Telling quote of the day

[Content note: rape, sexual assault, drug use]

From Family First head Bob McCoskrie, on an article about a chemistry exam containing a question about Rohypnol:

“There would be a red flag if it was glamourising or condoning it, but given it’s a technical question then education is actually key. Hopefully it will be a deterrent more than anything,” he said.

What McCoskrie – and literally everyone else interviewed for that article – ignores is that no one’s complaining about the question ~glamorising~ Rohypnol. The problem is that no one involved in the process of vetting this question seemed to have the slightest regard for students who may be survivors of sexual assault, and almost certainly have no idea that they’re going to be reminded of it when they sit down in the school hall at the end of term.

Scholarship-level exams are stressful enough without being asked to apply your technical knowledge to a clinical rundown of exactly why the drug someone slipped into your drink rendered you unable to stop them from assaulting you.

The telling bit about this quote is that Bob McCoskrie – who rails daily against good sexuality education, against giving children the actual facts about sex and consent and contraception – naturally has no problem with the potential distress of young people who’ve been sexually assaulted. As long as it “hopefully” scares young people off the entire idea of drinking, or sex itself, it’s all fine by him.

But teach kids that they should only have sex when they’ve decided they’re ready, and that it’s okay to demand your partner use a condom? It’s corrupting our youth and killing Western civilisation.

(And “education” is a red herring. It’s an end-of-year exam in Chemistry, not Health. That’s like saying all those pointless School Cert math questions about “If you bake 120 muffins and sell them for $3 each” are imparting valuable business principles.)

Hat-tip @Dovil.

(Repost) Informed consent: As simple as asking?

This post originally appeared at On The Left.

The experience of a woman who had an IUCD inserted without her knowledge shows that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to informed consent in New Zealand.

The intrauterine contraceptive device was inserted when the woman went to Epsom Day Unit to have an abortion in 2010. She had not consented to having it and it was only in 2013 that she discovered it, after unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.

An investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner found the doctor mistakenly “assumed” the woman wanted the contraceptive device after seeing it on a hospital trolley.

There’s a lot of deep, serious stuff you can get into about informed consent – an issue with a dark history in New Zealand. Sandra Coney’s book recounting the Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s Hospital in Auckland was one of the first “feminist” books I read, and even though I wasn’t old enough to really understand all the issues (certainly not the science) one thing was really, horribly impressed on me: that patients have the right to know what’s happening to them. And they must be allowed to make their own choices. And cis women (and, I’d learn as my feminism developed, trans women, people of colour, people with disabilities, people in every marginalized group and especially people in more than one) were frequently, automatically, denied that choice.

It raises a lot of questions about the assumptions we make (doctors are demigods, patients aren’t rational, science is unbiased) and the systems and structures we have around medical care, which feed in turn into questions about how our society regards certain people (e.g. husbands having the power to commit their wives to mental institutions). Those are big, meaty ideas which could require a lot of soul-searching and discussion.

But in this case – based on nothing more than reading the Stuff article quoted above – it seems that the woman’s trauma could have been entirely avoided just by a surgeon bothering to ask, “Hey, is this IUCD for you, or another patient?”

Add in the fact that Auckland District Health Board initially refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong with depriving someone of the ability to have children for three years, and this seems to be much less about serious ethical considerations about informed consent, and more about sheer arrogance and lack of concern about people’s wellbeing.

So what do we do to change that? In this case it’s good that the Health and Disability Commissioner has taken action to make it very clear that this kind of thing simply cannot happen. Auckland District Health Board has been “recommended” to do a spot review of patient records to make sure this hasn’t happened multiple times. We need to pay close attention to make sure that they actually change the way they do things to stop it happening again.

(I’ve tried to use gender-neutral language where appropriate in this article. Not all people who become pregnant/get abortions/have IUDs are women, and not all women can get pregnant. But I think the medical establishment, like society, still groups all people who are assumed to have uteri and assumed to be able to get pregnant under the heading of “women”, and the second-class status of that group is a contributing factor to this particular case.)

David Farrar gets it wrong on abortion law in NZ

Oops, two posts criticising DPF in a row, that’s a little weird – a consequence of the Labour Party’s leadership dominating the news, and my reticence about wading into that issue, I suspect!

But I have to correct him on this. In a post today about abortion rights around the world (linking to a really good interactive graphic from The Guardian) he says:

Oceania is low also, but in NZ we effectively have abortion on request – but not as a legal right.

Farrar is wrong. We don’t have abortion on request in New Zealand. Not literally, and not “effectively.”

Admittedly, abortion is a topic which doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Like most “morality” issues, it gets treated as taboo, dirty, not Proper Conversation. But it does get raised every now and then – The Wireless did some fantastic reporting as part of their “free” theme – so really, there’s no excuse to keep making these kinds of incorrect assumptions.

As ALRANZ’s “16 reasons to change New Zealand’s abortion laws” factsheet states, our current laws dictate an onerous, expensive, dehumanizing process, where people have to see up to four different medical practitioners, often involving huge amounts of travel and time off work and childcare,

As ALRANZ says in another factsheet on the law, the reason some people have relatively good access to abortion services is because there is a strong network of doctors and providers in some parts of the country. If you’re not in an urban centre, it gets much more difficult.

And the current situation is repeatedly threatened by anti-abortion activists mounting legal action.

That isn’t “effectively abortion on request” at all.

Now, if we really did have easily-accessible abortion on request, even if not in name, I’d still have a problem with our laws. People deserve to be treated with dignity. Women (the majority of people who get pregnant are women, but not all) deserve not to have laws which explicitly assume that they as a class can’t make decisions about their own bodies, and can’t be trusted to tell the truth (rape isn’t included in the grounds for abortion, because – isn’t it always? – it was assumed women would lie about it).

But this isn’t just about the wording of our laws. This is about people having to crowdfund for tickets to Melbourne in order to get an abortion, in 2013.

Our abortion laws are outdated and harmful. And it’s not going to change if high-profile commentators like David Farrar keep spreading misinformation about it.

(Disclaimer: I am a proud member of ALRANZ.)

The right to choose – early and safely

Abortion isn’t a topic which gets a lot of talk-space in New Zealand politics, but that may change this year with the Green Party unveiling a staunchly pro-choice Women’s Policy which includes decriminalisation, guaranteed access, and support for pregnant people no matter what they choose to do.

(I say “may” change because the political conversation is already plenty crowded, what with Banks, Internet Mana, Oravida, the TPPA, the GCSB, etc.)

In any case, it’s created a lot of discussion, especially over at The Standard. I’ve made a few rather long comments there, and have collected some key points here for future reference. It might be a little incoherent, so apologies in advance.

Is there support for abortion law reform?

Yes, if you just walk up to people out of the blue and say “Let’s kill babies in the womb, good times!!!” you’re probably going to get a negative reaction.

But, shockingly, that’s not how the discussion goes. Alison McCulloch did a road trip through NZ to promote her book and talk to people about abortion, and she said that many people were quite happy to discuss the issues, and very interested to learn that abortion is still a crime in NZ.

Every time I’ve seen decriminalisation raised in a political context (i.e. by the Greens this week and at Labour Party conferences) there’s always a few people who don’t realise it’s still a crime. Once we get that message more widespread, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of will to change.

Access in New Zealand

A lot of people use statistics about how many abortions are performed in NZ – about 15,000 per year – but it’s a really insincere argument. A number is a number. You can’t make any assumptions about whether that’s too many, not enough or just right until you look at the circumstances of people getting, or not getting, abortions.

Until Southern DHB began offering abortion services at Southland Hospital last year, anyone in Invercargill or Gore who wanted to get an abortion would have needed to travel to Christchurch and put aside 5-6 hours to be at the Lyndhurst clinic. Do you really think every unwilling pregnant person in Southland would have had the resources or ability to do that?

There are still no certifying consultants or abortion providers on the West Coast. Do you think it’s easy for a woman – who probably already has children, or work, or can’t tell other people her plans – to get over the Southern Alps for at least two certifying appointments and a procedure?

If you argue for the status quo to continue (or, like Judith Collins, that the status quo is “working”), you are arguing against pregnant people having a legal right to end their pregnancies, or the access to do so.

The 20-week limit

The number of abortions done at anywhere near 20 weeks are vanishingly small, and usually performed for serious medical reasons or because the pregnant person has been prevented from getting a termination sooner. This story from The Wireless is a good example of why that can happen. (The Wireless did a great series of articles on abortion in NZ for their “Free” theme.)

The meme that women are just lounging around the house pregnant and then go “Oh, whoops, I don’t want a baby after all” halfway through is an anti-abortion myth. Unfortunately, things go wrong in pregnancy and late-term abortions are sometimes required to save lives (yes, I know, how ironic 🙄 ) And sometimes – because of archaic, condescending processes like we currently have in NZ – people don’t have access to abortion services earlier.

The irony is that policies like the Greens’ will make it easier for people to get early medication abortions, long before there’s any argument to be made about whether or not “it’s a baby”. So if you really oppose “unnecessary” 20-week abortions, you should support this policy.

Supporting the Greens

To be a little harsh – if you were a Greens supporter already and this policy has changed your mind, I venture to suggest you hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to Green Party policy. They’ve had liberalising our abortion laws on the books for years.