Imagine you’re a woman living in New Zealand. You find out you’re pregnant, and you want to seek an abortion. In order to do this, you must first prove to two certifying doctors that you deserve an abortion, otherwise you will go absolutely hysterical female mental, or your physical health will be impaired. Knowing you are physically healthy, you are forced to construct a story that makes you seem unstable. You recite it to the doctors after a couple of days of pure anxiety in the lead up to your appointment. The doctors eventually sign off on the grounds that you’ll probably lose your mind if you carry a baby to full term and you are granted a legal abortion. You sacrificed your pride, dignity, and mental health in order to receive healthcare, but at least it’s safe and legal, right?
Yes, I admit that my explanation here is extreme, but I simply want to highlight that a law regulating women’s bodies is absolutely ludicrous. You might say, ludicrous yes, but not nearly as bad as the attitudes and laws on abortion in such places as the USA. The USA where very recently an “abortion ban” has been signed off by 25 well-to-do middle-aged white guys. What’s worse than this is the people affected by this law stand in stark contrast to these men: women with lower socio-economic standing and women of colour.
This proposed law is sexist, it is racist, it is classist. I would like to think that New Zealand, my country, would not stand for such a law.
New Zealand has always claimed to be forward-thinking, and have proved this in legalising same-sex marriage and being staunchly nuclear free. So why are we still trying to regulate women’s bodies like this? Why is abortion still in our Crimes Act? Sure, we are not anywhere near an abortion ban, but that does not make our issues with inequality in accessing healthcare and education any less, it does not erase our ever-growing gap between the rich and poor.
Having unreasonable restrictions on abortion in New Zealand affects our minority groups just the same.
There are so many factors that could make a woman want or need to seek an abortion: financial, medical, mental health, and so many more, including just not wanting to have a baby. All of these reasons are valid because every person deserves to have autonomy over her body.
I suggest before we demonise women who seek abortions we should first PLEASE focus on equal healthcare and education for everyone in New Zealand. We need to make it easier for all women to go to the doctor, we need to improve sex education in schools, we need to work on lifting the stigma around women’s bodies in general. We need to be completely honest about the effects of contraception and abortion because not talking about these issues or skirting around them only leaves a haze of shame over women.
Abortion is a women’s health issue, just as getting a smear or a mammogram is, and all women deserve access to adequate information and treatment. It is an injustice to all women to shame them for seeking healthcare. We have real trouble caring about the women standing right in front of us. We do not provide enough funding for women’s healthcare, for sanitary products, for education. We do not invest in the women we already have so why run the risk of bringing new ones into the world if the mother does not feel their baby would have a fair shot at thriving.
Men are making rules about women’s bodies and they may feel as though they have the best interests of women at heart, but they are not women. They cannot step into our high heeled shoes, our skinny jeans, our shapewear – they would be too uncomfortable.
In the case of the 25 men voting on the abortion ban in Alabama, these are privileged men, and they are not only white, but they hold positions of power. It is disenfranchised women who will be affected most by an abortion ban because wealthier women might have the means to travel somewhere where it’s legal, whereas poorer women might not have that option. Women who cannot access safe abortions will in many cases seek an abortion that is not safe. These women could die. This desperation is something that these men could never know or understand because, to put it simply, they hold too much privilege and not enough ovaries.
The Law Commission in New Zealand has proposed three new legal models, the first being the decision to have an abortion will be made between the doctor and the patient and that’s all required to have a safe and legal abortion. The next is having a statutory test to make sure the abortion is appropriate under the circumstances, and the third is a test only if the woman is 22 weeks pregnant or over.
When I first read them, I didn’t think any of the options sounded particularly bad, but upon further examination, I now think the decision should be between the doctor and the woman only. Doctors go through years of training; they take an oath to protect and care for their patients. If we cannot trust doctors to make the right decision when in a consultation with their patient, then we need to look at the healthcare system and the training systems for doctors – not at the woman. No one knows what the patient needs better than the patient herself.
We don’t trust women to know what is right for their bodies, their mental health and the trajectory of their lives in general. This has to change.
Abortion is something that one in every four women will experience, and knowing some of these women myself, I am never going to tell you that abortion is pleasant or positive. Abortion is emotionally challenging, and even though you expect your politics and convictions to shield you from an emotional reaction, the reality is often not-so-straightforward.
However, choice is freedom, and freedom is positive, and it is something that every single person should have a right to. It should be standard and natural that this freedom starts with our very own bodies. We need to understand that both pro-life and pro-choice activists care first and foremost about the life of human beings, but we need to get our priorities straight about the unequal placement of value on a foetus’ versus grown-up women who are struggling and need help.
No woman should have to prove she deserves an abortion when seeking one in the first place is potentially emotionally stressful. Abortion needs to be removed from the Crimes Act (of 1961, by the way!) and be made into a private healthcare issue, because that’s what it is.