Sunday, July 04, 2010

Holding the line

So I have lots to say about Steve Chadwick's proposed private members bill, but I want to start with the nature of abortion law.

New Zealand abortion law is appalling. Parliament is not short of people who know this, but it is short of people who are afraid to do anything about it:

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.
So the fact that Steve Chadwick has stepped up - is far more impressive than it should be.

But it's barely even a beginning. Those of us who support women's right to access abortion and make choices about our own bodies cannot just wait for those in parliament to do the right thing. Because they probably won't.

It's not just about whether Steve Chadwick's bill ever gets put in the ballot. It's about what happens next; the Herald's report makes the bill sound very solid. Not my idea of perfect abortion law - but an abortion law that will not put up barriers or demand resources from women before they can access abortion (again I'll write more about that in the next few days).

But abortion law is a strange thing - and often those making it succumb to: "Yes women have a right to access abortion, but we have to remember that abortion is icky".

As Idiot/Savant points out - the danger isn't just that this law won't get through, but that it'll get through with various hooks in it. That those who theoretically believe in a woman's right to chose will bow to the backlash, and use the 'icky' instinct as a justification. Parental notification laws are an obvious example of ways to put huge obstacles in the way for some women, but the US has so many examples of ways to make things difficult for women, while theoretically maintaining a right to abortion.

In order to get meaningful change in abortion law, that'll make a difference to women's lives, everyone involved has to hold the line. Those in parliament won't suppress their 'abortion is icky response' if the organising all comes from misogynist anti-abortionists.

Deborah suggests writing to MPs, which is a start, but only a start. We'll need to do so much more than that to make sure the MPs have no choice but to hold the line.

I think a really good start would be public meetings of those who support the proposed bill. Anyone interested in organising them?

Note for commenters: This post is not for a discussion of the morality of abortion. But a space to talk about how those of us who oppose the current law can organise.

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