Edition

22 Feb

What happens when a Supreme Court Justice dies during a presidential election?

Republicans go crazy. All hell breaks loose.

Morgan-with-pounamu-pendant_WebThis is the sixth 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.

When conservative US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly at the age of 79, his death reverberated across news and social media outlets. Republicans seized the opportunity to suggest that President Obama might want to waive his constitutional duty to appoint a new Justice in order to enable the next President (post the 2016 election and swearing in ceremony, a mere 11 months away) to make that decision.

Using spurious claims (read the SCOTUS blog on the history of appointments during presidential elections) to bolster their argument, Republicans believe such a delay would allow ‘the people’ (I use this term loosely because with all the voter suppression Scouts minus scalialaws sweeping the country – thank SCOTUS for gutting the Voting Rights Act – it is unlikely that the election will actually be inclusive or representative of the US population) to decide who the next Justice should be. The argument assumes that the people of the US did not elect Obama in the first place (if that argument stands then it would have been G.W. Bush who had a tenuous right to appoint Justices, and I don’t recall his ability ever being questioned). It is also a blatant misreading of the Constitution, which clearly leaves the appointment of Justices to the President, not the people (Article II, Clause 2 of the US Constitution states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint… judges of the Supreme Court”). Democrats and pundits have countered with arguments as to why this would be an unprecedented and ridiculous move on the part of Obama, and how politics should not be allowed to stifle the ability of SCOTUS to conduct its business. Let the showdown begin…

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Dispatches from the US: Clinton vs. Sanders

9 Feb

This is the fifth 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_WebI shall suspend any pretense of objectivity by not including any of the Republican candidates in a discussion about who I will cast my vote for this primary season. The positions of ALL the Republican candidates on issues relating to reproductive justice, economic equality, labour and immigration rights, gun control, justice reform are heinous, and I can safely say any one would be a stupendous disaster as President. Subsequent to the Iowa caucus, which was held on 2 February 2016, Martin O’Malley dropped out of the Democratic primary. Thus, as a registered Democrat in the state of Massachusetts I have two choices come primary day – Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

I have to admit that I thought Bernie had sealed my vote early on. I was ‘feeling the Bern’ (yup, that is his slogan, and one can’t help but recommend seeking medical attention for any funny burning sensation) … that was until Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Human Rights Campaign formally endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. These are three organisations that I have a huge respect for and they have all said, ‘she’s our champion’, ‘she will protect your reproductive rights or the rights of LGBT people’. So what’s an activist to do?

Well for one, I registered to attend Planned Parenthood’s formal endorsement of Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire on 5 January, where both Cecile Richards and Hillary Clinton spoke. I wanted to hear what Clinton had to say for herself. And I have

Morgan at Planned Parenthood’s formal endorsement of Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Morgan at Planned Parenthood’s formal endorsement of Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire.

to say I was impressed; Clinton was intelligent, articulate, funny (yes, she has a sense of humour), and personable. I got the sense that she really cares about the cause and protecting women’s reproductive rights (it was a very cisgendered speech). If only I had embraced my inner, pushy Americanness, I too could have taken a selfie with her and you know what, it would have made my year because here’s the thing – I would love to see a woman occupy the White House, and not just as First Lady. Of course I absolutely draw the line at women like Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin. I don’t know what these rich, white women are smoking, but they are only out to protect their own self interests, which funnily enough seem to align with those of rich, white men!

But for me Clinton is different. She always has been. Since I was about 10 years old I have been fascinated by the role of First Ladies, understanding them as historical figures in their own right and important influencers in their husbands’ political rise and presidencies. I have always thought they mattered. The Clinton Presidency was the first one I remember properly – the thrill of having a young(ish) – Clinton was the third youngest President behind Teddy Roosevelt and JFK – liberal (a term I use loosely), smart couple in the White House. There was buzz around the presidency, particularly when he was first elected in 1992, and part of that for me had to do with the highly intelligent, successful partner he brought with him; one who promised to be actively involved in the presidency, who sought out challenging roles like health care reform and human rights. And despite some very rough years, Hillary Clinton emerged from the role of First Lady to become a Senator and then Secretary of State – no small feats. Love or hate her, she has cast a long and influential shadow over the political life of America for decades. Continue reading

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.



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