Abortion is illegal in New Zealand.
We get around the illegality, because we are civilised. We don’t abide our citizens having to seek unsafe procedures that endanger their lives.
As per the Crimes Act 1961, if the foetus is impaired or the product of incest, then we can get a legal abortion. If not, then instead, multiple doctors agree we are insane, or that pregnancy could make us insane, or could be a danger to our physical well-being. Only then can we get a safe, legal abortion.
We don’t like to lie, but we put up with it because this is not acceptable (warning: that is a really graphic image, and it is real, and I refuse to take it out, because I think we need to understand that actual human lives are at stake and are worth more than fertilised ova glued to uterine tissue ).
But there are people out there who want to make it worse again for women. They want us to go back to the days of the backstreet coat-hanger abortion.
They call themselves ‘pro-lifers’ – but they’re not really pro life. They’re not pro my life, for example, or yours. They’re only pro potential life.
They believe that an early foetus inside a uterus (even a zygote) is equal to a breathing, eating, laughing, viable human being with thoughts and feelings. And while they pretend to have a science base, in reality their entire lobby is founded on quotes from the Bible. It is a very vocal movement, and a conservative one. NZ’s Voice for Life is linked with several US-based groups whose entire foundations rest on old-testament religious nastiness.
Make no mistake: powerful extremists are the people controlling the pro-life lobby. And they’re not taken as lightly as you might think in a secular country like New Zealand.
One of the most influential people in our government, Judith Collins, supported a 2004 legislative amendment backed by pro-life group Voice For Life, which would have required enforced parental notification and consent for under-16 year olds intending to have an abortion (presumably so religious parents could make their children give birth to babies they actually didn’t want to have, which ugh). Add to this that the father of a pregnant teen quite regularly turns out to be the father of her baby too, and you can see why ALRANZ, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, consisting of NZ Medical Association and NZ College of General Practitioner members – medical professionals who actually understand the reasons people choose abortion – opposed the amendment so vigorously (and ultimately successfully).
But it’s still illegal for someone to have an abortion if they simply don’t want to have a child right now; if they aren’t interested in breeding; if they already have the perfect number of children for them; if they don’t feel like they’re mature enough to look after a baby.
In 2010 Labour MP Steve Chadwick proposed an Abortion Reform Bill to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, effectively decriminalising it. But Chadwick didn’t return to Parliament after the 2011 election, so ALRANZ and its parliamentary supporters are trying to find a new sponsor for the proposed bill to decriminalise abortion (email your MP!).
So when it comes to terminating an unwanted pregnancy in NZ, unless you’re ill, you’re still illegal. People who live in rural areas have it especially tough. The three big city appointments usually required for an abortion are all but impossible for, say, someone at high school who may not wish to involve their parents in ending their unwanted pregnancy.
And then there’s what can happen at the gates.
If you’ve ever gone in for an abortion or attended one as a support person, you may have already experienced pro-lifers.
A man (yeah, it’s usually a man) hurries up to you and yells at you about murder, shows you fake pictures of supposedly aborted foetuses, and tries to persuade you that there is a better way – adoption! (No, HE’s not planning on adopting it. Someone else will.) Here’s a number. Look at this leaflet. There is another way. It’s easy to adopt out. (Yeah, great, give your child to someone like them to raise.) They call themselves things like Voice for Life, or Right to Life.
At the moment, we are halfway through the so-called ‘40-day Vigil For Life‘ in which extremists pray for an end to abortion from March 5th to April 13th.
Luckily, prayer doesn’t work (never has, and never will). Because it’s not just abortion they oppose. They’re against contraception, too. God has a plan for us all, according to them, and we should have no say in whether or not we become pregnant.
Any woman who finds she has a fertilised ovum in her uterine lining and doesn’t want to remain pregnant should not be forced to breed against her will.
But this is what they want.
In real life, there ain’t nobody going Hey what you up to this week and getting OH I THOUGHT I’D HAVE A FEW ABORTIONS in reply. People terminate pregnancies as an unhappy last resort, not a convenient first option. Nobody enjoys it. But people who don’t want to be pregnant really don’t want to be pregnant, and it’s utterly their choice.
That is why the very presence of pro-lifers outside reproductive health clinics is harassment. They’re not peacefully protesting legislation; they’re not marching in Queen St against proposed parliamentary actions. They’re harassing citizens who are seeking private medical treatment relating to their own personal lives.
The other day I happened to be going past the site at Dominion Rd, where four zealots stood praying and holding signs opposite the clinic.
WELL. I will confess that I broke all the rules to stop and give them hell. I bumped across half a footpath and right in the ‘out’ bit of the supermarket carpark. I screeched to a stop and got out of my car empty-handed. I was in such a rage don’t even remember walking up to them.
The arguments they threw out did nothing to appease me.
“God has a plan for every human being. And life starts before conception. It’s a scientific fact.” (But when there isn’t any evidence that gods even exist, then what?)
“Maybe you should close your legs if you don’t want to be pregnant.” (What about men closing their legs? Oh wait – you only want to control women’s behaviour.)
“It’s our religious right to protest child murder.” (A fetus is not a child by any reality-based definition, and actually, lady, in a secular country, you don’t have the right to take other people’s rights away because of your beliefs.)
“It’s a man’s right to have the baby he conceived.” (OH IT’S ABOUT MEN’S RIGHTS AGAIN. Well, he’s welcome to have it if he wants to give birth to it!)
“Why don’t you shut your whore mouth?” (No.)
“Women’s purpose in life is to bear children. There’s no point otherwise.” (So, what, do we just kill the grannies and gays and barrens and any woman whose male partner is sterile?)
“Sluts who give it away deserve everything they get.” (So babies are a religious punishment for consensual sex with your partner? What about married women who have three kids and don’t want a fourth but the condom breaks?)
“You’re just selfish.” (Yeah, so selfish I don’t want to inflict more unwanted kids on the world.)
According to them, at all costs, all foetuses must continue to fruition, because GODS.
At one point, a stranger twice my size came over and pressed his body to mine. Two women dropped their shopping and rushed over to support me. Things became chaotic; he was intimidating and verbally abusive. He pushed himself up against us, called us whores and sluts, told us he would use a hook to abort our faces, told us we should be killed if we didn’t fulfill our purpose in life (MAKE THE BABBIES), and elbowed me in the neck.
At this point, one of the prayer squad called the police.
But not because of a huge man intimidating a young woman. She called the police because women were swearing.
They wouldn’t come, and so the woman told us off for wasting police time. YOU called THEM, I pointed out. She said we should be ashamed of ourselves for having such bad behaviour that she had to. She told us we needed to go home and learn to conduct ourselves properly.
And this really just summed it up for me. The anti-abortion people were way more concerned about women using naughty words than anything an aggressive, intimidating stranger was doing to us.
They want to control women’s sexual and general behaviour to fit the parameters of their religion – this is what it truly comes down to.
These people are anti-science, and anti-reason, and they want to get control.
So I went back, the other day.
Other people turned up, too: a woman with a young child at kindy. One of the women I met in the situation above. A female family member who has had an abortion. Two male friends.
We held up signs near the anti-abortion pro-lifers. We ignored them; we didn’t acknowledge them.
We wanted to show the rage they produce in the people they affect. It took all of twenty seconds to get our first beep. A blonde woman leaned out of her car window.
GO YOU GOOD THINGS! she screamed and pumped her first, grinning at us.
Thank you! yelled bus drivers, truck drivers, cyclists, overall-clad workers in vans, suits in BMWs. Horns parped and blasted all day.
I love it! Keep it up! Yes, ladies! YES! It’s a woman’s right to choooooose, they shouted from their cars.
People parked up and ran over to thank us: They’ve been pissing me off for days. I’m so glad to see people out here standing up to them, said everybody from old ladies to middle-aged men to teenagers.
Women who’d had abortions and weren’t sorry came to see us. Women who hadn’t had abortions shook our hands. A nurse from the clinic came over and thanked us. Men came over and thanked us. Mixed groups of office workers thanked us, and tried to buy us lunch, coffee, tea. Someone brought us bottled water. Apart from a few cars full of men who screamed sluts! out the windows, we only had about five people oppose us: all were male (and all were either extremely elderly or clearly had elaborate mental health issues).
Everybody was just so damn glad somebody was sticking up for real humanity in the face of these anti-human preachers.
One guy, he couldn’t contain his rage. He swore at us as he walked past, and wandered back later to elaborate. You think you can tell women what to do with their bodies! He shouted. Then he stared at my sign which said Protest Shitty Sex Education, Not Abortion, looked at another that said Keep Your Faith Outta My Fanny, and said WAIT! No! I agree with you guys! He turned around and pointed. It’s them I hate! I’m so sorry! I thought you were part of their horrible little group! I’m so embarrassed!
In fact, some people got so riled up they went and had a go at the pro-lifers as they prayed and sang.
And that always got interesting.
These pro-lifers, you see, they aggressively film and photograph anybody who stops to argue or discuss with them. Saying you don’t consent to being filmed or having your image recorded doesn’t stop them (they don’t care about your rights: after all, you’ve been growing for more than a few weeks). They just carry on filming and photographing right up in your face. It’s a really cheap, petty form of intimidation and provocation. They want so badly to be the victims here – they wish someone would smash the camera out of their hands so they can go on TV about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of murderers supporting murdering murder!!
Alas, reasonable people are reasonable.
People using the clinic don’t want to have the baby of the man who raped them.
They don’t want to have the baby of the man who left them when he found out they were pregnant.
Maybe they were using reliable birth control, and antibiotics made it fail, and they’re not prepared to raise a family with their current partner.
Maybe they don’t want to have another baby, as they have the perfect amount for them and their family.
Maybe they are too young or old to want to be a parent.
Maybe they’re studying and don’t want to give up their education.
Maybe they can’t afford it.
Maybe they aren’t ready yet, but in a few years might want a zillion babies.
Maybe they just can’t spare any time right now to be pregnant and nauseous.
Maybe they have a health condition that means their life is at risk when pregnant.
Or maybe they simply don’t want to be pregnant, ever, and it’s none of our goddamn business why not.
Nobody has abortions for fun: let’s be clear about this.
But whatever their reasons, humans have the right to choose what they do with their bodies – in private, and without harassment from organised religious extremists.
*If you want to come and counter-protest their protest for a couple of hours, other people will be there 10am-1pm this Friday 28th March and Saturday 29th March. Bring your signs. Bring your anger.