Prolife NZ: importing premium US intimidation tactics

(Content note: antichoice violence and intimidation tactics)

A “pro-life” group in NZ has decided to post an article at their website screaming blue (baby-)murder about the latest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood in the United States.

And wouldn’t you know it, there I am! Standing on the right with some friends from ALRANZ and the thoroughly inspirational Cecile Richards. It was taken at a Family Planning conference in 2014, where according to Prolife NZ, Ms Richards

[was] flown [in] … to train up New Zealand abortion activists on rolling out their US style abortion strategy to New Zealand

… or, if you’re not a religious extremist who hates women, “gave a keynote speech at a conference.”

The actual “accusations” against Planned Parenthood this time are the usual laughable slurs, presented in a heavily-edited, one might almost say dishonestly-presented video. Trying to make a connection to New Zealand Family Planning just because they got the head of PP to talk to their conference one time is the same (poor) calibre of argument.

But here’s the irony. As Prolife NZ try to smear ALRANZ and Family Planning over their “close ties” to the USA prochoice movement, they’re importing the dishonest, abusive tactics of the USA antichoice movement wholesale. From the absolute beat-up of a story which has zero credibility and even less relevance to the state of abortion in New Zealand, right down to the intimidation tactics: posting pictures of people without their consent and deliberately naming them in order to direct hostility at them.

If you think that’s an overreaction, consider this comment left on Prolife NZ’s Facebook – under a photo of me and my friends.

prolife threat edit 230715

That’s right. Go to a conference to hear a woman talk, get people on Facebook wishing violent dismemberment on you.

This kind of thing is usually met with defensive cries of “oh but we don’t support violence” (though they’ve left the comment up.) It’s nonsense. When Dr George Tiller was murdered in 2009, prominent antichoicers even tried to deny that his assassin, Scott Roeder, was part of their movement – despite a 20-year history of antichoice activism.

But there is simply no other plausible explanation for Prolife NZ’s post than intimidation. There is no significant connection between Planned Parenthood’s services and ALRANZ. There is no need to reproduce a year-old photo, and no need to name three of the women in it, except to make them targets for hatred (and hopefully not worse).

The New Zealand antichoice movement has form for this; a few years back there was even a wiki maintained of prochoice activists, with photos and records of events they’d attended.

It’s bullying. It’s intimidation. And it perfectly illustrates the real goal of the “pro-life” movement: to keep women in their place.

Here’s what I have to say to that.

underwood go fuck yourself

The need for abortion law reform

I wrote yesterday about Right to Life’s latest attack on abortion access in New Zealand, so it’s timely to talk about the issue.

Abortion is one of the great untouchable topics in New Zealand politics. In the 80s we could fully decriminalise homosexuality, but we couldn’t decriminalise abortion. In the 2000s we could decriminalise sex work, but we couldn’t decriminalise abortion. We have absolute marriage equality now … and abortion is still the issue that people, especially on the left, freak out about every time.

As Alison McCulloch said in a post I linked to yesterday:

If this were any other issue, if the lives at stake were any other than those of people seeking abortions, action to provide this health service locally and more safely would be swift. But this is abortion. So even though this is about a procedure roughly one in four New Zealand women will undergo in their lifetimes, and even though abortion is something that is absolutely crucial to the autonomy and freedom of at least half of the population, politicians will continue to say everything is fine, judges will continue to make the law and doctors will continue to have control over our bodies, and our lives.

Alison’s book on the history of the abortion rights struggle in New Zealand, Fighting to Choose, is an absolute must-read.

Why is this the line? Why, at the recent Region 4 conference of the Labour Party I attended, did a remit on medical funding for trans people pass with no problems (I’m not going near the subsequent media statements by Labour MPs), and a remit on end of life choice pass with no problems, but a remit on abortion failed?

I can’t speak for the people who voted against it or spoke against it. I can only guess, and probably unfairly, about why abortion gets treated as a special issue.

But these are the facts.

Abortion is a crime in New Zealand. It is only allowed under certain circumstances, on the agreement of two separate physicians. Rape is not grounds for an abortion – it was specifically omitted because our lawmakers assumed pregnant people would just lie about being raped. You know, the way we always do.

Abortion access is very difficult for some people. The Abortion Supervisory Committee has regularly highlighted this. Until very recently, pregnant people seeking abortions who live in Invercargill had to travel to Christchurch, on a specific day of the week, sometimes staying overnight, to have their terminations. Pregnant people from the West Coast still have to do this.

Our abortion laws were written in the late 70s. Medical technology has moved on – that’s why Right to Life hope to be able to force the Family Planning clinic in Tauranga to stop providing safer, easier, cheaper medication abortions. Society has moved on.

I cannot accept that it is impossible to explain this issue clearly and concisely to people – and get a good, constructive response.

In fact, I know it’s not impossible. In 2013 Alison McCulloch did a Prochoice Highway tour across New Zealand, and received overwhelmingly positive reactions. When you have a chat to people and say “Hey, did you know abortion is still a crime in New Zealand law? Did you know pregnant people have to get two different doctors to sign off on their procedure, and have to plead mental illness to get it?” they are surprised. That’s not the New Zealand they know – the liberal hippie paradise which gave women the vote first and kicked out American nuclear subs. Our abortion laws are worse that America’s – that shocks people.

And when you tell them that people still have to raise money to fly to Australia for abortions if they don’t find out they’re pregnant early enough, they’re shocked. Or that abortion providers are still targeted for vandalism and abuse, in this day and age.

The message is simple: abortion is a common, safe medical procedure, governed by laws from the 70s. There’s nothing radical about acknowledging they need to change. There’s nothing scary about letting pregnant people be in control of their own bodies.

Yes, the religious extremists will howl and wail and threaten divine retribution. Just like they did for prostitution law reform. Just like they did for civil unions. Just like they did for marriage equality. But for God’s sake, New Zealand. Maurice Williamson of all people became an international star on the basis of mocking that kind of ridiculous scare-mongering.

They are bullies. They attack us to make us back down. And time and time again, on this issue, we – the progressive left of New Zealand politics – have rewarded their behaviour by shying away from it.

All we need is the courage to say “our abortion laws are outdated. Bringing them in line with modern medical knowledge will save taxpayer dollars and provide huge benefits to New Zealand women.* It’s the right thing to do and you’re right. There are other important issues too. So isn’t it great how quickly we can fix this one and move on?”

This issue isn’t going away. So why not make it a win?

 

 

*Not only women get pregnant.

Rally for abortion rights in Wellington today

I meant to write this post a while ago, but it’s been much more pleasant to have a long weekend playing the Defiance MMO and finishing off a manuscript.

Abortion access in New Zealand (such as it is) is under threat again, with “Right to Life” going to court to argue that the Family Planning clinic in Tauranga shouldn’t be allowed

And you know what, they may, technically, be right. Our abortion laws (such as they are) were passed in 1977. Medical technology has moved on (along with the rest of the world.) So our laws don’t make allowance for medication abortion. It didn’t exist then.

The benefits of medication abortion are huge. It’s far safer (though it bears noting that no one has ever died from complications relating to an abortion in New Zealand. The idea that abortion is horribly dangerous is an antichoice lie.) It’s easier to administer. It doesn’t require surgery.

Of course the antichoice movement hate it. As Alison McCulloch puts it at the ALRANZ blog:

It’s commonsense, and borne out in numerous studies, that the earlier an abortion is performed, the safer it is and – as anyone who’s had to wait for abortion access will know viscerally – the better it is for patients.  So, of course, Right to Life, in its latest effort to chip away at access, wants women to have the wait longer and travel farther. This is harassment no less than the more overt kind encountered on the pavement outside pretty much every abortion provider in this country – something else the ASC said in its report it was concerned about: “We have received reports of instances of verbal abuse and the distribution of offensive material to people entering hospital facilities. … We have addressed this in previous reports and feel it is necessary to highlight again this issue affecting the provision of services throughout New Zealand.”

If you want to take a stand for abortion access and you’re in Wellington tomorrow at noon, come along to the High Court on Molesworth Street.

There’s a Facebook event, but be advised – the New Zealand antichoice movement has form for recording and publishing the names and photographs of people who RSVP on Facebook events for prochoice demonstrations.

Because that’s just how full of love and compassion they are.

QOTD: myself on parental notification for abortion

This is one of those issues which just makes me tired every time it rears its head, so instead of burning energy writing up a big post on it I just blurted out some thoughts on Twitter. And people seemed to like them! So for posterity:

(I’ve only copied every second one since I cannot find how to stop them displaying the previous tweet with each one!)

Later this week: a post on abortion which I DID have the energy to write.

QOTD: Dr Holly Dunsworth on the “ideal” pelvis

From a fascinating article at ScienceDaily.com on a new theory about why humans gestate pregnancies for as long / as short as they do – which overturns the traditional idea that our gestation is shorter so babies’ heads don’t get too big to pass through the birth canal.

“We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

“If it didn’t, we’d have gone extinct.”

The research itself is fascinating, but – being a big feminist meanie – I think it’s also really important to consider that point above. We often tend to perceive science as this perfect, rational system for ascertaining information about the world around us. But scientists are human. They’re raised in the same cultural environments as the rest of us, with the same assumptions and biases as anyone else.

This doesn’t mean they’re evil, or involved in some diabolical moustache-twirling conspiracy to oppress all women with bad data. It just means some things get overlooked. Some things get taken for granted. Some assumptions aren’t questioned.

It’s not like we needed advances in technology or cutting-edge physics to figure out that human gestation isn’t actually shorter than other primates’, or what happens to pregnant people’s metabolisms during the course of a pregnancy. That information was there to be found – and it wasn’t until now, because until now no one felt the need to question the idea that wider (assumed to be “women’s”) pelvises mean you can’t walk good.

And we simply can’t look at that idea in a vacuum. We have a patriarchal society which treats women as lesser. We have Judeo-Christian traditions which teach us that Woman is a (flawed) offshoot of God’s actual handmade creation, Man. We believe women aren’t as physically capable as men, that childbirth (which we assume is entirely experienced by women) is a weakness or a punishment.

In that context, it’s easy to assume “male” hips are “normal” and “female” hips are “flawed” because of our “curse”.

It’s great to see scientists challenging those assumptions. But we have a long way to go before those ingrained prejudices about gender, race, biology and destiny are erased.