Now it's Aotearoa's Turn For Abortion Referendum
This article argues that the recent abortion referendum in Ireland highlights the need for change in such laws in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
After years of facing criticism over their abortion laws, and years of women being forced to travel to another country to receive medical care, The Irish Government gave into pressure from the Irish people and allowed them a chance to express their opinion, and they overwhelmingly voted to repeal their existing laws and, in the words of Terry Bellamak, the president of Abortion Law Reform New Zealand, “said yes to bodily autonomy, human dignity, and the human rights of women and pregnant people.”
The Irish government has now promised to introduce legislation by the end of the year providing for abortion care on request up to 12 weeks, with no reason having to be given. When this law is passed, Ireland’s abortion laws will be more progressive than New Zealand’s.
Under current New Zealand law, women don’t have full bodily autonomy. The decision to have an abortion does not rest with the person who is pregnant, they have to meet strict requirements before they can get an abortion, including gaining the approval of two certifying consultants, who are specially appointed physicians. They decide whether or not the woman meets the grounds for abortion set out in the Crimes Act.
Abortion in New Zealand (until the 20th week of pregnancy) is only legal in the cases of serious danger to the life or mental health of the mother, cases of severe mental or physical handicap of the foetus, incest, or severe mental subnormality of the mother. Rape and extreme ages of the person in question may be taken into account, but are not grounds for abortion. After the 20th week of pregnancy abortion is only legal to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. Certifying consultants denied an abortion to 216 people in 2014, the last year for which there is data.
Women have to consider many different issues when they make the decision to have an abortion. They may consider the views of their partner, parents and of the society they live in. They may consider the effect it will have on their career or studies. They may think about whether they are ready for motherhood. They may look at the relationship they are in. They may examine their financial and economic situation.
The grounds doctors consider ignore the importance of socio-economic and personal factors in making a decision. In fact we would argue that there should be no need to have specified grounds for abortion. They are disempowering for women.
The Coalition government has asked our Law Commission to consider changes, including removing abortion from the Crimes Act and making it a health issue. Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Law Commission is due to report back to him by the end of this year and, providing the Government can agree on the recommendations, he says it’s possible there could be legislation before Parliament next year.
In Ireland, the matter was given to the people to decide. It seems here any change we are subject to will be via a conscience vote in Parliament. We need to demand a referendum on the issue.
Conscience votes do not reflect the wishes of the electorates in which they reside, they are the personal choices of the elected MP, and the fact is that often people tend to be a lot more progressive than MPs. It should be left up to women to be trusted to look after their own bodies and mental health, and it should be them who decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, not parliamentarians with a conscience vote and not state-funded doctors.
The Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement supports a woman’s right to control her own body, and we believe that control over one’s fertility is an essential part of individual freedom. A woman must have the right to abortion on demand. In defending and defining the right to choose in the broadest way possible, we are defending the right to make choices about how to live our lives. This is our agenda for a future society.
We envisage an anarchist society as a society where people are free to make choices about their own lives. We picture a society where decisions are made at the lowest effective level. For women, this includes the decision whether or not to become pregnant, whether or not to remain pregnant, whether or not to have children.
For anarchists, the best person, indeed the only person, with the right to make that decision, is the woman who is going to have to live with its consequences. There should be no abortion laws or regulations around abortion – we should just simply trust women.