Saturday, October 07, 2006

What good are rights if you can't use them?

Jill at wrote a good post about abortion called Beyond Legality. She was responding to a fascinating Alternet article, from a hotline which tries to help women get access to abortion:

"Could you ask your friends for $40? If they say 'no,' maybe ask for 20 or even 10?" I hear her ask in her calm voice. Later she tells me that this woman has been evicted from her house for lack of rent, and is crashing with her three children at a friend's. To another caller, I hear her say, "Well, do you have anything you might pawn? Some jewelry? A TV set?" And to another, "Is it possible you could postpone your car payment until after the abortion?"

Laura's case management is strikingly labor intensive. She averages about 15 phone calls per case -- with the client herself, with the various abortion funds, with the clinic that is the potential site of the abortion -- whether in the end the woman successfully obtains sufficient funds for an abortion or not.
Jill puts together a really cogent argument for everything which is wrong with reproductive rights in the united states, and begins:
With all the focus on simply keeping abortion legal, we often miss the fact that access to abortion remains highly limited and even impossible for some women.
I have to confess that I don't understand abortion politics in the united states. I don't understand why access is something that you need to be reminded it about. Access means whether or not women can get abortions - I think that's actually the only way to evaluate abortion policy.

Legally abortion is treated as a crime in New Zealand. It is covered under the crimes act and considered a crime except under circumstances:
(1)For the purposes of sections 183 and 186 of this Act, any act specified in either of those sections is done unlawfully unless, in the case of a pregnancy of not more than 20 weeks' gestation, the person doing the act believes—
(a)That the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger (not being danger normally attendant upon childbirth) to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman or girl . . .; or
(aa)That there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would be so physically or mentally abnormal as to be seriously handicapped; or
(b)That the pregnancy is the result of sexual intercourse between—
(i)A parent and child; or
(ii)A brother and sister, whether of the whole blood or of the half blood; or (iii)A grandparent and grandchild; or
(c)That the pregnancy is the result of sexual intercourse that constitutes an offence against section 131(1) of this Act [sexual contact with a dependent family member]; or
(d)That the woman or girl is severely subnormal within the meaning of section 138(2) of this Act.
In order to have a legal abortion in this country you have to have two specially licensed doctors verify that you meet those conditions. I don't have a right to an abortion in this country. But I'd rather have an unwanted pregnancy here than anywhere in the United States.

If I got a positive pregnancy test I'd go to the doctor (that'd be free because I'm pregnant), then I'd go to the local hospital for two seperate appointments (they'd both be free). At these appointments the required number of doctors would sign up that continuing the pregnancy would damage my mental health and we'd be away (98% of abortion in NZ are done under the mental health provisions). It may not be what it used to be, but we do have a socialised health system and New Zealand - and that does far more for abortion access than any statement of rights.

Now I am lucky, I live in a large city, other areas of New Zealand aren't so well served (this post gives all the details). But New Zealand women who need to travel to get abortions, and can't afford to, should be able to get money from their district health board or work and income (our welfare service). It's not ideal, but it's far better than having someone at the end of a phone line asking you what you could pawn.

In New Zealand we lost the rights battle so concentrated on winning access (which we did), it seems to me that it worked the other way round - and this has hurt reproductive rights in really serious ways.

In the United States we lost on access as soon as the Hyde Amendment was passed. It became clear that the only women who had a right to choose were women who could afford it. Even if Roe vs. Wade were repealed it would be a difference in scale, not a difference in kind - rich women would be able to make it to New York. Maybe publicly funded abortion for all women aren't winnable in the US now. But maybe they would have been if that had been what abortion rights groups concentrated on since 1973. Maybe access would be more secure too, because all women would feel like they had something to fight to protect, not just the ones with money.

Also posted on Alas


  1. It sounds like in part of this post you are getting mixed up with the right of a woman to have an abortion (which sadly - as you point out, isn't exactly a right yet under law as it has to be for "mental health" or simlar issues, which sounds like a victorian, legislating morality throwback to me) and an obligation of the state to provide and pay for this abortion (which many may not morally agree with, due to religious or other reasons).

    I do agree that something needs to be done with the law surrounding abortion (i.e. simply making it a right to choose to what you want with your own body, without needing permission from a doctor on mental health grounds). But I do not agree that people who might not otherwise agree with the act should be forced to pay for it.

    (And yes, I am very much for a womans right to choose to abort an unwanted pregnacy, having been there to support one of my closest friends through the process when she was 17)

  2. Medical systems require some sort of allocation.

    A government cannot offer everything - so it would probably allocate a 'budget' to health. Within that budget it can only perform a certain number of operations.

    Money creates one (possibly unfair) way of allocating that but removing money doesnt increace the capacity (ie allow more abortions in itself) - it just changes the allocation system. So some more poor people and less rich ones get the operation (let's say).

    It may happen that they could provide enough abortions for everyone - but to do that they must provide less of somthing to someone else. Maybe less breast cancer operations or whatever.

    I presume the re-allocation might use an affirmative action strategy.

  3. But I do not agree that people who might not otherwise agree with the act should be forced to pay for it.

    This makes no sense. Why single abortion out of all other health care? There are people opposed to any kind of fertility treatment because the world is overpopulated already. There are idiots who would be happy to deny care to 'undeserving' patients--oh, you got sick because you used drugs? too bad, die in the gutter. And so on. We don't cater to their beliefs. Why put on kid gloves for those who oppose abortion?

  4. This is a post about what feminists should concentrate on to ensure that women do have a right to choose.

    I'm seriously not sure what non-feminist, right-wing/libertarian men have to add to that discussion.

  5. Anonymous8:52 pm

    Maybe don't be dumb enough to get pregnant in the first place?

  6. Anonymous6:33 am

    "I'm seriously not sure what non-feminist, right-wing/libertarian men have to add to that discussion."

    A non-feminist, right wing/liberterian view point whose tax paying dollars can only stretch so far.

  7. I suspect Maia is politely trying to say what I'm about to say a bit more pointedly:

    Not everything is about you, this is not about you, in fact your comments are quite possibly discouraging those this is about from commenting.

    (Not just for gerrit).

    What frustrates me is that when women, particularly feminists, try to have their own space there are many men who are threatened by it, and many men who thus try to enter that space. Can you not just respect that sometimes it isn't about you?

  8. If tax could only be spent on things every single citizen agreed on, it couldn't be spent on anything. That some people disapprove of abortion is no argument against state funding. And as for limited resources, paying for abortion will cost the state a great deal less than an unwanted baby.

  9. If you dont' have anything to say that addresses the topic of the post (how to guarantee women's right to abortion), then please don't comment.

    Gerrit you are no longer welcome to post on this blog.