Opinion: Abortion is a medical necessity, reform is needed

4:15 pm on 6 August 2019
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Photo: 123RF

Opinion - Hi, Kate* here, you may remember me from these stories:

I was pleased that the government had finally released the draft Abortion Law Reform Bill, due to have its first reading on Thursday. This government had been in power for a whopping 22 months, and it's been 24 months since my story broke; I hate to think how many women had sought abortions in the meantime, and even worse, how many women experienced what I experienced.

Alfred Ngaro recently endorsed a protest whose organisers called abortion an "unholy Holocaust". My response to this statement was not aired in the media at the time, so I will say it now - nobody gets abortions on purpose. Women do not stay pregnant for months, only to decide to terminate in the last minute.

Abortion is a medical necessity, and I applaud the current government for recognising it as such.

The product of the pregnancy I wished to terminate is now 18 months old. As much as I love my child, I could not reconcile my love with the circumstances leading to my child's existence.

My relationship with the child's father ended, I could not return to the high-paying job I enjoyed previously, and am now a single mother on a benefit. I had "pro-lifers" telling me to get a job, not knowing what a great career I had to give up due to the commitment to a "life" they forced onto me. Oh the irony!

I never thought I'd find myself in a position of seeking an abortion - let alone being denied one - and the fact is, each person's circumstances are different and you don't know what choice you'd make unless you're in that situation yourself.

I pleaded with the local District Health Board to allow my request for an abortion, knowing full well that I was mentally too fragile to deal with the pregnancy and childrearing, yet it refused to listen.

The arrogance DHB staff displayed when they assumed they knew me better than I knew myself was the same message the current law is sending to pregnant people: That you don't know what's best for yourself, two complete strangers do, and these two strangers have the power to change the course of your life just like that.

The proposed bill is not much better. It sends the message that you may know what's best for yourself up to 19 weeks, six days, 23 hours and 59 minutes.

Once the clock ticks over at midnight, boom, a doctor suddenly becomes the expert on your life. How can a country that trusted women enough to allow us to vote, not trust us to know our own situations?

It's said that the current law was designed to appease the conservative forces at the time and as a result the law appears liberal (giving most people including myself, the impression that abortions was legal and freely available in New Zealand) but in reality, is not.

The proposed bill has been called a "mixed bag". To be blunt, it's a bit of a cop-out.

Sure, the government took a turn in the right direction by making it a health issue and proposed some steps to ensure better access to abortions. But it does not go far enough. Fake "counsellors" can still operate and be referred to, a pregnant person will still face "conscientious objectors" in healthcare, and "protesters" can still linger around abortion clinics until safe zones are established.

Again, the proposed bill is good, but we can do better.

As a country we have made some bold moves in our history-we were the first to allow women to vote, we said no to nuclear power, we protested against apartheid ... not all of these moves were popular at the time, but they go down in history adding to our nation's legacy as a progressive, egalitarian country.

This proposed bill will be the first change in our abortion laws in over 40 years, and it's an opportunity for us to leave another legacy. So I urge the government to go further in their proposed bill, and I urge the MPs to vote yes on this bill.

Vote yes for the people who suffered complications and even death through back-alley abortions in the not-so-distant past, vote yes for the people who had sought abortions in the past 40-odd years, vote yes so no other person will have to go through what I went through.

Stories like mine belong in history books, not 21st century NZ, vote yes!

*Kate has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her child's privacy.

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