Friday 9 July 2010

Bitter Fruits

Re-igniting the War? Barbara Kruger's iconic "Your Body is a Battleground" reflects the extreme levels of social, religious and political conflict occasioned by the issue of abortion. New Zealand's Contraception, Sterilisation & Abortion Act (1977) is a legislative compromise, cobbled together by the exhausted antagonists after seven years of increasingly bitter struggle. Is it really time to re-start the fighting?

THE FIRST QUESTION I’d like to ask the Labour List MP, Steve Chadwick, is: "Why now?"

What’s convinced her that the time is right to re-open the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a private member’s bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy? I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.

Her decision might, of course, be driven entirely by ideological considerations: by an unwavering conviction that every woman has an incontestable right to do whatever she pleases with, and to, her own body. That would make a sort of sense – providing, of course, she’s willing to accept the consequences of making ideology the battleground upon which this issue is decided. What’s sauce for the ideological goose must also be sauce for the ideological gander.

Clearly, Ms Chadwick’s proposed private members bill has got me genuinely perplexed. I simply cannot see what difference – in practical terms – changing the current legislation would make.

According to statistics supplied by the Abortion Supervisory Committee, there were 18,382 abortions carried out in New Zealand in 2007. That’s 12,437 more than were carried out in 1980 – barely two years after the Contraception, Sterilisation & Abortion Act came into force on 1 April 1978.

Does Ms Chadwick not believe that 18,382 abortions are enough? Does she think there should be more? Has the existing legislation created an unfulfilled demand for abortion which her proposed private members bill seeks to satisfy?

That seems unlikely – given New Zealand’s undoubted competitiveness in the international abortion stakes. Among a selection of twelve of the world’s low-fertility countries we jostle with Australia, Sweden and the USA for the honour of recording the highest abortion rate. We’re consistently well ahead of countries where abortion-on-demand is already legally enshrined.

Could it be that Ms Chadwick is hoping to bring down New Zealand’s gold-medal-winning abortion rate?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve no desire to make it more difficult for New Zealand women to access abortion. My position on this issue was decided many years ago when I asked myself whether, given the responsibility, I was prepared to require a woman to give birth to a child she didn’t want – and decided I was not. Nor, I realised, was I prepared to delegate the power of decision to anyone other than the woman herself.

When push came to shove – and throughout the 1970s and 80s there was lots of pushing and shoving – I had to come down on the side of those who said that abortion was a choice only the human-being most directly involved had any claim to make.

But there were hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who did not agree with me: decent, well-meaning people who could not get past the fact that something human always dies when an abortion is performed. Their passionate contention was, and remains, that there is more than one individual involved in the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and that every human-being is morally obligated to speak up for those who have yet to attain a voice.

This is the "icky" factor that Ms Chadwick’s feminist supporters urge their sisters to ignore. It simply does not help to think too much about the messy mechanics of the abortion procedure itself – let alone what it destroys. In the words of one blogger calling herself the Queen of Thorns: "Dear anti-choicers: go get yourself a fucking tapeworm already and sit down to a marathon of the Alien quadrilogy and then whinge to me about ‘it’s no big deal, just wait X months’."

With friends like these, Ms Chadwick has no need of enemies.

But enemies she will have if this is the tone of those who carry her spears.

And it is here that my misgivings are at their greatest. How numerous have the enemies of abortion become? The fervent Baby Boomers who marched and petitioned for "A Woman’s Right to Choose" have had thirty years to savour the fruits of the war-weary political truce our parliamentarians fashioned into the Contraception, Sterilisation & Abortion Act.

Very few of them have been sweet.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 9 July 2010.


Tiger Mountain said...

Is Chadwick being helpful tactically at this juncture? probably not.

Active anti choicers however remain deserving of opposition, a classic reactionary force. An all together different lot from those that support abortion at a political level but then waver when it becomes a real world personal dilemma, or those that just feel uncomfortable about the process but generally support women.

Common characteristics of anti choice proponents (that I have encountered):
• oppose women’s right to choose, but pro death penalty
• support neo liberal economics that ensure hundreds of children die per day globally from disease, lack of water and health care
• support physical ‘discipline’ of children
• oppose contraception and education on same
• homophobic

Oh that they could demonstrate as much care for the rights of the living as they say they do for those of the unborn.

Anonymous said...

I think you are spot on, Chris. The risks involved in this are huge and the debate is guaranteed to be exceedingly acrimonious.

It will not be good for the Labour Party, either in terms of its public image or its internal factional politics.

It would be a guaranteed way to get Catholics voting against Labour again too, despite their historical loyalty to the party.

Internally, Labour is far more divided on the issue than many people realise. There might be general agreement within the ranks that abortion should be legal, but that's as far as the consensus goes - extending to on demand up to 24 weeks will be a bridge too far for many.

Anonymous said...

Actually I don't think abortion is that freely available in conservative areas of the country like Southland. GPs like Mary English oppose abortion and prostitution. Plenty of women are still having babies they can't really afford. Ideally children should be brought up by the rich, schools, churches and the old. Women and Men between 15 and 60 should have unlimited sexual freedom. Working class and rural men simply have no right to restrict there sexual freedom. In future women will be put on a 4 year contraceptive injection at l5, have a couple of children at 20 or 21 and not need to have any furthur involvment with the care of children till their over 60.

Monty said...

I am not anti-choice at all - Hell as a catholic it can be taken for granted that I am pro-life. I hate abortion.
The "pro-choice" group never want to talk about the baby's choice to live. These days 24 weeks is a viable baby. I know someone whose baby (precious as it is ) was born at 21.5 weeks. Now a healthy lovely 6 year old.

The reason we are pro-life is because we consider all life sacred. Where is the baby's choice to a life?

Hell if Chadwick wants to open up and the debate and drive Labour's polling even further south please let he be my guest.

Anonymous said...

Umm you do realise that there's more than just 'how Labour will look' at stake in this don't you?

I mean don't you realise how offensive it is to frame this issue that way? This is life or death. For women anyway. Is that why you only see it as 'how will it impact on Labour'?

Women have to pretend to be mentally ill to get an abortion. You don't think that that's a big deal? Women have to wait weeks and weeks to get approval for terminations. That doesn't bother you? Women are treated like children incapable of making moral decisions. That's fine? As long as Labour stays out of it?

"Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve no desire to make it more difficult for New Zealand women to access abortion" - no you just want to keep it as it is. Really difficult. You've never tried to get an abortion. You have no idea how long it takes and how much it costs.

I find your views revolting. And frankly you could never understand why women like Queen Of Thorns feel the way they do. I feel the same way she does. A lot of women do. We find it deeply, deeply upsetting that people like you are allowed to spread your anti-choice message while female pro-choice commentators are ignored.

You will have blood on your hands if the current laws are changed to make abortion even harder to access than it currently is. You should be ashamed of yourself. Don't you have any women in your life? Have you told them that you think they can't be trusted with choice?

Chris Trotter said...

Just look at the stats, Anonymous, and absorb the fact that NZ has one of the highest abortion rates in the Western World.

We actually have more terminations per capita here in NZ than in those countries with so-called "abortion on demand" - doesn't that tell you something?

And, just for the record, I am not anti-choice - as anyone who had bothered to read the above posting would know.

Frankly, I haven't the slightest idea where you're coming from. Are you suggesting that unless they subscribe to your own extreme views on the abortion issue, your fellow citizens shouldn't be permitted to offer any opinions at all?

If so, then you need a sharp refresher course on the meaning of democracy.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Goodness me. In the same week an eminent sportsman is chastised for speaking a little common sense, an eminent political commentator is berated for examining the political consequences of an attempt to reignite the debate on abortion.

I say good on you, Mr Trotter.

I say also, a pox upon the mentality which says women 'need' abortions. Women 'need' to take a little more care not to become more pregnant, in my view.

"My view' probably in influenced (a) by the fact that I arrived in this world in 1946 weighing little more than 1,000 grammes - perhaps after not much more than 24 weeks in my mother's womb and (b) by the good old fashioned Christian belief that the sanctity of human life is more important than the sancity of women's sexual habits.

Anonymous said...

Abortion should be on demand up to 13 weeks. The abortion pill should be easily available so women can terminate an unwanted pregnancy as soon as they know they are pregnant, which can be as early as 3 1/2 weeks gestation with sensitive over the counter tests. At the moment women have to wait for weeks, which is cruel and pointless.

After 13 weeks there needs to be a good reason for an abortion and I don't see why the current laws shouldn't stand after 13 weeks. Very few women would discover an unwanted pregnancy after that time anyway. After 20 weeks abortion should only be allowed if there are major problems with the health of the mother or fetus.

I have major problems with Steve Chadwicks bill making abortion on demand up to 24 weeks- 24 weeks is much too late. I don't know why she has introduced this bill- it is way too radical for most moderate pro choicers like myself and she hasn't a hope of getting it through.

Anonymous said...


If there's only one simple, easy, obvious conclusion to draw from our abortion numbers, it'd be really nifty if you'd *draw* it instead of constantly implying that we peons are too thick to understand it.

The number of abortions performed in NZ per year? Is a number, completely meaningless in isolation. Even comparing our "rankings" against other countries is completely meaningless without taking into account one heck of a lot of other factors, like consent ages, varying state laws, attitudes to sex, availability of contraception, levels of education ...

Oh wait. There I go exercising my lady-brain. Go on, Chris, what DOES a single number "tell us"?

And please stop pretending to be prochoice. You can cry "I don't want to interfere in women's choices" till the cows come home but you're still the person prioritising the success of the Labour Party above giving women actual choice, and you're still the person actively contributing to the stigmatization of abortion.

Anonymous said...

Mr Finkenstein,

I dont know what warped world you live in, but in this world, the amount of sexual partners that a woman has and what she chooses to do with her own body is none of your business. It's a really simple concept to grasp, but I guess coming from 1946, where gays were locked in the closet, women were labeled as 'sluts' for even looking at another man, and wives were locked in unhappy marriages (not to mentione the christian children homes where the children of solo mothers were used as sexual playthings), and it was legal to a woman to be raped by her spouse, it can be very difficult to grasp.

This country will be a better place without the continual attempts to regulate people's sexual and reproductive choices.

(sexual libertarian)

Anonymous said...

Show the New Zealand public the pictures of what happens when a child is aborted they need to see this then let them make up their own minds.

Chris Trotter said...

Bowalley Road is greatly honoured to greet the iron-shod feet of Her Ideologically Impure Majesty, the Queen of Thorns. And though I be but scum in her royal eye, I shall do my humble best to satisfy her imperious curiosity.

The conclusion to be drawn from the statistics provided by the Abortion Advisory Committee is that since 1980 the number of terminations carried out in New Zealand has increased three-fold. This suggests that there are no significant impediments to accessing the procedure. If there were, then surely the rate of increase would have been significantly less?

If access to the procedure is relatively straight-forward (and New Zealand's very high abortion rate offers further confirmation of that assumption) then what - in practical terms - is to be gained by re-opening this terribly fraught debate?

And, just to clear up any misunderstanding, I have not posted this essay in defence of the Labour Party (an organisation I quit in 1989 and have never, subsequently, felt the slightest inclination to rejoin).

My greatest fear is that the reactionary social forces that a re-opening of the abortion debate would be bound to unleash could all-too-easily place in jeopardy the present "abortion-on-request" regime.

It may have escaped Your Majesty's notice that the tide of New Zealand conservatism is presently at the flood. The timing of Ms Chadwick's initiative could hardly be more inauspicious.

Lastly, may I say that Your Majesty does me too much honour by suggesting that my simple essay has been an active contributor to the stigmatising of abortion. Alas, the stigma attaching to this universal practice precedes my brief sojourn on this Earth by many centuries.

Your Majesty's royal "lady-brain" might like to ponder this fact and, perhaps, draw inspiration from humanity's redeeming reluctance to deliberately sever the divine thread of life.

On the other hand, what reason has a Queen of Thorns to dignify a prick?

Katy said...

Show the New Zealand public the pictures of what happens when a woman bleeds to death on a motel floor after being disemboweled by a butcher oops I mean illegal abortion doctor they need to see this then let them make up their own minds.

And Monty just stop lying. Two children have survived being born at 21 weeks - both their names are available on any story about miracle children. Every anti-choice moron claims their sister/brother/cousin was born at 21 weeks. Or if they're especially slow they'll claim THEY were born at 21 weeks- even 20 weeks!

"And, just for the record, I am not anti-choice" - you're not fooling anyone you smug prick. Anyone who thinks that the image of a political party is more important than womens reproductive rights is not pro-choice. I can't believe that you're claiming to be pro-choice then saying there doesn't need to be debate about the current laws. You obviously don't know anything about the laws. There are countless reasons why they should be changed. If you would like an actual list go to the ALRANZ website. You won't of course because the abortion laws in NZ are nothing but a column topic to men like you.

Chris Trotter said...

Honestly, it's enough to throw a guy into the arms of the "What are they teaching them in today's schools?" brigade.

Your reading comprehension skills, Katy, need some hard work.

Nowhere do I state that the Labour Party's image is more important that women's reproductive rights.

Nowhere do I say that there doesn't need to be a debate about the current laws.

I don't object to being hauled over the coals for the things I say, but I'm not going to sit back quietly while people attack me for things I haven't said and would never say.

Oh, and in relation to motel floors. That was the very reason why I and thousands of other men and women marched and petitioned and picketed and voted to secure a change in the legislation governing abortion.

What we got wasn't perfect - far from it - but it did put an end to women lying in pools of blood on filthy motel floors.

Anonymous said...

Both sides are equally right about the other side if you ask me...but no one ever does in the Hegelian dialectics - ask before an equal opportunity of take.

And so the synthesis grows with the problem(s)


p.s. I think the Soul comes in at first drawn breath & i also think that being as it may, is totally irrelevant to the question at hand.

A finer question might be, if innovation & science were governed by 'political' democracy, would we have made it to the wheel?

Olwyn said...

Firstly, let me get something clear: as I understand you Chris, you are saying that attempts at the moment to further liberalise abortion laws may actually result in the reverse of what is intended, since conservatism is on the rise. In short, better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Some commentators have misconstrued you as saying that Labour should not risk its image on a controversial campaign; to quote one of them, "you do realise that there's more than just 'how Labour will look' at stake in this don't you?

I want to challenge this claim, despite the fact that it does not pertain to the position you actually took. Firstly, one can move beyond "image" to electability - a campaign along these lines might arguably take attention away from other issues, prove divisive (as is happening here) and reduce Labour's electability. In which case you would have to ask yourself whether you think campaigning for the further liberalisation of abortion laws (which you may not pull off) actually trumps such matters as the rich/poor divide, low wages, overflowing prisons, unaffordable housing, the mining of national parks, etc, which Labour might be able to go some way toward addressing if elected. And which they will not be able to address if they are not elected. While I can see how a right winger might disagree entirely with this list of priorities, I do not see how, from a left wing point of view, you could see liberalising an already liberal abortion law as more important than all these other, to me far more pressing, concerns.

mcflock said...

"I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour."

Could the inclusion of "her party's" be why some people are under the impression that you think the abortion debate should be put on the back burner in Labour's electoral favour? How is the party's position even relevant?

Also you might want to avoid giving the impression that women should shut up and do nothing now because you walked down the street thirty years ago. You're either pro-choice now or you're not (and if you're not, then at best your a case study as to how the socialism gland can atrophy with age).

Sarah J said...

The fact is that almost 40 percent of the 18,000 or so abortions carried out yearly are those seeking their second, third or even fourth abortion.

This of course makes the feminazi's argument that abortions are somehow hard to come by or overly restrictive completely and utterly ludicrous. That figure quite clearly indicates that almost half of woman seeking abortions are using it as a state sponsored form and extremely expensive and wasteful form of contraception.

We already have abortion on demand in this country, why make it even easier for the shocking amount of woman already abusing our overly liberal laws to absolve themselves even further from having any responsibility whatsoever for their sexual freedom and choice?

Chuck Bird said...

It seems everyone has posted off topic on the point of the blog which is Why Now.

If Helen is behind it that raises another question. Is she trying to further undermine Phil Goff?

Anonymous said...

Sarah J,

How many abortions that a woman has is none of your business. Surely they have a right to do what they want with their own body? Without god-botherers like you interfering.

I love how you use the word 'feminazi'. Its always used by people who want to put women back in their place, and strip them of their hard won rights.


Chris Trotter said...

To: "McFlock".

The reference to Labour is included for the very obvious reason that the proposal to change the abortion legislation is being put forward by a Labour MP.

"Chuck Bird" is right to haul us back on-topic in this regard. He is also on to something, I think, when he draws attention to the factional issues Ms Chadwick's actions raise.

For better or for worse, Phil Goff, has attempted to steer Labour back towards policies more congruent with the concerns of its traditional working-class constituency - especially those "Waitakere Men" who leapt the fence to National in 2008.

Could Ms Chadwick's proposed PMB be an attempt to revive the very strong animosities that divided much of the traditional Labour Party from the waves of educated middle-class activists - especially young, middle-class women seeking to make the Labour Party the principal vehicle for abortion law reform - who poured into the organisation from the New Social Movements in the late-1970s?

If this is the explanation for Ms Chadwick's actions, then Labour really has a problem on its hands. A full scale-war between the identity-driven Labour MPs - and those attempting to rebuild Labour's relationship with ordinary working families - can only end in a serious (perhaps fatal) weakening of the entire movement.

The only people smiling then (apart from readers of The Hand Mirror) will be those on the Far Right.

Oh, and BTW, "McFlock", the "socialism gland" doesn't atrophy with age. What it does allow, however, is for older socialists to see more colours and shades of colours in this beautiful, complex and ultimately tragic world than simple black and white on a red background.

Anonymous said...


Protecting the vulnerable is one of the founding principles of the Labour party, whether it be waged workers from their boss, or vulnerable women who find themselves pregnant, and unable to be able to bring a child into this world, and with (usually religous) families unwilling to support (but willing to condemn them),from those who use a 2000 year old book to justify their hatred towards them.

Over the past 40 years, Labour have deemed fit to ensure the activites of consenting adults (prositition, homosexuality, etc) deserved the proection of the law from those who want to force the teachings of the aforementioned book to stigmatise and marginalise them. The withdrawl of the state from the regulation of such activities should be viewed as an extention of the good work the Labour party has done over the past 96 years of its extension with respect to the powerless.

Women are people do, and should be able to make choices as to make their own sexual and reproductive choices without regulation from a state that in influenced by those who belive that the earth was some created by someone waving a magic wand and have used a 2000 year old book to ensure that minorities are opressed.

If there is going to be a fight, bring it on, because deep down, I know the right of a woman to choose is the only just side.


Meg said...

Chris, did this woman have easy access to abortion? Was it just a matter of her demanding an abortion? She isn't a statistic of abortion because she never got one. She is a death statistic because other people ruled her life less important than an unborn child who needed her body for survival.

How is that easy access to abortion in NZ?

You are no friend of the left, of Labour and certainly not of women. The patronising way you have chosen to address Queen of Thorns is also pretty appalling.

Chris Trotter said...

Oh, "Meg", do try to keep up.

My ironically courtly reply to the QoT was in response to the vicious and abusive "critique" of my Dom-Post column which she had earlier posted on her own blogsite.

Sauce for the gander - and all that.

Turning to more imprtant matters, the case you cite above is indeed tragic but, having read the whole article, it is also quite clear that the treatment the woman received was not in line with NZ best practice. Indeed, had she been treated as the Health & Disability Commissioner insists she should have been treated, the tragedy almost certainly would not have occured.

Nor am I satisfied, "Meg", that you are in any position to state categorically who - and who is not - a friend of women, Labour or the Left. Anonymity makes it extremely difficult to assess the worth of such definitive statements.

Meg Bates said...

umm why is my name in speech marks? Does that make it easier for you to personally judge me by including my last name? As a left, Labour, woman I am ashamed that your voice is being touted as 'left'.

The doctors were acting within the law in refusing her an abortion. Is that ok with you?

Sarah J said...

Millsy, thanks for the abuse and silly sterotyping that only shows your inability to engage in any reasonable intelligent discussion.

And for the record I am not religous whatsoever although if anyone seems to be blindly and ignorantly following an outdated doctrine, it's you.

You say it's a womans right to have as many abortions as they want. That's fine if they want to use is a form of extremely expensive, invasive and at a late stage face it rather cruel form of contraception, I can live with that. What I can't live with is the fact that we the taxpayer are the ones funding this practice.

It's a womens right, it's a womens body but it's also a womens choice in this day and age whether or not they get pregnant. As with any rights and choices they also have consequences and it's about damn time some of these women using abortion as a form of contraception paid for theirs.

It's people like you with your militant rigid agenda's who took the Labour party away from it's true origins and base. I'd say Chris is far more intune with the real labour and real left than you have ever been.

Chris Trotter said...

There's no special significance to the speech marks, Meg, I tend to use them with everyone who comments on Bowalley Road without fully disclosing their identity.

Thank you for identfying yourself - I wish more people had the guts to do so.

Returning to the case you cite: It is clear that the medical staff at Capital & Coast Health erred in their treatment of this woman. That is what the H&D Commissioner found.

There is a saying in legal circles that "individual cases make bad law" - and I think this tragic story proves the wisdom of that aphorism.

It stands out because of the failure of the woman to get an abortion - not because such failure is the norm.

You are entirely at liberty to think of me as you please, but I still claim the right to question whether you can speak authoritatively for the rest of the movement.

Let's just agree to differ on this issue. Experience of the debate stretching back 30 years has taught me that, when it comes to the rights and wrongs of abortion, mutual tolerance is the only viable modus operandi.

Meg said...

I guess the difference is Chris, my tolerance of your view means I tolerate the state stipulating something else can live off my body even if my judgement is that it would be highly detrimental to my health or future. The only way I can get around this is pleading mental incompetence. Would you be happy to have the state stipulate your body must sustain another human being even if it went against your wishes?

Also individual cases are vital to this debate. These are the cases that will help you realise ‘in practical terms’ how Steve’s bill is different from the current reality. Cases where women have had to travel for hours to have an abortion because there are no providers anywhere near their home towns, where women die, where women have had to take days, weeks, months out from their lives being pregnant and attending various doctors appointments in order to have a decision approved on the basis of mental incapacity, where women who need to abort due to their own health or major problems with the pregnancy have articles tout the statistics they are part of as too many abortions. These are the women that make up the statistics. Real women (that you claim already have easy access to abortion without knowing the reality of supply or ever having to think about experiencing it) should be trusted to judge what is best and safest for their bodies. No woman wants to have to make that decision. But it should be their decision and they shouldn't have to prove themselves mentally unsound to have that decision supported.

And when a woman stands up for over half the population of New Zealand to have autonomy over their body, a right that has been put on hold for over 30 years and a right the other half of the population enjoys unquestioned, her stand should be applauded. The question you should be asking is "why has it taken so bloody long?"

Allan Rowland said...

But the question still remains; why this now? At the moment watching Labour is like watching that firework where the blue touchpaper has been torched but appears to have sputtered out. You feel that at any moment it is going to explode in a furiously glorious display of smoke, sparkly lights, and flame.

But how much longer is the wait?

Chris Trotter said...

If only it was as simple as that, Meg.

If only Steve was standing up for 50 percent of the population. But you and I both know that's not true.

It is simply not the case that women are in 100 percent agreement about abortion.

That's why the current legislation is such a compromise. Why, as you say, this issue has been on hold for 30 years.

Some of the feircest opponents of abortion back in the 1970s and 80s were women. And if the issue is rekindled by a PMB seeking abortion-on-demand up until the 24th week, I'm pretty sure you'll again see women in the forefront of the anti-abortion lobby.

You're right of course about the patchiness of coverage across New Zealand, but we are only talking hours - not days or weeks - of travel to parts of the country where the procedure is readily available.

And why is that coverage so patchy? I think you pay insufficient heed to the deep reluctance many health professionals feel towards carrying out abortions. Are you going to force these people to carry out the procedure against their will?

And, finally, what possible answer can a man give to the rebuke that his biology relieves him of the burden of choice in this matter? Pregnancy is, after all, a state only women can experience.

And it's for that very reason, as I wrote in the original posting, that I could never require a woman to carry a child she did not want.

But, as I also wrote, there are many people - both men and women - who passionately disagree with the notion that abortion is a decision that involves only the woman.

There is no way you can keep these people out of the debate - just as there is no way they can force you to stop demanding a woman's right to choose.

Perhaps it's only by fighting the battle all over again, that the generations who missed the original struggle will come to understand how compromises like the CS&A Act come about.

Meg said...

I think this post and comments deal with two of your responses (the 'it's only a few hours' and the 'medical professionals forced against their will')

Did I ever say that all women are in agreement over this issue? Of course I didn't. But those women disagreeing with my position compromises my right to have autonomy over my body. Chadwick's bill is about giving each of those women the right to chose for themselves and that doesn't impact on women's ability to not chose abortion.

Also please don't assume I don't understand what a hard fight it will be, how nasty it will get, and how compromises are made. But my mother was involved with the first fight so do we just say to that generation of women 'well thanks for all the fish, but after what you lot went through we don't want to touch this with a barge poll'. The generations that first fought for the current legislation have had children of their own who are now growing up and having their own children. Perhaps they don't want to bring their babies into a world where they didn't fight for something that is right just because it was too hard or the issue wasn't simple or the timing didn't suit the Labour party.

Carol said...

Chris, I do think neoliberalism appropriated "identity politics" in order to make their "individualist" politics acceptable to some on the left/centre-left/centre. And in doing this, they extracted identity issues from the left, where they had been originally championed.

But the new right did this in a way that narrowed identity issues to fit with the rest of their policies: making sexual politics etc "sexy" and "marketable". So for instance girlpower is cool, so long as the "girls" are young, slim,mostly white, pretty etc, and spend loads on all the products and services necessary to maintain this image. Abortion is acceptable to some n the centre/right as an issue of individual choice.

But, neoliberals also needed the old conservatives, so they cobbled together an uneasy alliance with socially conservative, religious fundies and socially more progressive identity politics.

So, IMO, I think it would be a good thing for Labour to re-claim identity issues, within the left's original, broader framework of social justice. Neoliberals have been able to hold together their uneasy alliance of fundies and individualistc social liberals. So, IMO, it should be possible for Labour/the left to work with a "broad church" of social conservatives for class and economic equality, plus a platform of social justice that includes their formulation of identity politics.

It's the open & divisive rift between these two extremes that I find most harmful to the left right now. I think we should be looking to ways to work together, rather than descending into factional squabbling.

When you target some of the great evils of neoliberalism in incisively articulated and knowledgeable ways, I'm right with you. But I also support the broader platform of social justice and identity politics.

Many on the left have been talking about doing something about the inadeqacy of our abortion laws for a few years. I think that is where this new abortion initiative comes from.

mike said...

As we head into the endgame of Western civilization - shrinking resources, environmental degradation, economic collapse, over-population, political unrest - the "abortion debate" will, I tend to think, take on some rather different parameters.

The issue will revolve less around concepts like "the sanctity of life" and "individual human rights", both of which are moral outgrowths of Christian thought and by no means eternal universal concepts. The major new factor will be Survival. Three scenarios come to mind:

1. In countries that are massively over-populated, abortion will probably be liberalised further, encouraged, and perhaps enforced by the State. Population control will probably also occur via "ethnic" triggered genocides (ethnic difference being the excuse used to free up land and resources, as happened in Rwanda).

2. In relatively under-populated countries like NZ, the middle-class will rediscover the advantages of large extended families in an agrarian context. The rates of child mortality and women dying in childbirth will probably increase & abortion decrease.

3. Among transient peoples with a more marginal existence, abortion and infanticide will probably increase as having another mouth to feed may become a matter of life and death for others in the group. Their approach to abortion will thus be more akin to traditional hunter-gatherer societies.

In all these cases, the more practical consequences of abortion for families, communities, and societies will take priority.

Chris Trotter said...

That's fair enough, Meg, but I've always believed in asking myself this question before going into battle: "What will we lose if we don't win this fight?"

If your position is strong enough that the loss of one battle will not strategically imperil your whole cause, then go ahead and sound the charge.

But, if your position is not that strong, and the loss of the battle you seek would allow your enemies to take from you the precious gains of earlier struggles, then - surely - it is wiser to remain on the defensive?

I am far from certain that the position of the Left in New Zealand is strong enough to risk this fight. All the polls show our numbers declining, and even in these straightened economic times 68 percent of voters think New Zealand is heading in the right direction.

Having watched the steady erosion of the numbers supporting a woman's right to choose in the USA, I am particularly fearful of providing the Christian Right with an opportunity to unleash its battle-tested agit-prop techniques here in New Zealand.

Think about the anti-smacking legislation: the price of that victory was Labour's defeat. The price of Labour's defeat has been the withdrawal of ACC support from women recovering from rape; the intensification of bureaucratic pressure on solo mothers; the reduction of state support for early childhood education - the list goes on and on.

By all means keep your eyes on the prize - but never forget that the "prize" itself is not just one, but a vast collection of hard-won reforms. The aim, always, is to add to that collection - not make it smaller.

Meg said...

But Chris...we didn't sound the charge, the current law is being challenged by the religious right (see here

I know that many people feel Labour failed by backing section 59, I only felt proud that we realised being in power was worthless if we backed away from doing the right thing- even if it meant a loss of support. And yes...again it is a constant compromise between power to enact policy and policy to retain power. But section 59 only tipped the balance for a Labour loss. You can't honestly claim that it’s the only reason Labour lost and we would have lost more if we had turned our back on that issue.

I guess all Steve is doing here is 'sounding' back to an attack that has already been launched against those gains. Why don't you join us (once again) to make sure we don't face this battle on our own? Or at least don't attack those that seek to reinforce those gains in law

Chris Trotter said...

Fear not, Meg, if there is any attempt to make abortions harder to access in New Zealand, old-timers like me will be out on the streets before you can say "Spuc 'em all!"

Meg said...

Thanks Chris, that is great to hear. Could I be permitted to take the above comment to its logical conclusion?

You state 'if your position is not that strong, and the loss of the battle you seek would allow your enemies to take from you the precious gains of earlier struggles...'


'I am far from certain that the position of the Left in New Zealand is strong enough to risk this fight’.

Steve is fighting back against the attacks that are already being made in the courts on our current gains and you have said you think the position of the left is not that strong and therefore we stand to lose the gains of earlier struggles. This would strike me as a clear indication that you think there will be attempts to make abortions harder to access in NZ (whether you see this as a result of Steve's bill or recognise this is what is being attempted in spite of Steve's bill).

As you have said, any attempts to make abortions harder to access will have you out on the streets. I therefore look forward to standing side by side

Chris Trotter said...

To Meg:

It's a date!

McFlock said...

"Oh, and BTW, "McFlock", the "socialism gland" doesn't atrophy with age. What it does allow, however, is for older socialists to see more colours and shades of colours in this beautiful, complex and ultimately tragic world than simple black and white on a red background."

The People's Flag is deepest pink, it's not as red as us younger folk might think...

Olwyn said...

@ Carol: I agree with you that liberalism has to a large extent been co-opted by the right, because much of it can be repackaged as a sort of consumer choice. Furthermore, as Gore Vidal said, the right care about one thing, money, while the left care about a variety of things.

From the left wing point of view, it is important for liberals to realise that the freedoms they hold dear can actually function as instruments of oppression for the poor and working class when choices are curtailed by limited means. It would be instructive, for instance, to know how many women have reluctantly had abortions because they felt they had "no other choice." "No other choice" hardly suggests a freedom. The same can be said for freedoms such as the right to be a prostitute. Not many people choose prostitution over scientific research for a job, but it may pay better than the check-out does. And if you turn to prostitution as they only way to get out of debt, again it is not really a free choice, even if no agency insisted that you do it.

The Labour movement in the thirties argued for a woman's right not to work with the washerwoman in mind. The feminist movement in the seventies argued for the woman's right to work with the academic in mind. As Galbraith has said, while these sorts of activities come under the same name, "work," they have very little in common.

Liberalism presupposes a level of well-being at which choices really are choices. If the socialist and liberal elements of the left are to effectively join forces then liberals need to be cognisant of this, and understand that the sorts of choices they support presuppose a level of well-being. If the well-being is not there, then these "choices" readily transform into oppressions. Why should anyone care if a woman with three children and a physical job (on contract)gets pregnant, chooses to go through with it and loses job and her house to a mortgagee sale? After all she could have had an abortion. Except that this would not in any way be an act of freedom.