Saturday, June 14, 2008

Electoral Politics Friday: Why Chris Trotter and the Standard are full of shit

I do have a lot to say about the recent High Court decision on abortion. But I lost my voice (not metaphorically I've had a cold), and I'm trying to recover. So you'll have to wait for my own thoughts. What I have to respond to straight away is the attempt, by smug labour-party men to use this as political point scoring.

Chris Trotter wrote:

So, all of you young, confident women of the 21st century urgently need to pause and reflect upon what is happening – especially all you young, confident women thinking of voting for the National Party.

The Standard quoted this approvingly and added:
A National government would change the direction of this country, away from social reforms to greater conservatism and even regression on social issues. National opposed civil unions, prostitution reform, paid paternal leave, s59, and every other social reform.
Notice the sleight of hand, the ease at which they move away from talking about a women's right to decide whether to go through pregnancy. In order to pretend that the labour government has supported women's right to an abortion, they have to avoid talking about abortion. Because the last substantial changes to our abortion law were passed in 1978, under Muldoon. The reason that Justice Miller can say that there is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions, is that our abortion law was designed to make most abortions illegal. The people who wrote our abortion law, were the sort of people who argue that rape shouldn't be a criteria for abortion, because then women will claim to have been raped in order to get an abortion.

Helen Clark and Phil Goff spoke out about how bad the law we have now is back when it passed, but they haven't done anything about it, since they had the power to.* Sue Bradford, Sue Kedgley, Keith Locke, Ruth Dyson, Margaret Wilson, Marianne Hobbes, Maryann Street - they were prepared to fight this battle in the 1970s, before they got into parliament, they were feminists (or feminist supporters) then. And it's not just those who are in parliament now the numbers have been there for at least the last nine years, others had their chance: Jonathan Hunt, Matt Robeson, Laila Harre, and especially Phillida Bunkle.

Any one of those MPs could have written a private members bill that ended this. 18,000 women every year have the stress of jumping through certifying consultant hoops to get an abortion. First trimester abortions become second trimester abortions, because no-one gives a damn about those women. And now things may get worse, the Abortion Supervisory Committee may tighten the screws on certifying consultants, the hoops may get higher and the. None of this would have happened if any of the MPs who believe that women have a right to choose whether or not to end their pregnancy had acted on their beliefs.

Despite this Chris Trotter and The Standard are still trying to use abortion law as a reason to vote Labour. If we're not good, if we don't do what they want, things will get worse. But if Chris Trotter or The Standard really cared about women's control of their bodies, they would have said something before now. They would have spoken up for the hundreds of women each week who go through the certifying consultant process. They weren't prepared to fight for something better than the bad system that we've got now. Chris Trotter doesn't even care about abortion enough to get his fact rights, arguing that 1978 was the year women won the right to safe legal abortion in New Zealand - in 1978 there were 100 women a week who had to fly to Australia to get safe legal abortions.

* Twenty years ago, when she was Minsiter of Health, Helen Clark proposed a bill that would allow all doctors to be certifying consultants. She gave up pretty quickly and hasn't tried anything since.


  1. Anonymous12:52 pm

    It's yet another example of two Labour fallacies:
    1) Fighting against the right means voting for Labour.
    2) Protecting the status quo is the same as making progress.

  2. Anonymous4:19 pm

    I think it's a bit optimistic to assume that any of those people could have written a successful bill to significantly liberalise abortion law. They could have brought the issue to the attention of the public, yes, but if their bills failed (and I suspect most of them would have), it'd probably stir up "pro-life" groups like SPUC/RTL more than anything else. Remember that the 80s and early 90s had a focus on nuclear stuff, Rogernomics, and electoral/constitutional reforms, so issues like abortion probably wouldn't have received enough attention to get the general public passionately interested.

    I reckon the biggest obstacle to abortion law reform has been that the current law and interpretation sits in a nasty middle-ground, where neither side can get enough momentum to change anything. The pro-choice position is vulnerable to the argument that despite the existing legislation, abortion is already readily available on "mental health" grounds - this might be an oversimplification that ignores a bunch of practical and ethical issues, but it's still a pretty effective argument to anyone who isn't strongly interested in the issue. Similarly, the "pro-life" position would have a lot of trouble adding further restrictions or removing any of the already restrictive grounds for abortion that currently exist, because there isn't a (legislative) change they could propose that wouldn't make them look like a bunch of ogres.

    That's not to say that the current situation is fair or even acceptable, or that we shouldn't try to change it to something that would improve access to abortion, but so many people are tolerant of what we have now that it's a really tricky change to make, and that's probably why some of those politicians didn't try very hard. Of course Labour haven't made any serious attempts; it's pretty clear that we shouldn't expect to see any liberal changes to abortion law initiated from anyone within parliament, except perhaps as a response if the law or interpretation first becomes more restrictive.

  3. I can't believe this abortion issue has raised it's ugly head again. I remember years ago when NZ women had to fly to Australia to get an abortion and pay for it themselves. It's so bloody disappointing - I feel like the women's rights movement has taken a step backwards.

    The pro life movement have taken over the internet and it's really hard to find objective and balanced information on abortion. There's a few tricky sites like this one:

    And all this "research" they are citing is dodgy and has been rejected by the APA and abortion health care providers:

    I've had a good look at these pro life lobby groups and they're all the same: Women who get abortions are drug addled and promiscuous; they use abortion as a form of contraception; they regret their actions later in life and become depressed.

    It's just a load of hysterical claptrap.

  4. I forgot to add this site. I won't put the full link because it does contain the pictures used by the "pro lifers". These pictures are as old as the hills and I've seen these lobby groups using the same photographs for years.

    "lifeandlibertyforwomen - truth about photos"

  5. Anonymous2:39 pm

    I've responded to this post over here:

    And Anita, neither of those fallacies were employed in The Standard's article. I can't speak for Trotter but I didn't see them in his article either.

  6. Anonymous5:38 am

    Maia I agree that labour hasn’t done anything to safeguard abortion availability. However the National party if elected will most likely actively encourage and appoint judges who oppose it and will interpret the law in its most anti-abortion interpretation. It will all happen behind closed doors of course and will probably attract little media attention.

    Several months ago I was amazed to see an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald damning abortion as murder. Cant remember a whole lot about the article except that there was a picture of a near full term healthy foetus with it.( Healthy near term foetuses are not aborted) This pro-lifer Bullshit in the New Zealand Herald had me really worried so I called them and gave them a blast. They said it was a mistake and that it was a large paper so easily happened. More bullshit.
    Its interesting that Irish Billionaire Tony Oreilly owns the paper along with quite a few other publications in NZ. In Ireland abortion is illegal even if a woman is raped, divorce is illegal and a woman has to get written permission from her husband to have a hysterectomy. Keep an eye on your local Newspapers articles on abortion. Chances are the paper is owned by Irelands Tony Oreilly under the banner of APN. What his personal leanings are I don't know but coming from such a female repressive culture don't be surprised if our local newspapers either fail to cover the abortion topic in any depth or take a more pro-life stance. I just read on the net that in 2007 he expanded his media holdings in Australia with the Aid of the Carlisle group who are intimately associated with Neocons such as the Bushes etc. The wealthy elite (right wing corporate) who are taking over media outlets all over America.

    You would think O'rielly's media influence would not affect our national television coverage, however if you are a reporter working for TVNZ you must keep in mind all prospective media employers in NZ and perhaps be a little careful what you report re future employment opportunities.

    I don't know if O'reilly would interfere in the abortion issue or where he stands but the Herald picture of a near term healthy foetus in an anti-abortion opinion piece makes me suspicious. To suggest abortions are carried out on healthy near full term foetuses is not a matter of opinion but pure propaganda.