Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Abortion Access in New Zealand

As I've said before, abortion law in New Zealand is an awful mess and I have a life-long goal to dance on the grave of every man who voted for it. But abortion practice, at least in the major cities, is better than in many countries that have laws that are based on women's rights. The main reason for this is a public health system which pays for abortions.

But I want to talk about the inequalities in abortion system, and I thought I'd start with the geographical inequalities. This is a map of New Zealand's provision of first-trimester abortion services*:

The black dots are towns where you can get abortion services - the colour blocks are areas where those abortion clinics, or hospitals serve. The way the health system works the if a District Health Board (DHB) doesn't wish to provide a service itself (and there are two DHBs with no hospitals licensed to perform abortion in the area - presumably on general grounds of ickiness) then you purchase it from somewhere else. So unless you're prepared to pay both for the abortion and the trip to Auckland to go to the only private abortion clinic in New Zealand, you go where your DHB sends you. So, despite the fact that the people of Dannivirke are far closer to Hastings than they are to Wellington, they have to make the 4 hour drive to Wellington and back to have terminations (probably twice, because it usually takes two appointments - more on that later).

Incidentally just because these places do provide abortions doesn't mean that you'd necessarily want to go there - New Plymouth hospital only performs abortions under general anesthetic, that sounds like a great starting point for health care.

The white dots are hospitals that are fully liscened to perform abortions, but choose not to (there are other hospitals that could provide abortions and don't, but they're part of the same urban area). There are DHBs that have registered as providers of abortions under the Act, but only want to perform abortions to deserving women (and in some cases, they don't actually want to perform abortions at all). Christchurch is a seven and a half hour drive from Invercargill, but the people who run the Southland DHB think that that's a pefectly reasonable distance to travel for an abortion.

It's not just the DHBs' fault (although there's plenty of blame to spread around), the legislation says that every abortion must be signed off by two certifying consultants. This means that to run a useful abortion service you have to be able to have two certifying consultants on hand.

The current situation is awful, and puts women in a position of real hardship. The West Coast DHB only provides help travelling to Christchurch if a woman has a community services card. If you live with flat-mates and work full-time, even if you're only on the minimum wage, you're not eligible for a community services card. So women with minimum wage jobs have to find the money to make it from the West Coast over to Christchurch (although they should be able to get help from Work and Income).

* This information from this post came from this website.


  1. 2 things:
    It would be nice if you amended your life long goal to "dance on every persons grave that voted for the legislation". While it may have been a majority of males in the vote I doubt it was exclusively male.

    Your main complaints about having to go where the DHB sends you rather than where is closest or you are willing to pay are complaints about the current Socialist hospital system in general. It is not abortion specific. It may be excaberated in the case of abortions but every surgical related procedure has the same issues.

    And guess what - that is a left leaning Socialist construct; capitalism would allow you to go to whichever hospital you chose that could do what you wanted...

  2. Sure you could. You'd also pay through the nose for it. Have you ever lived in America and undergone the joys of surgery under the capitalist system? Trust me, if you'd ever received a hospital bill for US$73,000, you'd be changing your tune pretty quickly.

  3. This is completely unrelated to your post, but I'm a geography nazi: Is it worth pointing out to the original website that their map has Ashburton Hospital somewhere on the coast just west of Leeston? Ashburton is a good 50 km west-southwest of there.

  4. The health system in New Zealand sucks ass. I've got a condition that requires some elective surgery. At the moment it's been causing me some problems so I went to the closest international clinic where I was referred to a specialist the very next day, and if I was foolish enough to undertake the surgery overseas then I could have had it in a few weeks. Back home I shudder to think how long I'd wait just for my first appointment.

    However I do think we need to get over this charade of the current legislation and legislate for on demand aboritions. I also think that we should legalize non-surgical abortion options like RU486.

  5. iiq374 - it's often a bad idea to comment on things you know nothing about. Every single MP who voted for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act was a man. THere were four female MPs in 1977 and they all opposed the Act (every female MP voted against restrictions to abortion every time they came up in the 1970s).

    You're also wrong about my objections. My objection is that every woman doesn't have access to abortion in the closest hospital (or closer - more on that later).

    Apologies on the geography - I placed Ashburton (and also Thames and Tokoroa ) and my concept of the whereabouts of small towns isn't great. I hope to have a much better map done as soon as I get the open-source picture manipulator thing. This map was done with paint, which obviously has some limitations.

  6. Off topic for a sec, sorry, but the cops have just charged two Christchurch crew for handing out Louise Nicholas case fliers.

  7. Sofiya - the point is that under our "free" system you still get those bills, or you don't get surgery.
    You might be "lucky" and be critical enough to make it to the head of the queue but if your surgery is even marginally "elective" you just won't get it.

    And then you get the wonders of getting run around the different DHB's over here, or in some cases even flown to Australia to be able to have the surgery at all.

  8. So Maia - will you also be dancing on the graves of Mary O'Neill and Judith Collins? Were they involved in the original 70's law passing - no. But they have both been heavily involved in making it more conservative in their time since.

    But my real point is that it is not only males that have opposed abortion, and surely your anger should be directed at *all* those people who have led to the position that you despise; rather than limiting it some on basis of their sex.

    Hypocrite and Non-Sequiter are the only conclusions available at that point.

  9. It's "non sequitur", not "non sequiter", iiq1374. But a highly educated pundit like yourself probably knows that already.

  10. iiq374 I understand that there are other people who have tried to restrict abortion rights in New Zealand. Some of them have succeeded (although luckily Judith Collins isn't one of them).

    While dancing on the grave of everyone who has ever opposed abortion rights is a worthy goal, it's a little bit beyond me (and anyway some of them might outlive me). So I'm limiting my goal to the MPs who voted for CS&A in 1977 - they all happen to be men, and I don't have a problem bringing attention to this fact.

    I'm more than happy to fight the women who oppose abortion rights in other ways.

  11. Just as it is "iiq374" not "iiq1374" Sofiya... :-p

  12. I understand the limiting of your goal - however the phrasing of the original statement is precisely the type of thing that extenuates underlying sexism. If you stated that your lifelong goal was to dance on every persons grave that voted for the 1977 legislation, and that they were all men then it would get your point across.
    To simply phrase it as dancing on every mans grave that voted for the legislation however dilutes the perspective of the post.

  13. It doesn't really, but it does provide a nice avenue for people to try to derail the discussion.

    The NZ system may suck, but I wouldn't go to the US to seek a solution. Here everything is run by and for the benefit of private insurance companies.

  14. Anonymous7:55 pm

    Feminism is about giving equal rights to woman, is it not? How many less graves will we have to dance on by the time your career is through? Quite alot I'd say. Equality of choice, equality of life. Equality of career choice only comes when we stop killing our children to fit into a mans world of business. It was feminists that brought in the dpb as well. Rather have my taxes go towards the dpb once I'm qualified, than one more abortion.
    Young mum, Auckland. Ps- I'm not a fanatical christian-just someone that believes in equality.