What’s the real issue with abortion?



I’m not the typical pro-choice ‘stereotype’. For instance, I can’t put my head in the sand and get into the mindset that life doesn’t exist until so many weeks, or so many months, or when the child is delivered.

As a woman who went through infertility treatment to have children, the ecstatic joy of seeing that line on the pregnancy test will stay with me forever. Life! The 5/6 week scan – precious, already loved miniscule life! I did everything I possibly could to protect these beautiful little foetus’s in all their alien-looking glory. There was an instant bond. I ‘felt’ what gender they were, and I was always right. I named them months before they were born. And the babies I lost early – I love and miss them every day.

I also experienced a desperate fight to keep my unborn daughter alive. Injured while still in my womb, Li-yah put up a fight for life that astounded everyone. My ultrasound technician called her the miracle baby as she fought and fought her way through weeks of complications. Born at 23 weeks and 6 days, my precious little girl was born breathing, crying, and very much alive. Sadly 10 hours later she lost her fight due to a massive infection that almost killed me as well. But I wouldn’t give up those 10 hours for a billion dollars. She gave me so much strength, so much love, and her spirit keeps me going when everything gets too much. Her footprint on this world is undeniable.

These experiences had such an impact on me that I just can’t with any integrity deny the fact that we are alive from conception. I make no apologies for having this view, as disappointing as it might be to some pro-choice people, and as confusing as it may be for pro-life people that I can still support abortion despite this.

The thing is, my personal experience is mine and it gives me no right to transfer my personal morals onto – say for example – a mum with 4 kids already on the DPB (yes, I’m going real stereotypical with this example – but it happens, a lot) who finds herself pregnant to a man using class A drugs. He doesn’t have a penny in the world, it all goes to P and the pokies, and when he finds out, he says ‘sorry lady, you’re on your own’, so she is left alone, vulnerable and with no way to get anything for her baby except through a recoverable grant that’ll leave her worse off once the baby is born. Or sometimes even worse, he does stick around. And before we know it, another headline that ‘shocks’ us.

Her reality is different to mine, and probably yours. Could she make a go of this and raise this baby? Yes, with the right support. Is the support she’s likely to be offered by the government enough? No. It sounds like it to those who’ve never been there, but trust me, it’s not.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather a teeny tiny group of cells life with no cognitive ability, fear, or pain to die (yes, I am aware it depends on the gestation, but lets be honest, even pro-choice people would far prefer a medical pill abortion at 6-8wks. None of us want late term, its a necessity though in a tiny % of cases), than a 4 year old die of neglect or abuse. I would much rather that, than a 15 year old committing violent offenses with no future but jail because he has no impulse control or understanding thanks to foetal alcohol syndrome. Rather that than a child being beaten every day because they exist. And frankly, I would rather that than see a mother of 5 struggle every day just to cope on a tiny amount of money and cry themselves to sleep every night because they wanted so much better for their kids. But no matter what she tries she can’t put food on the table, she can’t afford $25 a week for inhalers for each of her asthmatic kids who have to go to A&E every week either. She’d love them to be warm and dry, but she can’t afford a house to rent, the waiting lists at HNZ are too long, so they live in a damp garage. THIS is the reality of abortion.

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Every abortion has a story. It isn’t a story of babykilling. It’s a story of desperation. I have never met a woman who had one for fun. I have never met a woman who used them as contraception (btw, contraception is more fallible than you’d like to think). And I have never met a woman who’s shared her experience with me who hasn’t said ‘I had an abortion a few years ago. It was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. I still think about the baby every day. I think it was a girl/boy – just feel it in my soul. I wish I hadn’t had to do it but I had no choice, I couldn’t look after her/him at the time’. See? The same feelings as I had when I lost my babies. These women are not heartless, they are not evil.

Then the tears start to fall. And they tell me why they felt they had no choice. And I struggle to hold back tears too as I am told of rape – ‘I couldn’t look it in the face, I couldn’t help but hate it and a child doesn’t deserve hate’. Incest – ‘it was my dads, I couldn’t love my dads baby’. Of violent partners – ‘he said it was off to the clinic or he’d kick it out of me instead, and he would have too’. Poverty – ‘I had 4 kids already and I couldn’t give them breakfast or put shoes on their feet, one more would have broken us’. Fear of CYF – ‘they took my last baby because I was on drugs. I’m not now but I know they’ll come after me and take this one too, they won’t help me keep him, they’ll just take him off me and I can’t survive that’. Depression/mental illness – ‘I was so depressed I wasn’t looking after myself – there’s no way I could look after a baby too’.

Are there women out there who have abortions on tap, who walk out of the clinic laughing and joking about how easy that was? I have two answers for that from my experience – 1. Judgemental friends who don’t think their friend looks miserable enough so broadcast their vicious privacy-breaching gossip to all and sundry, creating that perception. 2. Defence mechanisms. The hurt and pain cuts so deep they whack a smile on and pretend like its nothing til they get home, are alone, and sob the night away filled with self hatred.

So let’s move past the moment of conception (which I’ll talk about in a future blog). Let’s look at the real issues at play here. The real issue here is parental capacity & readiness. The real issue here is poverty. The real issue here is the quality of life of the child once he/she is born into our far from perfect world.

I would like to put a challenge out to the pro-life community. I really hope you’ll hear me.
I know that if your world is anything like a lot of the pro-life people I know, you will have: Enough money to get by. Support from your church community. You’ll probably lead a fairly sheltered and middle class life where bad things happen to other people, and you look on with sympathy, but also detachment. You try to understand, but unless it’s happened to you, you really don’t. You view the world through your interpretation of the Bible and your church leaders. You live in an idealised world, where you aspire to what should be, and try to ignore and often actively belittle those who fall short of your standards.

God is love. God is kind. God forgives. God is an understanding God. God is the ‘ultimate judge’, yes, but he also orders us to leave the judging up to him.

So it’s time to change tack.

Stop praying that the mother won’t kill her baby. Start praying for the mother.

Telling her she’s murdering her innocent baby isn’t going to make her want to reach out to you for support. It’s going to tell her she is evil and hated and rejected by you. Have you ever had one woman come to you and say thank you, you helped me change my mind? I highly doubt it. This might shock you, but I can say with absolute honesty that I have helped a lot of women decide to keep their babies. How, you ask – you support babykilling! No, I don’t. I support choice, and I also support mothers.

I believe in empowerment. I believe in being that person who says I will help you if you don’t want to do this. If you believe in your heart that you really want this baby, but you feel like you just can’t – I can get you support. I will come with you to sort out WINZ. Here’s the name of a non-judgemental midwife who will advocate for you. If CYF want to meet with you, I’ll be there. Here are the agencies who can help you. You can text me anytime. Here’s a group who organises clothes for children. And they realise they aren’t alone after all.

The crazy thing is – not so long ago this was the church’s role. But no vulnerable woman of my generation and under will go near Christian organisations who are represented by people screaming murderer, condemning mothers, and reminding them they are a killer who will burn in hell. You proclaim respect for the pre-born – you need to start proclaiming respect for vulnerable pregnant women. It’s their life, and they are only doing this because they feel no-one will help them. You’re reinforcing that. Your silent and in other places not so silent vigils may feel peaceful to you, but the judgemental and hysterical language you’re using in your banners, your news articles and your websites is pushing these women further into a hopeless abyss.

When I protest, I hold a sign that says ‘Pro-Choice, Pro-Children’. And I am, and I mean it. I hope what I’ve said today explains to you how I can say both of those things at once without hypocrisy.

So let’s move past this nonsense. There is actually very little dividing us except a never-ending argument about the moment of conception and a tug of war over women’s vs children’s rights. Your camp and my camp both want the same thing. Happy healthy coping families. Imagine what would happen if we banded together to demand that our government and our country put mothers and children first? Imagine what would happen if we worked together to bring families into a truly caring community of love and support? Imagine if we worked together as advocates for the rights of children AFTER they are born?

What a better place NZ would be.

Think about it.


  1. Powerful, moving and insightful.
    Thanks for a very thoughtful and respectful piece.
    I got a lot from it and will be pondering some of your points long after I have finished reading it.

  2. A few more points beyond your advocacy which I totally support. As someone who can conceive by just looking at a man, I chose to have only 1 child, because I care for the state of a mindlessly over- populating planet, and this is my way. I have been able to live my choice. Secondly, we must stop placing prime importance on the necessity to have one’s “own” genetic child. Foetuses are lost through genetic and health reasons related to survivability– a test tube line of non-fertile multi-births is not the only way to create a family. Children are lovely, but ego must be removed from their creation once a pattern repeats many times without successful progeny. Sometimes it works, but here is an alternative. Adopt. Adopt a child and it’s mother and keep them both healthy. A child is as they are raised, and if you have the lover and care, there are many children in need. I would like to see anti-abortionists pay the support for the entire life of a mother and child they condemn to existing in poverty–without imposing any beliefs or contact, just money. And I would also like to see the value of personal permanent sterilisation, once you have the family you want and can afford. Tubal ligation and vasectomy are simple, safe, and with the ability to store embryos and sperm well established (as well as vasectomy reversals), this would not be a finite condition, in the event of tragedy. My sympathies for your personal tragedies of conception–but there is a world of children out there awaiting caring parents.

    • I accidentally gave this a thumbs down. While I never feel good when that happens, on this occasion I feel terrible about it. Dwnats, I am very sorry for my misclick.

    • Why didn’t you adopt?
      Do you know how hard/easy it is to adopt children in NZ?
      What is a “non-fertile multi-birth?” Are you saying people conceived through IVF are non-fertile. I don’t believe that’s true but even if they have a higher chance of being infertile, so what. Won’t that help your overpopulation problem.

  3. An interesting view point. Whilst reading it I could not help but think of the other option we don’t hear enough about, and that is adoption. Has the ‘trend’ to keep children with their parents at all costs, contributed to the terrible headlines we see all too often of children injured and dead at the hands of irresponsible parents? There are many wonderful families in New Zealand who are willing and able to give children a forever home, and still allow the biological parents to be involved. These families have been scrutinised to the endth degree to ensure they are suitable parents (financially, mentally and physically). Perhaps if adoption was also advocated then we would see less conflict between pro life and pro choice, and fewer children suffering.

    • I doubt we would see less conflict, only more pressure for women not to abort.

      We need abortion laws that protect women from antiabortion propaganda and allow abortion for economic reasons as well as health. This info should only come via medical doctors as it is the only way to eliminate extreme religious views which pressure women. Failure to abort a child that you can’t afford to raise or are emotionally not ready to deal with (including adopting that child out which is traumatic) can lead to a life of deprivation for the child and welfare dependency – which we all pay for eventually.

      It is high time that we stopped allowing abusive information to be mindlessly directed at pregnant women with a clear religious or pseudo-scientific bias.

      Adoption is selfishly promoted by those with their own self interests and fails to recognise the intense social stigma attached to baring a child then giving it away.

  4. Wow. What a great article. Thank you Rachel.

    I came to New Zealand in 1997. In the UK, if you are not pro choice, you are automatically villified as a catholic, misogynistic pig who has no idea. In New Zealand, people respect your views if you are sensitive and caring.

    It has to be asked how much is simply the way we express ourselves. What you describe is pretty much where I am at. I would describe myself as moderately anti abortion, but the two sides really do meet in the middle. You have made me think about this common ground, and thank you for doing so.

    I am not some guy with no idea. My ex-wife and I lost four children at different stages, and she almost died. I now have two beautiful Kiwi children who I am so proud of. I am not a dad who runs away. It is a shame to my gender that some dads do this, and they are not real men in my view, but cowards. I have thought long and hard about this issue, especially as I do want to go into Parliament, and I think you have nailed the moderate position on both sides. It is not nice. No-one really wants to have to abort. Sometimes though it does seem necessary, and until we work out some good alternatives, we are here, now.

    This is where both sides meet. You have come from one side, and I have come from the other. How can I ever condemn the woman who is driven to desperation as you describe? Who am I even to condemn? You speak of common sense, and as someone on the other side of the debate (though left wing and Labour traditionally), I wanted to stand up and voice my support for what you are saying.

    The voice of sense and moderation does prevail in New Zealand. You are instrumental in maintaining this with this blog. Thank you for sharing this, and I am with you on what you say. So we meet in the middle.

  5. I have been the parent of 2 children, 1 natural and 1 chosen.. I have been blessed by both these young people.. I regret nothing, the birth mother of my daughter, became a close friend as did her younger children. extended family indeed.

  6. Thank for sharing – very personal & heartfelt. This is a tough issue and choice for many and have several people in my life who have had abortions. I however, despite being considered a Lefty on most issues, am not ‘pro-choice’. For this reason, I am an enigma to my ‘liberal’ friends, just s you are to some of your friends.

    However, I am a little troubled by your thread. OK so you feel that life begins at conception yet support ‘choice’ for abortion. If life starts with conception, then abortion = taking life. So how is this different from any other form of infanticide? I ask this not as an attack you or anyone that has had an abortion, but it is to me a contradiction that I cannot reconcile. Kind regards

    • It all depends on what’s meant by “life”, doesn’t it? At fertilization the ovum gains a new set of DNA, but it’s still a single cell without consciousness or intention. It can’t feel pain or fear and has no plans for its future, nor will it for months. Whether it is a “person” or not at this point is a matter of metaphysics, and I can’t see that it’s right to put metaphysics ahead of the well-being of a woman who is definitely, unambiguously a person.

      • So Daniel, at some point the unborn is (or becomes) a person and metaphysics is unavoidable. Even before birth at some point it can feel pain (suggesting a level of consciousness) and it may not have ‘purpose’ but neither does a newborn beyond instinctual survival. So what’s the difference? I find something distasteful about the fact that we have reduced the unborn to a mere ‘property relationship’, i.e., the unborn is simply a subordinate piece of property in relation to the woman’s body (MY body, MY choice). Second, as someone interested in human rights, to give voice to the voiceless, the most vulnerable among us, what could be more defenceless than an unborn ‘person’? So, the metaphysical question of personhood is, I suggest, quite central to this dialogue and not subordinate, as you suggest.

        Finally, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful reply to my original post – and to everyone else so far who have been thoughtful and respectful of one another’s views.


        • The trouble with metaphysical definitions of personhood is that they’re always going to be arbitrary. A fertilized ovum is far more like an unfertilized ovum than it is like a newborn. Why make fertilization the cutoff? What’s to say, metaphysically speaking, that every ovum in a woman’s body isn’t a human being with human rights? (It is, after all, human, alive, and genetically distinct albeit by omission.) We don’t say that, because it would be inconvenient to the point of oppression if we treated every woman who has her period as guilty of homicide by neglect. We quite comfortably let pragmatic considerations rule our metaphysic on that point. Not such a big stretch to do the same after fertilization.

          As to where we place the cutoff point, I believe all morality is fundamentally about earning one another’s trust. It is good, for that purpose, to have simple and easily-grasped ethical principles such as “Do not kill human beings” and “Do not force needless suffering upon others”. However, sometimes these principles conflict with each other. Rather than appeal to metaphysical boundaries which will always be indeterminate in the last resort, I believe we should always ask: which course better serves the purpose of mutual trust? In this case, I would answer, the patient’s well-being takes precedence over the embryo’s metaphysical status.

          In case that doesn’t sound quite right to you, here’s another scenario where you would have to choose between metaphysical and consequential considerations. Suppose a fertility clinic is on fire, and you are the firefighter on the scene. You have the chance to save one thing out of the building before the fire reaches the volatile chemicals in one of the labs and blows the whole thing up. At the back end, in the storage unit, there is a portable freezer unit containing 100 living human embryos. At the front end, in the reception area, there is a single, trapped, screaming, three-year-old child. Which do you save?

          • So Daniel, thank you for your thoughts. Two questions: 1. When you speak of ‘mutual’ trust’ could you clarify what you mean by this and between whom is this trust ‘mutual’?

            Second, are you then saying abortion is always the woman’s choice at any point up to the point of birth – or even beyond this point? At some point you do have to make a determination of personhood, because at some point it is no longer an embryo or foetus but a person, either inside the womb out out. Wherever you draw that line, you are nevertheless, drawing a line.

            • I’m afraid a full answer to your first question would constitute a derailment of this thread; I have argued out my moral philosophy here on my own blog.

              To participate fully in a network of trust relationships requires a number of emotional and cognitive faculties, such as the ability to recognise individuals, the awareness that other people have their own inner lives, and the capacity for gratitude (to name but three). I don’t believe moral responsibility is limited to individuals who are able to participate in relationships of trust. We must remember always that other people can’t see into our heads, and we have to demonstrate our trustworthiness by being consistently benevolent. If I had made a solemn promise to my grandmother, I should not feel free to break it simply because she is now deceased and no longer able to have such relationships. Others in my trust network could then not know for sure whether I had broken it because she is deceased, or because I didn’t care about promises (obviously in the latter case I would have a strong motive to deceive them about it). I would have rendered myself unworthy of trust. However, if the promise to my grandmother were something that would seriously compromise my trust relationships with living people, then I would place the living people first.

              The various requirements for the ability to enter trust relationships arise at different times during early childhood; the earlier ones are quite difficult to test, and therefore unclear. Nor is any developmental process really like turning on a switch — everything is gradual. Fortunately, nature has provided us with a transition which:
              — in itself lasts only a few seconds (albeit potentially heralded for hours or even days beforehand); and
              — invariably occurs before the infant has any capacity to enter relationships of trust on its own account; and
              — reduces the burden the infant places on the woman’s body by orders of magnitude; and
              — initiates the infant’s contact with other people as social individuals, though, as I say, some weeks before the infant is able to appreciate them as such.
              Nature is seldom so accommodating of our object-oriented, sharp-division-demanding human minds. We have been given a natural cut-off point which we needn’t second-guess. Namely, birth.

          • I’ll reply to your post backwards Daniel. Interesting dilemma about the fertility clinic on fire. Did you consider why it is a dilemma? Because both the embryos and the kid are of value. If you said the kid or the fish in the tank, there would be no dilemma, because the fish doesn’t have the same value. So.. which point were you trying to prove? And personally I would go for the kid, because in an emergency situation you react emotionally, and a screaming kid evokes more emotion than silent embryos.

            Back to your understanding of ova, you may have to brush up on biology. An ovum can never be a human being because it has half the DNA required. In fact, skin cells would be closer to a human being because they have a complete DNA, but even then, they can never form a distinct human being. Possibly you assume an unfertilized ovum is “like” an embryo because they looks similar? In size perhaps? Since when does appearance and size determine who is more human? Is there a race of people less human than others? Some people used to think so, they were called the Nazi’s. Would you consider a midget to have fewer rights than Shaq?

            Metaphysics or no, everyone draws a line somewhere. Some by assumption, some for personal comfort, some by default, and some with thought.

            • It isn’t a dilemma to me. I chose it as something that would be a dilemma to a pro-lifer. I, too, tend to react emotionally in emergency situations, but we are not now in an emergency situation; we are discussing and pondering morality in a dispassionate setting. Do you think you would be right to choose the child over the embryos, given that you believe that amounts to abandoning 100 people to save one?

              An unfertilized ovum has a single complete set of human DNA, all 23 chromosomes. A fertilized ovum has a double set, with 46 chromosomes. Except, sometimes, things are different. Some ova have missing chromosomes or extra chromosomes. Mostly such ova do not survive long after fertilization. However, if the condition happens to be trisomy in chromosome 21, and the foetus survives to term, you have an individual with Down’s syndrome. Would you say that an individual with Down’s syndrome is less of a person than anyone else? Even slightly? Individuals with extra or missing X or Y chromosomes are even less divergent from the population norm, because our cells have ways of turning X chromosomes off and Y chromosomes contain nothing necessary to survival. Again, are they lesser people? Such conclusions would logically follow if personhood is determined by chromosome count.

              Since chromosome count is the only difference between an unfertilized ovum and a fertilized ovum, it would seem that anyone who is metaphysically committed to defining a fertilized ovum as a person must choose between dehumanizing Down’s syndrome individuals and charging women who menstruate with homicide by neglect.

              • You are absolutely right that personhood is not determined by chromosome count, hence someone with trisomy is not more of a human because they have more DNA strands. However, u miss the point that no human being alive has only 23 chromosomes, you need 23 pairs ie. 46 to be alive. So no, ova are not distinct humans, they are gametes. Although if you do know people around with 23 unpaired chromosomes, you should publish and I’m sure you’d get a nobel.
                Hope that makes it clear why ova are not people and no, I don’t think you should accuse women who menstruate of homicide.

                • Thank you for that paradigmatic demonstration of the logical flaw known as “begging the question”, or “assuming the answer”. You say “no human being alive has 23 chromosomes”, but this is only true if you have already established that unfertilized ova are not human beings. If they are, then hundreds of billions of human beings have 23 chromosomes. I could use precisely the same logic and say “No human being alive is a single cell” or “No human being alive lacks a functioning brain” — therefore fertilized ova and embryos whose brains have not developed are not human beings either.

                  • You are right, I assume that ova are not people. Could you show me where the flaw is? I do not believe that menstruating is murder, and I assumed u did not consider it so. Forgive the assumption Daniel. What do you suggest we do with all the people murdering sperm and ova?

                    • The flaw is that you believe fertilized ova are people, and also that chromosome count does not make the difference between a person and a non-person. But chromosome count is the only difference between a fertilized and an unfertilized ovum. From those two assumptions, therefore, it follows that an unfertilized ovum is a person. I do not believe menstruation to be murder, because I do not believe that an ovum — fertilized or not — is a person.

              • Sorry, forgot about your first paragraph question. You ask if it is right to choose the child over the embryos. Are you shifting to a moral argument about right and wrong? or is this still a science argument? I’m happy to discuss either way, but please don’t confuse them. If we were to talk about morals, I suppose you refer to an absolute truth of right and wrong, implying a moral law, which requires an external moral law giver. So which God do you subscribe to? just so we can talk about right and wrong while understanding where you’re coming from.

                • I can’t remember announcing that this was going to be exclusively a science or exclusively a moral argument. The ethics around abortion raise questions of both kinds. I asked whether you think you would be right to save one child rather than 100 human embryos. If you are “happy to discuss either way”, please demonstrate your happiness by answering the question.

                  You then proceed to make a large number of assumptions about my moral philosophy, all of which are false. I do not wish to derail Rachael Goldsmith’s thread, so, as I told Ian above, I discuss what I believe to be the basis of morality here on my own blog. It gets more views than any of my other posts but sadly nobody has commented on it to date. Please feel most free to be the first, if you wish to continue this discussion. However, should you do so, I must warn you that commenters who don’t read my posts before commenting on them are liable to find themselves the subject of ribbing.

                  Briefly, my answer is that an external law-giver is irrelevant to morality, because we would still need an internal moral faculty to recognise that the external law-giver was moral, and since that is the case we may as well skip past the law-giver and apply our moral faculty directly to moral questions that arise. Further problems arise if we then suppose that the law-giver is some kind of god, especially an omnipotent one; namely, a god, especially an omnipotent one, does not benefit from belonging to a network of trust, and therefore has no motive to behave in ways that are trustworthy.

                  • Wow, interesting, thanks Daniel. I will check your blog at some point I’m sure, when I get the time. To me the “right” thing to do in the fire is to do what the person was able to. If grab both, great. if grab one, then it whichever would do, if you prefer to avoid emotions. As the person who can help one person in poverty in NZ monetarily would not have done wrong by not sending the money overseas where possibly more people could be helped. I do not particularly consider “right” and “wrong” a numbers game.

                    As to morality, you’re probably right, lets not discuss on this thread. How could I contact you?

                    • So if we were to switch our hypothetical situation to a burning school, with one child trapped in a classroom and 100 in the assembly hall, it would be morally all right to leave the 100 to die? To me that is a fundamentally different situation, because children have moral rights which embryos do not. But I don’t see how it squares up with your metaphysic.

                      Here is that link to my blog again. If you wish to discuss moral philosophy with me, please read what I have already written on the subject, and then by all means please leave a comment on that post.

  7. I have to admit I’m surprised that you’ve never met a woman who was relieved to have had an abortion and who hasn’t struggled with guilt or depression afterwards. Likewise, I’m surprised you’ve never met women who were happy, well adjusted and financially stable who have decided to terminate an unwanted pregnancy because they and their partner have decided their family is already complete. Because I have met women who fit those categories, and that’s just in my own family and social group. I’m not willing to write them off as being in denial – that would deny them their reality and be condescending to boot. I suppose presenting only women who are in desperate situations and who suffer afterwards makes it easier/more palatable for moderates on either side of the abortion divide feel a bit more warm and fuzzy about the abortion debate, but it’s not a complete or particularly honest overall picture. (That’s not to say I don’t believe Rachael- just that in my world, women’s abortion experiences don’t align with the women she is referencing)

    I loathe with a passion the conflation of abortion with adoption. As both an adult adoptee, and a relinquishing mother at 16, I wish people would really think a bit more critically and do some research on adoption ethics and outcomes for first mothers and adoptees before making simplistic, overused, and unthinking soundbites.

    Adoption is not an alternative for an unwanted pregnancy. It’s a parenting decision you make after the birth of your baby – meaning while your pregnancy may have been unplanned, it is not unwanted. Reproductive choice v Parenting choice. My pregnancy at 16 was unplanned – but not unwanted. Frankly, the adoption was unwanted as well.

    And since I’m on a truth rant, I’d prefer not to have been adopted out; I’d really like access to my original birth certificate without having to see the catholic counsellor accredited in my area before I can have something that every non adoptee has access to by right, and if anybody wants to ask me if I’m glad I wasn’t aborted and adopted instead, don’t. You wouldn’t ask it of a non adopted person, so don’t ask me – it’s offensive .

    As the New Zealand law stands, (Adoption Act 1955), there is no way I could – in good conscience – recommend it. While open adoption may be the norm now, and has been successful for some, it has no legal standing. An adoptive parent is completely within their rights to cut off all contact – and it happens. I personally know of three NZ first mothers who committed suicide as a result.

    Adoption is supposed to be about finding a home for a child who has no first family who can care for it – not finding a child for homes that can’t have them. It’s supposed to be child centred.

    • Regarding adoption – yes. I hear you. I am very wary of proclaiming adoption as ‘the’ solution, because it is a whole lot more complicated than the warm fuzzy picture of a childless couple finally getting the perfect baby they’ve always wanted. I have a step-child that I and partner have not met yet because they were adopted out. It’s a very complex situation and it has caused a lot of heartache for everyone involved, including the child, birth mum, my partner, adoptive mum – it’s not warm and fuzzy and perfect at all.
      I also have adopted friends who have struggled as you have. I know adoptive parents who struggle that their child has issues they didn’t expect and don’t know how to deal with. And I know birth mums who have been cut off and promises & hearts broken. Our adoption laws are outdated, dangerous, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend adoption and also I couldn’t, after going through the process to become a potential adoptive mother, adopt myself. I choose to foster instead. Until our laws become all about the child, I will be steering clear.

    • This is why adoption is extremely rare in NZ and those that do adopt, tend to go overseas to do it. Almost all permanent placements are Guardianship Orders of some description where whanau continue to have some sort of access except under very extreme circumstances

  8. I was a young adult during the campaign for abortion law reform many years ago. I regret the fact that we ended up with the cockamamie law we now have; I regret even more that there hasn’t been any substantive change in the years since.

    In my view, abortion is a medical procedure: the decision to abort ought to rest solely with the woman concerned, in consultation with her medical practitioner. The law should be silent on it, except with regard to the issues – safety, clinical competence, informed consent and so on – which apply to other medical procedures.

    It is none of my business – or anyone else’s – if a woman decides to abort a pregnancy. She has the final say, because she alone must carry the fetus to term, with all the attendant costs and consequences.

    It’s important not to conflate abortion with infanticide: they are different issues, and the law rightly treats them as being different.

    Most opposition to abortion seems to rest on moral and religious beliefs. People are free to hold such views, but this is a secular society, and religious objections ought not to influence laws which affect the rest of us who aren’t religious.

    We’re well overdue for a repeal of the abortion law.

    • We sure are. Next blog will hopefully be about the dangerous direction the US is going in regarding other reasons pregnancies end. What kind of whacked out world are we living in where women are being thrown in jail for what they might have done that had an impact on their pregnancy ending? Where does the madness stop?

  9. Time for a bit of lobbying for repeal with some MPs who might be prepared to take a private member’s bill to the ballot, perhaps.

    Time may well be of the essence, given the direction things are going in the US. While I think that this is a more secular society than much of the US, there does seem to be a more conservative wind blowing even here. That may be due to changes in the ethnic mix of the population, along with the fact that progressive thinking on social issues seems to be punctuated by periods of conservatism. Or so it seems to me now, from this vantage point in my life.

    The gains we’ve made in women’s rights – especially with regard to control of our fertility – have been hard-fought. They need to be protected against attempts to reverse them; we can’t take anything for granted, unfortunately. And with regard to abortion, the battle isn’t yet won, and won’t be until the law is repealed.

    • Young Labour are pushing to make decriminalisation of abortion Labour Party policy.


      The Green Party is currently the only Party with policy on Abortion. From the ALRANZ website:

      “The Women’s Policy states that the Party will review abortion services to ensure equity of access for women throughout New Zealand. However, the policy does not address decriminalisation. Most MPs are supportive.”


      It’s one of a cluster of issues that are so polarising that Political Parties are generally loathe to address them. Simon Powers made the following observations in his valedictory speech:

      “There are many debates that Parliament does not want to have for fear of losing votes or not staying on message: abortion, adoption law, children’s rights, and sexual violence issues. I don’t share this timid view. The truth is, if we don’t have those debates here, where will we have them?”

  10. Politics has come to a pretty pass, hasn’t it, when politicians lack the courage to confront difficult issues such as the right to abortions. It’s what they’re elected for, after all.

    I note that Simon Powers made this forthright statement in his valedictory speech, but, as far as I recall, didn’t raise these issues while he was an MP. All very well to be bold when one is leaving Parliament: how about showing some guts when one is actually there?

    On the other hand, I’m guessing that anyone brave enough to speak up in support of women’s abortion rights will face harassment of a particularly egregious sort. I base this on the type of reaction I see on some blogsites and in letters to the editor; no doubt the most intemperate will have been weeded out, so goodness knows what gets through to MPs. This would be particularly problematic for those with young families.

    But we must have change: the law as it stands must be repealed, no matter how hard the fight will be.

    • Steve Chadwick, the former Labour MP, was essentially hung out to dry in 2010 by the Labour Party when she attempted to simply introduce the possibility of a Private Members Bill that would bring our abortion laws into the 21 Century. I think that it is going to take a massive groundswell of grassroots pressure on our Pollies to get this anywhere near the table.

      In the meantime, like you, I also see a creeping conservatism in this country; the recent refusal of contraception to a young woman in her 20’s by a Nelson doctor, and the opening of another Catholic Pregnancy “Crisis” Centre in Dunedin are just two such recent examples.

      Unlike you, I can no longer be bothered engaging with longwinded Pro Choice men as to why being reduced to a walking incubator is not ok with me. I don’t know how you have the patience. 🙂

        • NZFEMME: yes, men can’t have a veto right over access to abortion, simply because it’s not them gestating a fetus.

          I see no point in debating with the pro-lifers, whether they are men or women. Their views won’t be changed by the science, it seems, so it’s necessary to put them to one side, and campaign for repeal.

          The most supportive thing men who aren’t in the “pro-life” camp can do is to weigh in behind a campaign to repeal the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act. As I see it now, repeal is the only strategy worth considering, because it’ll decouple the whole contraception issue from what are in effect largely religious – and by extension misogynist – influences, and put it into the personal health area, where it belongs.

  11. Thanks for your article Rachael, and for sharing your experiences. I’m glad that you agree children are important, far too often they are demolished in most political or social debates because they have no voting power and are not valued.

    It sounds like you have decided that embryos are people at conception, which is very honest as a pro-choice advocate. I would agree completely. Also, it appears that you have resigned to the fact that as there are many problems and unclimbable obstacles to raising kids in some situations, especially in our unequal society, so abortion is the justified means to the end in these desperate situations.

    However, I would suggest the means do not justify the end. We have a serious problem with child abuse, but giving lethal, painless injections to babies who experience or are at risk of child abuse is not a justified just because we spare them perceived or real abuse.

    Poverty is a real and serious problem in our country, but i would suggest killing all poor people is not a justified means.

    It is terrible when a kid is suffering because of abuse, neglect, bullying, or illness, but I would suggest that overdosing them on sedative medication is not justified.

    I would suggest the mum getting rid of her newly born 5th baby because she now desperately realises she cannot afford to look after 5 kids, financially, emotionally, or mentally, is not the answer.

    So when it comes to abortion, or infanticide, what levels of desperation are required to approve them, as you believe all stages are human beings?

    Look forward to hearing Rachael.

  12. @ Midgetkiwi: Rachael has given an eloquent statement of her position on abortion.

    However, your response illustrates why I no longer believe that it’s pointful or helpful to adduce reasons such as poverty, a woman’s mental or physical health and so on, as justification for the right to access an abortion. And, as I stated above, why I now see abortion as a medical procedure, and a private matter between a woman and her medical practitioner.

    It’s no business of mine, or anybody else’s, if a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy, or what reason she may have. If she has a partner, he may well have a view on it, but she gets to decide, because she alone must carry the fetus to term, with all the costs and consequences of the pregnancy.

    The problem with justifications is that we get all tangled up in semantic and ethical – not to mention moral – knots over what is actually another means of contraception. Objections to abortion, in my view, ought to entail objections to all forms of contraception. This is of course the Catholic church’s view.

    You state that the means don’t justify the end – although I’m guessing that you intended to say that the end doesn’t justify the means. This is the deontological view, as espoused by the Catholic church. If you do indeed hold this view, and you wish to be consistent about it, it does commit you to opposing all forms of contraception. This is because it’s difficult or impossible to draw a principled distinction between the biological effects of abortion and various other forms of contraception.

    I note that you adduce infanticide as way of supporting your argument; abortion and infanticide aren’t parallel issues, and this is recognised in law. It is, as philosophers might say, a bit of a “reductio ad absurdum” to introduce infanticide into the debate.

    I wonder if any of you who’ve commented here have actually read the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977? I’ll bet it was enacted before some of you were born, and on the basis of the language alone, it ought to be taken out the back and given a quiet burial: it’s antediluvian.

    I wonder, too, whether many you are aware of the history of the Act: it’s an ultimately unsatisfactory half-way house between the old Crimes Act, in which abortion was illegal, whatever the circumstances, and the state of affairs sought by the advocates of law reform at the time: safe, legal abortions.

    This is why I – and many others – want to see the Act repealed. I think that we’re grown-up enough now to have the law silent on all matters pertaining to contraception, including abortion.

  13. Yes, thanks Merrial, I did get means and ends round the wrong way. Also, I agree that Rachael has given an eloquent statement of her position, which as she said is relatively unique, and therefore I had some questions for her 🙂

    “This is the deontological view, as espoused by the Catholic church. If you do indeed hold this view, and you wish to be consistent about it, it does commit you to opposing all forms of contraception. This is because it’s difficult or impossible to draw a principled distinction between the biological effects of abortion and various other forms of contraception.” How so? doesn’t contraception reduce the number of embryos dying, by miscarriage or abortion?

    Also Merrial, is there any reason that you defer to the law when it suits you not to include infanticide, and yet insist on a change in abortion law once again when it suits you? What, in your opinion, gives a fetus less rights than an infant?

    • While abortion is illegal-with-loopholes in New Zealand, this has nothing to do with the foetus having a right to life. The Crimes Act’s homicide provisions specify that a human neonate legally becomes a person when it has fully proceeded from its mother’s body.

      It is impossible to draw a principled distinction between abortion and contraception because there is no point at which the foetus, embryo, or ovum suddenly “becomes a person” by any conceivable empirical test. At fertilization it gains a new set of chromosomes, but in our discussion above you reject chromosome count as the criterion for personhood. Any other changes regard the probable outcomes for its future, not its present conditions. Preventing fertilization in the first place makes the same changes to those outcomes that terminating the fertilized ovum does, and therefore has just as good a claim to be considered murder.

  14. @ Midgetkiwi: Daniel Copeland has provided a concise answer to the issues you raise. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend Daniel’s debate with himself (Sept 19) on this comment thread. It’s well worth the time.

    I’d like to add my five cents’ worth, though. Those of us who see contraception – including abortion – as a medical matter, within the purview of personal health, are concerned about the biological processes at play here, not the metaphysical or moral issues.

    Our view is that the arguments made by pro-lifers are essentially religious; they’re free to hold such views, and to apply them to their own engagement with the contraception issue. But we don’t live in a theocracy; the rest of us must be allowed to have access to safe, legal contraception, free from attempts to impose limits and restrictions which are based on religious views.

    This is why I no longer see the point in adducing justifications for allowing women access to abortions. It’s just a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

  15. You actually put up a far stronger argument against abortion than for. As you say, abortion is out of desperation, nobody really wants to be in a position that they feel they have no choice. It frequently is that women feel they have no choice, but to kill her unborn child. Providing abortion is a cop-out, an easy way out. What they really need is support, with pregnancy, with childcare, with raising the children, so they don’t become ‘victims’ of CYS, or later a shocking statistic.

    The argument put for of: abortion or 15 year old committing violent offenses with no future but jail, is a false dichotomy. Providing abortion instead of help does not make the situation better, and there are not many willing to help because many effectively say, “better dead, than disadvantaged”. If you are really pro child, help the children, take them off their parents if need be. But don’t kill the children because of the poor decisions of the parents.

    • @ Jos VI: Daniel Copeland’s right. I recommend that you read through the comments,and especially Daniel’s debate with himself (Sept 19). He covers these issues pretty comprehensively, in my view.

      Like a number of others commenting here, you’re advancing arguments against abortion which are based on religious beliefs. Such arguments can’t be used to influence access to abortion for the rest of us who aren’t religious; we don’t live in a theocracy.

      You’re free to hold these beliefs, of course, but please recognise that they’re based on moral and metaphysical views. They don’t actually impinge in any way on abortion for the rest of us who don’t share these views.

      Put another way, your worldview with regard to abortion has no influence on the way the world is; there are no moral facts.

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