Tuesday, November 01, 2005

...Not The State

Since ridiculous cronyism has failed him, today George Bush announced a new nomination to the supreme court of the US - Samuel Alito. This fine, fine man believes that states have a right to force a woman to notify her husband before she has an abortion

He also believes that discriminating on race is a-ok. But it's all right, we know he's not a racist; Rosa Parks is lying in state in Washington and Samuel Alito went and visited her. I think it would have been really cool if she'd been so disgusted that she'd risen from the dead and started yelling at him, or possibly killed him zombie style.

He has many other repellant beliefs Pandagon covers most of the basics.

Anyway you can find rants about this on any and every left-wing feminist blog in America. I wanted to use it to talk about the similarities and differences between New Zealand and American abortion law and practice.

If Samuel Alito gets appointed to the supreme court it won't over-turn Roe vs. Wade (or actually Casey vs. Planned Parenthood - which is I think is the current precedent), which is currently upheld by a 6-3 vote. What it will do is nibble at the edges of abortion rights even more.

The most important restriction on abortion access in America happened in 1977 when the Hyde Amendment made it illegal for any federal funds to be used to provide abortion. It immediately became the right for any woman with cash to have abortion. Since then there have been many other restrictions on access to abortion: waiting periods, parental notification for minors, and legal requirements for doctors to use scare tactics.

Other restrictions have been overturned at the supreme court level (sometimes 5-4, which would presumably be reversed if Samuel Alito was successfully appointed) such as a ban on using certain procedures for late terminations and a requirement that women notify their husband.

Guess what? These restrictions are all easier to get around the more money and power a woman has. That's why it's incredibly dangerous to have a finally balanced court which will approve of almost any restriction on abortion up to an upright ban.

I'm both extremely hard-line, and extremely pragmatic when it comes to abortion law. You won't ever get me to agree with any government's right to restrict abortion in any way. I believe there may be all sorts of issues involved in individual pregnancies, but the only person who can make a decision about whether or not a termination is the right choice is the woman carrying the pregnancy.

Despite this, I care less about what the law says than what effect it has. New Zealand's abortion law is absolutely apalling and I would happily dance and spit on the grave of every single person who voted for it - particularly those that aren't dead yet. Despite this it's relatively easy to get an abortion in New Zealand as long as you jump through the administrative hoops, and abortion is paid for by the public health system. We don't, technically, have any time limit, and there are no notification requirements. Although there are differences in access throughout the country -it's ridiculous that some DHBs don't perform the safest medical procedure mainly performed in hospital - and the administrative requirements add unacceptable delays.

In America women's right to an abortion is protected by the constitution and in New Zealand the criteria for an abortion is extremely restricted. But if I didn't want to continue a pregnancy I'd far, far rather be in New Zealand than America. There is a long history of Abortion Law and Abortion Practice having absolutely no relationship, except for every so often holding a specially arranged prize fight.

This is why, in some ways, it's as dangerous to have a supreme court that is narrowly divided and prepared to agree to almost any restriction on abortion up to as long as it remain nominally legal, as to ban abortion outright. It's so easy to divide women through by restricting abortions, but only for some women and weaken our ability to fight back.


  1. Anonymous11:43 pm

    Re. New Zealand's abortion law and who voted for it, have you read Erich Geiringer's book, "Spuc 'em all: abortion politics, 1978"? Fascinating stuff about the passage of that law and the drawn out battle over subsequent amendments. Includes lists of MPs and their voting record. The book has long been out of print but you can find it in the Wellington Public Library.

    I didn't agree with all of Geiringer's views but this book shows that he was a strategic thinker and quite irreverently witty.

  2. Anonymous2:51 am

    American abortion rights are *not* guaranteed by the constitution. The consitution has nothing to do with abortion rights and in fact Roe Vs Wade is widely recognised as distinctly unconstitutional in abrogating states' rights. Overturning Roe Vs Wade would return the laws to state level, where they belong until an amendment to the constitution is made. That is where the effort should be, not in worrying about a bad decision being overturned.