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.

morganThe 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.

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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.

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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




Some Refusals are More Equal Than Others

14 Sep

by Terry Bellamak

Kim Davis is the county clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky. She refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex partners, after same-sex marriage became legal in all fifty states. Except for a few die-hard right-wingers and evangelicals, she has been roundly excoriated for not doing her duty and refusing to issue the marriage licences. Now she is in jail for contempt of court.

And jail is where she belongs.

But here’s what I find confusing. Pharmacists and doctors and other health care providers do the very same thing Kim Davis did, and suffer no consequences whatsoever. This is true of both the US and NZ. Pharmacists can refuse to provide lawfully prescribed contraception. Doctors can refuse to prescribe it. If you ask a doctor about getting an abortion, they can show you the door without even telling you where you can go to get some actual help with that. Nurses can refuse to participate in abortions as well. All this stuff happens every day.

Now, the obvious difference is that in the case of Kim Davis, the county clerk was breaking the law, whereas the law in NZ (and in the US) specifically allows doctors and nurses and pharmacists to refuse to help you. But that’s a distinction that leaves the most important question unanswered. Why should one refusal to do one’s job be illegal and the other fine and dandy?

In both cases the providers of a service refuse to do so on the grounds of their own personal morality. Both cases have the effect of enforcing the provider’s morality on someone who neither shares nor agrees with the provider’s moral choices. In both cases their refusal has negative consequences for the people they have refused. One could argue that health care is more necessary and vital to a person’s survival than getting married, which makes that refusal even worse than the other.

Why do we laugh at what a homophobic rube Kim Davis is, while allowing doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to do the very same thing to women seeking reproductive health care?

I agree with Karl du Fresne… but not in the way you think

5 Sep

(Update: Also, check out the opinion piece on this issue from the DomPost by Terry Bellamak.)

By Dr. Morgan Healey

In an opinion piece published in the Dominion Post (4/9/2015), Karl du Fresne said that our abortion laws encourage deceit. While I hate to admit it, this is a sentiment that I can agree with. Unfortunately, this is about as far as our mutual belief extends and I want to spend some time calling out the misconceptions employed in his article before articulating our common opinion.

Firstly, there is no evidence to support that abortion causes any psychological harm. I know both sides of the argument tend to frame abortion as a ‘difficult’ decision and while it may be emotionally difficult for some women it is not for all. (Assuming this is the case belies the fact that the social stigma of abortion often creates that difficulty and acts to reinscribe stigma whenever difficulty is employed.) More importantly, however, the American Psychological Association and the United Kingdom’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, within the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have done extensive research on the causal relationship between abortion and mental health and come up with the following:

• The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion;

• The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following and abortion were similar; and

• There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortion in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of abortion.

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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:

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