Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reasons to be cheerful

I'm not feeling particularly cheerful tonight.  You can read details of my not cheerfulness over at The Hand Mirror, where I live blogged the election.

This parliament will be the first parliament for 12 years that does not have a majority for abortion law reform.  There was never a majority to talk about abortion, or to have the debate, but there has been a majority that would support abortion law if they had to vote.  That majority almost certainly no longer exists, thanks to the mob Winston Peters brought in, and the high vote for National.  Important abortion rights advocates in the Labour party are gone: Steve Chadwick, Carol Beaumont and Carmel Sepoluni (although there is a small chance of either, but not both, of the last two getting in on the specials).  While we can expect some turn-over and some of them to get back in this term, it won't change the fundamental maths and ability to add up to 61.

While high National polling was inevitable, and under 48% is actually much less worse than it could be, the results themselves are pretty dire.  My main hope for the evening was that both John Banks and Peter Dunne would lose their seat, that they didn't bring any cronies with them is not a particularly big silver lining.  I did idly think "well it'd be funny if NZFirst got back in" in the last few days - I didn't mean it! That's all bad news.  I'm not sad about Labour's collapse or glad about the Greens rise - apart from how it effects abortion politics.  I would have liked to see Annette Sykes in there - although I'm sure she'll just as useful work from where she is now.

I find the rise of the Conservative party pretty depressing - a sign that money can buy your votes.  But also everything felt reactionary last night - and the news that almost 3% of people want National to be more reactionary than they are - is pretty depressing.

The coverage was also pretty reactionary. TVOne's election coverage was so bad that I considered advocating a shift to TV3 - where Paul Henry, John Tamihere, Chris Trotter and Rodney Hide waited for us.  It was wall to wall bloke, bloke, bloke bloke, matey, bloke.  Which was only emphasised when they brought on Jacinda Arden and Nikkie Kaye and talked about their looks, or had Petra Bagust circulating round a party. On top of that with Willie Jackson on TVOne, John Tamihere on TV3 and Derek Fox on Maori TV each channel had its own Clint Rickards apologist.  I'm not surprised by the male centred nature of this coverage, but the programmers should be ashamed.  

Having said that there are always some reasons to be cheerful.  

  • MMP is looking pretty safe.
  • Turn-out was low.  I find knowing that 35% of eligible voters voted National much more reassuring than the near 50% you hear in the news.
  • National actually lost 100,000 votes over the last three years (Labour lost 200,000)  
  • Don Brash is resigning his farcical time as ACT leader.
  • Paul "the most important thing to me that people in prison can't vote" Quinn is out of parliament, at least for now.
  • Paula Bennett may yet lose Waitakere - that would be a thing of beauty.
  • There are some strong advocates for abortion rights within the Green caucus.
  • Mojo Mathers should get in on the Specials.  Having a deaf MP should have some pretty awesome flow-on effects when it comes to accessibility and entrenching NZ Sign as an official language.
  • Kelly Buchanan got 36 votes - so my friend should have had a pretty good night.

There's a more fundamental reason to be cheerful - and I'll expand on this tomorrow - we don't have to accept the world the politicians want to make.  If voting is the most important political act you do, then election night is always going to be depressing.  But if you dream of a world that is better, then there are going to plenty of opportunities to help make it over the next three years.  After all the biggest steps towards women's liberation in this country were made under right-wing Male Chauvanist Piggy Muldoon.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

How I'm Voting

So in my last election related post before the polls I thought I'd describe my plans for tomorrow. 

Electorate Vote

As I live in Wellington Central I can't use the ridiculously complex analysis I did of electorate seats. On top of that familiarity has certainly bred contempt when it comes to the parliamentary parties' candidates.  

As it happens I can more easily make a case for voting for Paul Foster-Bell the National candidate than either Grant Robertson or James Shaw.  If the polls were swinging differently Paul Foster-Bell could be a tactical abortion vote, but they're not so he's not. James Shaw appears to have been grown in a lab to personify everything those on the left criticise the Greens for.

Then there's Grant Robertson - who gets a lot of support round Wellington.  I don't like him - not just because other people do - I think I sometimes come across as more contrarian than I am. But for actual good policy based reasons on an issue that is important to me.  Grant Robertson was involved in designing the PBRF (performance based research fund) system that is currently doing such damage to tertiary education (and was always going to do damage in exactly the way that it did).  And I am a little bit contrary so any time people on facebook are nice about him I mutter PBRF and get a little more entrenched.  Plus my second rule of voting is "1984: Never forget, Never forgive." - and I take that very seriously.

So who am I going to vote for? I have two choices: Kelly Buchanan - the Alliance candidate I know and broadly agree with (she posted her responses to the Right to Life on The Hand Mirror).  Or the Pirate Party candidate - because I believe new episodes of Joss Whedon TV shows are a fundamental human right.

I will probably vote for Kelly - mostly because I'm very good friends with her partner - and they're going to drink a shot every vote Kelly gets.  It's been a hard year and it's time for my friend to have fun.   Also I don't know the Pirate Party Candidate's position on abortion - and a girl has to have standards.

Party Vote
A few days ago my facebook status was "I think I'm a reasonably unprincipled voter; all I want is to vote for a left-wing party, where no-one in an achievable position on the list is anti-abortion or a rape apologist."  So obviously I've been having trouble figuring out if I can vote at all.

Rule 2 obviously rules out Labour (and I'm looking for a left-wing party).

I've written at some length with my problems with the Greens in general and Russel Norman in particular.  But my not voting for the Greens this time is more fundamental, because my first rule of voting is "Tories are evil": 

I don't care it's a 1 in a 100 chance that the Greens will abstain on confidence and supply for a National party government after the election (and I think it may be higher than that) - it's still astronomically too high. 

So if I'm voting with my party vote I'm voting for Mana.  I was doing a pretty good job of convincing myself to vote for the lizards so the wrong lizards don't get in.  But then I read their policies.  Now some Mana policies are great - the disability policy is radical, and clearly addresses many of the problems with the current system in a way that takes disabled people's lives and liberty really seriously.  And (as you'd expect) their Te Reo and Te Tiriti policy are awesome.   They released their Industrial Relations Policy today and it's very impressive (I am a little worried that a 25% loading which made casualised labour a legal category would entrench casualisation - but since it's not going to happen that's of rather minor concern).

However, their education policy is just weird.  In some places it is strangely specific, but it ignores or is unclear many of the really important education.   So it's very clear that every school needs a community garden, but doesn't mention the level of the operation grant.  It appears to be promoting a work for the student allowance system (but that isn't really clear).

Then there's their National Standards policy:
Abolish National Standards and replace with information that lets parents know how well their children are doing compared to other children, nationally, without the bad effects of the current direction.

On one level the statement is so incoherent to be laughable: abolish National Standards, but standardise where children are nationally in a way that would magically get rid of unspecified 'bad effects'.  This is such a damaging attitude to what education is for.  The point of education should not be measuring children against other children - but about learning.  Children differ so much in what they find hard and what they find easy, what they love and what they struggle with.  I want an education system the values in every child what they are good at, and but also values learning and improving from where a child is.  Measuring children with other children is the antithesis of that.

Their policy to make NZ tobacco free is so ridiculous that it's hard to know how to respond.  The failure of prohibition is pretty well documented when it comes to alcohol and drugs.  Criminalising marijuana has hardly been liberatory for anyone.

On one level it doesn't matter because it's never going to happen.  But I think it shows a fundamentally problematic attitude towards working-class people's lives.  Working-class people are making complex choices about their survival strategies and the path towards liberation involves fighting for more resources and more choices.  Taking away the chance to find a break, breath deeply, and get a hit of nicotine so they can keep going from those who feel like they need it is not liberatory.*  They're ignoring all that and instead asking how can we use the power of the state to get people to behave how we want them to behave?

With National Standards and Tobacco in particular - my problem is not just that the policy is bad, but that it shows a way of thinking about society and state roles that I fundamentally disagree with and makes me distrust the way they are thinking about politics.  

See writing this I have almost persuaded myself not to vote for them.  But I really do want to vote for the least worst option, and they are it.  Unless something dramatic happens in the next 24 hours I'll party-vote Mana.

Referendum Part 1

(I can on occasion be brief)

Referendum Part 2
I think I've decided to vote for STV.

STV is the least bad of the four options.  It also has the added advantage that it'll struggle against MMP, because then it'll be seen as just as (if not more complicated).  In general I don't like it, because I think it kind of formalises protest votes and encourages (or forces in Australia) people to vote for candidates who will win, and it has a high threshold for minor parties.  Although it  would make voting on abortion easy.

If SM was in the picture at all, I would consider voting FPP - but as the choice is between STV and FPP - it's pretty simple.

I'll be live-blogging the election at The Hand Mirror.   Expect mostly mockery, bile, depression, and obsessive attention to who is in parliament and where they stand on abortion.

* I guess I should be clear here that I addiction isn't liberatory either.  I totally support any moves that makes it harder for people to get addicted to ciagerettes and assistance towards quitting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An idiosyncratic guide to voting for abortion law reform: Part 2 - Electorates

So yesterday I looked at the party vote at this election.  Today some thoughts on the electorate vote.

It's fairly easy to vote on principal when it comes to the electorate vote.  All you need to do is find out where your various candidates stand and then decide how you're going to vote accordingly.  Which obviously isn't that easier because many candidates are not particularly willing to tell you where they stand on abortion.  But if you can get information (and do share in the comments anything you have) voting on principal isn't complex.  If you live in Rotorua choosing between Steve Chadwick and Todd McClay is clear - McClay has only voted on abortion once and voted reactionary.  Although choosing what to do in Invercargill where Lesley Soper - known SPUCer, runs against Eric Roy would require careful inquisition of the minor candidates.

What I'm going to concentrate in this post is how to vote tactically pro-choice in this election.  For example, even if you know that Andrew Little has better politics on abortion law reform than Jonathan Young (which seems likely) - the reality is they're both probably going to be in parliament anyway.  So you can vote on a principal basis on that occasion - but it's going to have very little tactical effect.

This post is going to focus on marginal electorates where the local vote may have an impact on the make-up of parliament.  A basic assumption is that the make-up of parliament is more important than whether a paticular MP has a label as the local MP.  I know this is an assumption many in parliament don't share (see the ridiculous focus on New Plymouth or Auckland Central).  But I think the make-up of parliament is what matters when it comes to abortion law reform.   So what are the marginals seats where voting can make a difference to the make up of parliamentary support for Abortion Law Reform?

This is the simplest and most obvious - if you support abortion law reform vote Charles Chavel (I believe Katrina Shanks is also liberal for a National MP on abortion law, but she has a lesser chance of getting in).  Peter Dunne is not as bad on the issue as he once was (the rumour is that in 2002 no move on abortion law was an unwritten part of United Future and Labour's coalition deal - this is ) and amusingly right to life are mad at him.  However, he is not a reliable on the issue, and likely to vote conservatively on incrementalist legislation.  Charles Chavel is an advocate.  Getting rid of Peter Dunne would be a victory for abortion law reform - and supporters of abortion law reform can vote for Charles Chavel with a clear conscious.

I would vote for Charles Chavel and I can't bring myself to vote for the Greens because they're too right wing  (and because of Russel Norman).

The same principle applies in Epsom as John Banks is a known reactionary and Don Brash is completely incoherent on the matter.  This applies even though Paul Goldsmith's position is less clear than Charles Chavel's.

Te Tai Tokerau
My understanding is that Hone is broadly supportive of abortion rights.  He would bring in other candidates who are more likely to support abortion law reform than the rest of parliament.  Kelvin Davis will be in anyway.  From an abortion politics point of view, this is the reverse of Epsom.

This one is also simple for another reason: Jonathon Fletcher is incredibly reactionary on abortion (see the smiley faces on Value your vote).  He is number 67 on the National party list - and so won't get in unless he wins the seat.

Chris Hipkins' ability to enter parliament is also looking shaky - Labour need to do better than the polls say for him to be in on the list (but not by much).  I don't know where he stands on abortion (and would like to know), but he's not going to be as conservative as Jonathon Fletcher.

West-Coast Tasman
Here is where things start to get nice and complex.  Both Damien O'Connor and Chris Auchinvole are conservative on abortion.  However, Chris Auchivole is 43 on National's list and looking pretty safe, whereas Damien O'Connor is not on Labour's list.  Therefore, in terms of abortion law reform there is definitely a reason to not vote for Damien O'Connor and a reason to vote for Chris Auchinvole to keep Damien O'Connor out.

On top of that there is another way of looking at the make-up of parliament.  As well as looking at who we're bringing in on electorate seats, we also need to consider which list seat candidate they're replacing.  Now this gets super complicated - but I think from the point of view of abortion law reform the people who are looking tantalising close but not close enough are Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton - at number 34 and 35.  Every electorate seat that Labour wins from someone who is further down the list than they are makes it harder for Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton to get in.  If you're voting in marginal electorates consider where the Labour candidate is on the list before voting for them (note that Chris Hipkins is further up the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton, otherwise I wouldn't be as supportive of voting for him in Rimutaka).

Voting against Damien O'Connor doesn't just keep an anti-abortion voice out of parliament - it also makes it more likely that abortion law reform advocates will get in.

I think there is both a principled and a practical reason for voting for Hekia Parata in Mana.  The first is that my understanding is that she is more liberal than Kris Faafoi on the issue (who was both incoherent and reactionary when he talked about parental notification in May- does anyone have the link - I ranted about it on facebook but didn't keep a link).  The principled issue needs more research and I think it's important to hear what they say when asked specific questions.

But the practical choice is clear.  Hekia Parata will be in parliament anyway, and Kris Faafoi is higher on the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  Voting for Hekia Parata also makes it more likely that abortion law reform advocates will get in.

Palmerston North  Ōtaki & Christchurch East

So how far do you take this approach?  In Palmerston North, two people whose position on abortion is unkinown are running, in Otaki the National candidate is Nathan Guy, an arch-reactionary (who will get in anyway) and in Christchurch East the Labour candidate is Lianne Dalziel who is a known supporter of abortion law reform.

I think it's counter-productive to vote against supporters of abortion law reform to try and get better supporters of abortion law reform in.  There are too many variables, and I think MPs are such cowards on abortion those who are prepared to say their position should be rewarded in a pavlovian kind of way.  I also wouldn't vote for Nathan Guy myself - partly because it's not necessarily - there's no way Labour is picking up that seat.  But I would  probably avoid voting for the Labour candidate.  And I would seriously think about voting for the Nat in Palmerston North.

Te Tai Tonga
The same argument about Labour applies when it comes to Te Tai Tonga as Rino Tirikatene is higher up the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  However, there the effect is more complicated because Rahui Katene won't get in on the list anyway. I don't know about Rahui Katene.  Without knowledge that she supports abortion law reform I think it's risky to vote for her on the basis that she might bring in advocates on the labour list.

Tamaki Makaura
Here the key piece of information is Pita Sharples position on abortion - which I don't think we can judge on his very limited voting record.  Pita Sharples won't get in unless he wins Tamaki Makaura (whereas Shane Jones is in no matter what), so if enough information could be found about his position it would be a relatively simple decision.

There are many other arguments you could make.  For example, there is probably a case for voting Paul Foster-Bell in Wellington Central, since he is not guaranteed a place and a support of abortion law reform in National's caucus would be useful.  However, given that Grant Robertson is demonstrably better on the issue than Foster-Bell, and Foster-Bell isn't really borderline because National are polling at a gajillion, and Wellington Central isn't actually marginal - I don't think the argument is very convincing. But I think talking and thinking about electorate seats in this way is useful.  I'd be really interested in hearing where people's analysis, judgement and information differs from mine.

Of course the line is somewhat subjective.  Could I get up in the morning and look myself in the mirror knowing I'd voted for a Nat - even for the best reasons?  I'm not sure, but I do know that I'd vote for Paul Goldsmith if I lived in Epsom.  And abortion law reform is more important to me than keeping ACT out of parliament.

Updated: I got Kelvin Davis's place on the list wrong so I've edited that.  On top of that I've realized that on current polling (things have changed a bit since I started writing this post) more pro-choice women are in hazardous positions further down the list - on what Curia says today Carmel Sepoluni and Carol Beaumont are only just in if no marginals change hand.  The bottom line is that in the labour party the people who most vocally support abortion law reform tend to be on the list rather than in winnable seats.  Therefore, supporting Labour electorate candidates does not necessarily support the abortion law reform voices within the party.

An idiosyncratic guide to voting pro-choice this election: Part 1 party vote

Voting for abortion law reform* is notoriously hard in New Zealand.  In 1978, after parliament passed our current laws – Eric Geireinger wrote an entire book on how to vote for abortion law reform (and the effort generally failed).  In desperation some women suggested ‘Vote prohibition for repeal’ – so there’s this very weird increase in the vote about whether alcohol should be banned in 1978.

It is impossible to vote on a principled basis on abortion – because no party has solid policy on the issue.  The Greens do have some sort of policy, but it does not promise abortion law reform, and other parties just say ‘it’s a conscience vote’.  On top of this most politicians’ strongest view about abortion is “DON’T MAKE ME TALK ABOUT IT”.  So finding out what various candidates’ views are is a combination of taking opportunities to ask questions, gossip, and instinct.

More than that - voting won’t get us abortion law reform.  That will only come about if we educate, agitate, and organise - force MPs’ hands. 

However, I think it’s worth talking about the different parties and some electorate races.  Mostly because it allows for complicated nerdy calculations (I have made spreadsheets to assist me with this post).  There are other places with great information ALRANZ have a blog post discussing the campaign, they also have party guide and a record of how MPs have voted.  Although the voting records need to be read with a careful eye of the history of the votes. Tertiary Women's Focus Group include abortion in their voting guide. There's also Family First's guide which I find amusing.

The second part of this post will be about electorate seats and is considerably more idiosyncratic than this first part, which just runs down the parties. I’ll mostly be talking about MPs who stand out from what is usual in their parties, known supporters of abortion law reform in right wing parties and known opponents in left wing parties (while people’s position on abortion doesn’t shake down along party lines exactly – what is normal within a party does).  But I will also be talking about advocates – mostly on our side who we have reason to believe will actively advocate for abortion law reform.  But I’ll also talk about the leaders of the reactionaries as well. 

I have also focused on the candidates on the cusp of being elected.  Paul Hutchinson from National is the only member of National's caucus to vote against Judith Collins bill for parental notification but he’s number 26 on National’s list and has a seat so he’s going to get elected whatever happens.  Likewise we can’t do much about Clayton Cosgrove, who is anti-abortion, and at number 8 on Labour’s list.

Note: All calculations in this post are based on the assumption that no seats change party and the figures are based on the Curia poll of polls. These are unlikely to pan out exactly.  So it’s probably wise not to be too tactical with your vote

The predominant view in Labour is that abortion law reform in theory (practice is another matter), but that doesn’t mean that we can safely assume any individual Labour MP or candidate supports abortion law reform.  There are definite anti-abortion voices in the party, and unless they’ve been in parliament long enough to have their position on record – or are as vocal as Lesley Soper down in Invercargill – we won’t know who they are.

However, Steve Chadwick is the strongest advocate for abortion law reform currently in parliament.  She is number 34 on the Labour party list, and Kate Sutton, who should be pretty strong on this issue, is number 35.  On current polling neither of them will get in – but it is close.

If Labour rises a little in the polls (or stops sinking) a vote for Labour could be bringing in Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  If the polls continue to sink then it’ll be about bringing in Rick Barker, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Stuart Nash, Michael Wood, or Phil Twyford.  Rick Barker spoke reasonably well to oppose Judith Collins parental notification bill, so can probably be relied upon; the others appear to have avoided making any public record of their position on abortion (although I think this post demonstrates the priority Phil Twyford gives to abortion).

A record of anti-abortion labour MPs and candidates would be useful, but unfortunately the DON’T TALK ABOUT IT desire is strong, and the recent voting record is not necessarily a reliable indicator.  Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove are the two labour MPs that I know are anti-abortion – if people know of others share them in the comments.

The other, equally important and far less accessible information, is who was it who refused to let Steve Chadwick’s bill go forward.

The Greens have policy on abortion – but not policy for abortion law reform.  And that’s not an accident – people are holding that policy up because they are anti-abortion.  I don’t know who that is – I’m not inside the Greens, but I think it’s important to understand that there must be some anti-abortion advocates in there somewhere for the policy not to have got further.

Both Holly Walker and Jan Logie appeared interested in being advocates for abortion law reform at Ladies in the House.  And while you can’t necessarily expect MPs to act based on what they said as candidates to the most sympathetic audience in the country, it’s better than most candidates (another advocate at Ladies in the House was Jordan Carter who is number 40 on the Labour list and unlikely to get in on election night, but may well come in mid-term).  Jan Logie is 9 on the list and currently looking pretty certain, while Holly Walker is 12 and in on current polling – but the Greens have a history of shedding several seats between polling and election day.

The views of other Green candidates on the cusp would be pretty useful to know, but I don’t know them.  I’ve no idea about Steffan Browning, Denise Roche, Julie Genter and Mojo Mathers.  James Shaw who is number 15 supports abortion law reform – my aim is to ensure that at least the Wellington Central candidates don’t get to hide their views.

I actually think Mana is the best bet for ensuring no-one in caucus in opposes abortion law reform.  But that’s mostly based on instinct (and the fact they won’t get many MPs – I certainly wouldn’t begin to guess the position of anyone past Sue Bradford). However, there is no-one who stands out as an abortion law reform advocate in Mana. Mana don’t have policy at the moment, but have said that it will be set by Mana Wahine (and I’d expect that group to come up with good policy).  Getting that position out of Mana took quite a lot of work

I do think it’s to Hone’s credit that he answered Family First’s survey and indicated where he stood on abortion. I find the arrogance of people who want to be representatives, but refuse to say where they stand on issues repulsive and offensive.

Maori Party
The Maori party have taken consistently reactionary positions about abortion.  While I’ve no idea of the position of Waihoroi Shortland or Kaapua Smith (the first two people on the Maori party list) without any indication otherwise it’s probably safest to assume they will not support abortion law reform (and anyway the Maori party are very unlikely to get any list MPs so there’s not much point giving them your list vote – even if you support their actions over the last three years).

National are actually going to get very few list MPs, because they win the vast majority of the electorate seats.  However, any known abortion law reform voices within National would be valuable. Two that I know of are Paul Foster-Bell, who is 56 on the National list and Jackie Blue, who is 46 – and because of the way the electorate seats shake down there’s only 2 actual list places between them. At current polling they are both in, and Claudette Hauiti, Joanne Hayes, Leonie Hapeta, are on the border line. Their opinions are unknown, but people going to electorate meetings in Mangere, Dunedin South, Palmerston North and Wigram could usefully ask.

If polling does slip then voting National will be more likely to bring in Paul Foster-Bell and Jackie Blue.  But then if it slips a bit further (or National does very well in marginals) then Tau Henare number 40 on the list and 57th in if no electorate seats change hands, is probably in trouble.  This would be a very good thing, because he is an extreme reactionary.  However, there are many hazards in the National party when it comes to Abortion Law Reform, starting at number 2.

Fun fact, in 2002, before he was even an MP I wrote to John Key the candidate and asked him where he stood on abortion.  He replied with one of the clearest statements that abortion law should be based the right of the pregnant person to control their body that I received from anyone (I didn’t receive many responses).  Make of that what you will.

To the surprise of no-one ACT’s supposed liberalism is optional when it comes to women.  John Banks is an absolute reactionary.  The only person he is likely to bring in is Don Brash – who doesn’t seem to know what he thinks about abortion (see the family first site I will give ACT candidates some credit for sharing their opinions).

New Zealand First, Conservative Party and United Future must all be considered anti-abortion parties based on their history and their leaders’ positions.

Abortion isn’t the only consideration about how I’m going to party vote – and I’m pretty intense about the issue – so I don’t think it’ll be the only consideration of many readers.  But I think information about who is on the cut off, and their position on abortion can be useful for people who are choosing between parties (which again I’m not).

If you’re choosing between Labour and the Greens, for example, figuring out which vote is more likely to bring in advocates based on polling would be useful.  On the other hand if you’re choosing between National and ACT, figuring out whether you’re bringing in unknowns, vague supporters of abortion law reform or arch reactionaries by voting National is probably relevant – voting for ACT almost certainly brings in someone who doesn’t know what he thinks about abortion (if it brings in anyone).

There are big gaps in this post – a lot of people on the cusp whose views on abortion are a big black hole.  So if you’re at an electorate meeting, or someone wants to shake your hand or kiss your baby, then ask them where they stand and share it in the comments.

But to return to a theme – the sorry state of the information really does demonstrate that it won’t be by voting that we’ll bring about abortion law reform. 

* I have deliberately avoided using the term ‘pro-choice’ in this post.  I believe to support the right of women (and all pregnant people) to choose, you must also support the right to have children. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In solidarity with Russel Norman's EA*

Russel Norman's decision to stand down his EA because of the actions of her partner is a feminist issue. I'm going to leave alone why the Greens thought it appropriate to condemn putting stickers on National party billboards (although it doesn't look good for principled left-wing green voters).** But why is his EA even part of the discussion?

Russel Norman decided to go public with the fact that his EA was in a relationship with Jolyon White. He then decided to use the power he has because she works for him to stand her down (I know that he is not her direct employer but Parliamentary Services are pretty responsive to MPs wishes).

From an employment perspective this is creepy enough - she is being stood down because she didn't tell her boss something her partner said months ago and instead made it clear to her partner that she didn't want anything to do with his actions. This is a pretty horrific view of employment and the right bosses have over their employees lives. A view Russel Norman endorsed.

But there is an important gendered to this. Russel Norman's action reinforces a world-view that defines women in relationships with men through their partners' beliefs and actions and therefore denies their autonomy and even existence. People have condemned Julie's writing on the hand mirror and tried to silence her, because of who her partner is. This discriminatory way of treating of women in relationships with men is systemic. Men are not treated this way, and are not defined by the actions of their partners. Russel Norman has endorsed this double standard by the way he has treated his EA.

Although this is far from the only feminist reason not to vote for any party which has Russell Norman at number 2 on its list. This was, after all, his assessment of Clint Rickards:

I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.

Something to think about in the polling booth.

* Obviously this construction of her identity is problematic. However, I decided since I didn't think her identity should be public in this way I didn't feel comfortable putting yet another hit into google about who she was.
** I find the idea that political parties should be able to put up their truly inane hoardings in publicly owned space, but it is morally wrong to talk back to those hoardings, no matter what you are saying, a really depressing view of political dialogue.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Comment update

I know comments are mostly dead here, but I thought I should let people know that I'm experimenting with Disqus.  If I like it I'll export previous comments over to this forum, otherwise I'll go back to blogger.  But until I've decided I'm not going to export all the old comments so they'll be hidden for a week or so.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Pro-choice means opposing welfare 'reform'

I don't have time to write a long rant about this - it's late I only have time for the principle:

Being pro-choice means creating a world where every person who is pregnant can make a decision free of any form of coercion whether or not they want to continue the pregnancy.

The welfare reforms proposed by National are economic coercion.*  Supporting women (and all pregnant people's) right to choose, means opposing these reforms and going further and demanding (among other things) a living wage for women on the DPB.


I'd like to say more about the 'reforms' themselves and explain why they aren't actually about getting women on the DPB into work, but misogyny and punishment.  But all I have time for is this:

[Text "Want a job, Bro?" "You know I can't do your ghost jobs, John" for context see youtube]

* As are the current DPB levels which were deliberately set at levels that were unable to buy adequate food

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What does it mean to be pro-choice and support disability rights?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I read a few pro-life blogs.  One of the things that they have been talking a lot about recently is the">screening programme for Down's Syndrome.  They're pretty intent on misrepresenting it, but the way that they misrepresent and use the rhetoric of disability when doing so makes me think about some of the problems with pro-choice discussion about disability

In our legislation 'fetal abnormality' is a specific category for abortion. In some DHBs, people seeking second trimester abortions for foetal abnormalities go through a different process, and see different doctors, are treated differently from those who are seeking them for other reasons. This different status is repeated often among pro-choice activists.  There was an element of this in  the coverage of George Tiller's murder, and the way that abortions for 'fetal abnormality' were emphasised over other reasons for second and third trimester abortions.  'Fetal abnormality' is treated as a more legitimate reason for abortion, particularly late in the pregnancy, than a woman who just doesn't want to be pregnant.

I think this is extremely problematic.  I don't think pro-choice politics and disability rights have to be at loggerheads, I think they are fully compatible (and the rest of this post will at least partly explain why).  But I think a lot of pro-choice discussion about abortion and fetal impairments is not compatible with disability rights, and certainly not with the social model of disability.

I think what illustrates this most starkly is the difference in between pro-choice discourse around abortion because of fetal impairment, and abortion because of the sex of the foetus.  A post on The Hand Mirror is called  More On Abortion: Female Foeticide.  Something that I don't think many pro-choice activists (unless they were also disability activists) would be comfortable saying about abortion because of foetal impairment.*

There are two, related but distinct, reasons that people decide that they cannot continue a pregnancy based on some characteristics of the foetus. The child your foetus is going to be will take more resources to raise than the child you had hoped to have. And the child your foetus is going to be is valued less, by society and/or by you than the child you had hoped to have.

I see no moral or ethical difference, no difference based on principle, between decisions about abortion when someone has learned that the foetus is female, and decisions about abortion when someone has learned that the foetus will have an impairment. Or rather any argument that there is a difference has to be based on devaluing people with disabilities.

I think the compassion that I see many feminists extend to women who are making decisions after learning about a foetal impairment is appropriate (although not the status as somehow different from other women seeking abortions). But I wonder why they don't extend the same compassion to women who terminate pregnancies based on the sex of the foetus. I do wonder what part the fact that many western feminists can imagine themselves, or someone they know having an abortion because the fetus has an impairment. Whereas having an abortion because the foetus is female is something that other women do, in other countries.

My position is that the only good decision maker when it comes to is the person who is pregnant.**  I think people who are making difficult decisions about their pregnancy should have their decision making process taken seriously, and be treated with compassion. I do not believe that it is legitimate to deprive people of information about their pregnancy on an individual level, because of fear of what decisions they'll made. I can judge a culture that devalues girls and people with disabilities, I can try and change that system. But the problem is structural not individual.

But however a feminist articulates supporting reproductive freedom, I think treating all cases where people are making decisions about abortion based on characteristics of a foetus the same, is an important principle.

* And Deborah's companion post about abortion and disability illustrates this - she comes to the same conclusion, but uses very different language to explain that conclusion.

** I also believe, but don't think it's particularly relevant to the political argument, that it's not necessarily in the interest of girls, or people with disabilities, to try and make people who don't value them, become parents to them.