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Our abortion laws are outdated and harmful.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.)

Creepy behaviour from David Farrar

It wasn’t at all surprising to me that David Farrar is scathing of students who have to seek hardship grants to pay their bills, categorising them as bludgers who “say yes to free cash“. Nor that he believes that every journalist who reports on the cost of living should demand “a detailed break down of income and expenditure, so readers can judge for themselves the situation”.

(David Farrar isn’t a journalist, so he’s not bound by such ethical considerations – or he might have considered linking to the actual UCOL policy on hardship grants which makes it clear it is definitely not just “free cash”.)

It’s a typical rightwing attitude which reinforces the idea that lesser people – beneficiaries, students, parents – just aren’t allowed to have nice things. It assumes that survival is good enough – not being able to live a life with some dignity, nor understanding that human beings aren’t just automatons who you input fuel into to extract productivity.

What’s disturbing is this bit, where after completely misrepresenting an interviewees’ statements (she commented that she was speaking generally, not of her own situation; Farrar reforms this into wholesale journalistic inaccuracy):

I’ve had a look through the Facebook pages of Lauren and Karn. They both seem very cool friendly people, and in no way are they political activists for a cause. They seem very typical students. I would note however that contrary to the perception in the article of starving students (and I am not blaming them, but the story) they seem to have pretty good social lives judging by the photos, and references to Big Day Out etc.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with Paula Bennett unashamedly releasing the personal details of beneficiaries who criticised her ill-judged, mean-spirited decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance. And there have been many similar cases of people having sick leave cut because they looked happy in a couple of Facebook photos.

It’s a really nasty intimidation tactic – silencing people by threatening to embarrass them publicly, undermining their experiences by attacking their credibility. If you’re not dressed like a Dickensian urchin covered in chimney-dust, the argument goes, you can’t really be struggling to pay bills week-to-week.

David Farrar is saying no more and no less than this: if you do have political leanings, your argument would be invalid (he pretends to be generous in pointing out that they don’t); if you do have a social life, you must be lying when you say some students are trying to get by with $2 a day to spend on food sometimes. And don’t even think about attending the Big Day Out in February if you might be short of cash in September or you deserve to go hungry, you horrid, reprehensible bludgers.

It’s par for the course for our government and its bloggers, and it needs to be named for what it is: unacceptable bullying.

Edited to add: a few responses on Twitter which highlight that this is repeated behaviour from Farrar, and why it’s irresponsible for him to expose young women to the lecherous creepiness of his commentariat (which he keeps promising to clean up).