Now It's Aotearoa's Turn For Abortion Referendum

Now It's Aotearoa's Turn For Abortion Referendum

Ireland has had its abortion referendum, now it's about time New Zealand/Aotearoa did the same.

After years of facing criticism over their abortion laws, and years of women being forced to travel to another country to receive medical care, The Irish Government gave into pressure from the Irish people and allowed them a chance to express their opinion, and they overwhelmingly voted to repeal their existing laws and, in the words of Terry Bellamak, the president of Abortion Law Reform New Zealand, “said yes to bodily autonomy, human dignity, and the human rights of women and pregnant people.”

The Irish government has now promised to introduce legislation by the end of the year providing for abortion care on request up to 12 weeks, with no reason having to be given. When this law is passed, Ireland’s abortion laws will be more progressive than New Zealand’s.

Under current New Zealand law, women don’t have full bodily autonomy. The decision to have an abortion does not rest with the person who is pregnant, they have to meet strict requirements before they can get an abortion, including gaining the approval of two certifying consultants, who are specially appointed physicians. They decide whether or not the woman meets the grounds for abortion set out in the Crimes Act.

Abortion in New Zealand (until the 20th week of pregnancy) is only legal in the cases of serious danger to the life or mental health of the mother, cases of severe mental or physical handicap of the foetus, incest, or severe mental subnormality of the mother. Rape and extreme ages of the person in question may be taken into account, but are not grounds for abortion. After the 20th week of pregnancy abortion is only legal to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. Certifying consultants denied an abortion to 216 people in 2014, the last year for which there is data.

Women have to consider many different issues when they make the decision to have an abortion. They may consider the views of their partner, parents and of the society they live in. They may consider the effect it will have on their career or studies. They may think about whether they are ready for motherhood. They may look at the relationship they are in. They may examine their financial and economic situation.

The grounds doctors consider ignore the importance of socio-economic and personal factors in making a decision. In fact we would argue that there should be no need to have specified grounds for abortion. They are disempowering for women.

The Coalition government has asked our Law Commission to consider changes, including removing abortion from the Crimes Act and making it a health issue. Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Law Commission is due to report back to him by the end of this year and, providing the Government can agree on the recommendations, he says it’s possible there could be legislation before Parliament next year.

In Ireland, the matter was given to the people to decide. It seems here any change we are subject to will be via a conscience vote in Parliament. We need to demand a referendum on the issue.

Conscience votes do not reflect the wishes of the electorates in which they reside, they are the personal choices of the elected MP, and the fact is that often people tend to be a lot more progressive than MPs. It should be left up to women to be trusted to look after their own bodies and mental health, and it should be them who decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, not parliamentarians with a conscience vote and not state-funded doctors.

The Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement supports a woman’s right to control her own body, and we believe that control over one’s fertility is an essential part of individual freedom. A woman must have the right to abortion on demand. In defending and defining the right to choose in the broadest way possible, we are defending the right to make choices about how to live our lives. This is our agenda for a future society.

We envisage an anarchist society as a society where people are free to make choices about their own lives. We picture a society where decisions are made at the lowest effective level. For women, this includes the decision whether or not to become pregnant, whether or not to remain pregnant, whether or not to have children.

For anarchists, the best person, indeed the only person, with the right to make that decision, is the woman who is going to have to live with its consequences. There should be no abortion laws or regulations around abortion – we should just simply trust women.

Posted By

LAMA
May 30 2018 02:07

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  • The Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement supports a woman’s right to control her own body, and we believe that control over one’s fertility is an essential part of individual freedom.

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Comments

Ed
May 30 2018 10:06

Can you include an image in this article please? Otherwise it's less likely to be shared on social media

LAMA
May 30 2018 23:01

Ok thanks. Will do.

Mike Harman
May 30 2018 23:56

In Ireland the only way to change the law was a referendum because the 8th amendment was in the constitution.

Is this the case in Aotearoa? If so a referendum doesn't seem necessary, what happens if the vote goes the wrong way?

LAMA
Jun 5 2018 23:32

No a referendum is not the only way to change the law in Aotearoa. We are suggesting that it is a slightly more democratic option than the currently more likely method of legislation being implemented via a 'conscience vote' in parliament. In the case of the latter you literally have a single individual in the role of MP deciding how they personally feel about the issue. A referendum initiated from below at least has the potential to open up the issue to greater public discussion and some participation by the population at large. Though of course as we mentioned, this falls short of the truly liberatory condition we would envisage in an ultimate anarchist society.

If you look at the overall trajectory of social issues in NZ since the 1980's (when homosexuality became legal) and onwards (for example the legalisation of prostitution in 2003) the trend is in favour of greater liberalisation. It seems unlikely any referendum would swing contrary to this trend, though undoubtedly some backlash from social conservatives is inevitable.

AndrewF
Jun 6 2018 12:34

Something to be aware of is that a referendum on abortion comes with an enormous emotional cost on many of the people fighting it, in particular any who may have had abortions or miscarriages. And winning one is a huge amount of work - we did nothing else for the best part of three months and pretty much all our members were working fast out. Thats part of the reason why with the focus switching to the north of Ireland the demand is for Westminister MPs to legislate rather than a referendum being called there which if anything would be considerably nastier

Mike Harman
Jun 6 2018 15:09
LAMA wrote:
We are suggesting that it is a slightly more democratic option than the currently more likely method of legislation being implemented via a 'conscience vote' in parliament. In the case of the latter you literally have a single individual in the role of MP deciding how they personally feel about the issue.

There are occasionally very straightforward referendums (the Irish one was), but in general I don't think they're any more democratic than votes in parliament. The decision about what to have a referendum about, what the question will be, the way the campaigns are run, these can be even less transparent than parliamentary politics. Is there a concern that the parliamentary vote would be more likely to fail than a referendum vote?

AndrewF wrote:
Thats part of the reason why with the focus switching to the north of Ireland the demand is for Westminister MPs to legislate rather than a referendum

Yes this was what prompted me to ask the question here in the first place. Also with Northern Ireland the current impetus is towards repealing the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act rather than creating new legislation (at least the first step).

LAMA
Jun 7 2018 01:41

It is true that any campaign around social issues will take a huge toll on those involved or anyone with a higher than average personal stake in the topic. That seems inherent in the nature of such things and is the price of progress. There are things you can do to try and mitigate the worst aspects of participation but having initially decided the issue is worth fighting for, you do what you have to do.

"There are occasionally very straightforward referendums (the Irish one was), but in general I don't think they're any more democratic than votes in parliament. The decision about what to have a referendum about, what the question will be, the way the campaigns are run, these can be even less transparent than parliamentary politics. Is there a concern that the parliamentary vote would be more likely to fail than a referendum vote?"

Its true the aspects you mentioned can be less transparent or poor value at times. The most recent referendum in NZ was a personal hobby horse of the then Prime Minister regarding a change to the national flag. Approximately $25 million was spent trying to create interest in something nobody apart from him had raised as an issue. It was widely derided as a waste of funds and resulted in a vote for the status quo.

Given that sort of background, people here might be more receptive to a citizens initiated referendum on a subject with more weight. A grassroots founded campaign that determined the question posed and was run along democratic lines would of course be the ideal. I don't think anyone is naive enough to believe such a thing would be automatically granted by the powers that be and even if it was, they would find ways to channel and sideline it. It would require some struggle to establish and maintain it along the right lines. Again, that's usually in the nature of things anyway, surely?

Its possible in Aotearoa that a conscience vote by individual MPs' would result in a desirable outcome on the abortion issue. As noted, there is a general upward swing in favour of greater liberalisation over the long course of history here. However, when dealing with the whims of 120 individuals rather than 5 million people, we are arguing the emphasis should go on methods that give greater voice to the latter, despite the inherent difficulties involved. Broadening awareness, increasing participation in relatively more democratic ways when possible and hopefully ultimate success make it a more desirable approach. Perhaps the difference is minor, since we are talking about two reformist methods, but a referendum seems slightly better in this instance.

Flava O Flav
Jun 8 2018 14:52

I'd echo what Andrew said there. Seriously, if you can do it without a referendum, that's the way to go. The emotional and psychological toll this referendum has taken on friends of mine cannot be overstated. It will involve months of gaslighting, psychological manipulation and graphic misleading posters by the anti-choice side - I assume you have one there. There's nothing particularly democratic about having a referendum on abortion - every arsehole in the country no matter how vile gets to spew their bile and have a say on someone else's medical choices. Bodily autonomy is the only really democratic way to make a decision on abortion and to get there you're better off taking the route of least resistance. I'd seriously advice hooking up with the abortion rights campaign in Ireland and Alliance for Choice in NI to hear their view before you start down this path.