ParentsAugust 24, 2017

Surely it’s time for a grown-up conversation about abortion?


More than 13,000 abortions were performed in New Zealand last year. Despite this, abortion in this country is enshrined in the Crimes Act. Jessica Hammond Doube doesn’t think it should be, and she’s doing her best to do something about it.

The kaupapa of The Spinoff Parents is to uplift, love, and support parents – but especially mothers and women who want to be mothers. Abortion access is absolutely an issue for mothers, because we know that in 2015, 57% of women having an abortion had already had one or more previous live births. Our position is that we support women making the right choices for them and their family – whatever that choice is. Therefore it is obvious that we are pro-choice. For that reason we will continue to share stories about abortion here. For more information about abortion access in New Zealand please visit Abortion Law Reform New Zealand. – Emily Writes, The Spinoff Parents editor.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents took me to an anti-abortion protest. As a good Catholic schoolgirl, I enthusiastically took up my placard, believing it was obvious that abortion was murder.

And then a few months ago I became a political candidate. One of my priorities: getting abortion removed from the Crimes Act

What happened in the intervening years? I saw what happens when real women have unwanted pregnancies. I saw desperately wanted pregnancies with really sick babies. I studied bioethics and read countless arguments about the moral status of a foetus. I learned about concepts like the right to bodily integrity. I had my own babies and saw the unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll having babies can take.

In short, I grew up.

I think it’s time New Zealand had a grown-up conversation about abortion.

Jessica, Jenny Condie and Terry Bellamak, President of of ALRANZ (the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ)

Here are a few things we might want to talk about:

  • Surveys show that most New Zealanders think abortion should be legal in most circumstances.
  • In fact, abortion is only legal in a narrow range of circumstances. Most women procure abortions by saying their mental health is at risk. Most of the time this is probably a lie.
  • About one in four New Zealand women have had an abortion.
  • Over half of women who have abortions are mothers. They are women who know all too well what it means to have a baby. They are women who need to be able to look after the children they already have.
  • Women have to wait, on average, 25 days to have an abortion from the time when they first see a doctor to get one. That’s almost a month of carrying a pregnancy that they want to end – with all the physical and emotional costs that entails. Abortion is a very safe procedure, but it’s safest when performed earlier. Those delays tip most abortions past the best practice cutoff of 9 weeks’ gestation. The delays are, for the most part, completely avoidable and are caused by the unnecessary hoops women have to jump through.

I understand the arguments for and against abortion. I’ve believed both of them in my lifetime. It’s time to move past these arguments and to think about the real women – one in four women – who are affected by the law as it stands.

In an uncanny coincidence, while I was writing this, a friend rang me to tell me she was pregnant and was struggling to jump through the hoops to get an abortion. I don’t want to identify her by giving too many details – but for several reasons this friend is not able to care for another child.

Intellectually, this is not a hard decision for her to make. For some women, it’s not an emotionally hard decision either. But my friend is finding it tough.

She has so far had two internal examinations and a blood test. She’s had to pay for an ultrasound, where the sonographer made her listen to the heartbeat and gave her a link to the photos. She has been offered a session with a social worker an hour’s drive from where she lives, but she can’t take leave from work to get to the appointment. She hopes she can find the two certifying consultants she needs to see soon – and locally. She knows the delays mean she will pass the 9-week limit on getting a medical abortion so she will need to have a surgical one.

Meanwhile she is trying to take care of her other young children with the usual sickness and exhaustion that goes with first trimester pregnancy. At every stage of the abortion process she feels she is being judged. She worries she will fail one of the hurdles and be one of the 200-plus women a year who are denied an abortion.

If she gets though the hoops – and most women do – she will get the abortion. It will be a painful and emotional experience. She will go home, go to work, look after her kids, cry when they aren’t looking. I’ll cry for her.

Why are we making what many women already find a traumatic experience less safe, more costly, more stressful and more invasive than it needs to be? It can’t be because we want to reduce the number of abortions. We know the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to make reliable contraception accessible, which is why the rate is slowly coming down in New Zealand – so it can’t be that.

Are we making the process unnecessarily horrible to appease abortion opponents? Are we trying to punish women for ending their pregnancies?

I don’t want to punish women, and neither do most New Zealanders. I want to support women, and so do most New Zealanders. I want to get to parliament and I want to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. I think most New Zealanders want that too.

Read more from The Spinoff on abortion in New Zealand here.

Jessica Hammond Doube is The Opportunities Party candidate for Ōhāriu. She is mum to two little girls and their imaginary friends, Jackawaya, Sish, Rosetta and Ham (who is a piece of talking ham). Jessica worked on the abortion policy for TOP, which will appear in their soon-to-be-released health policy.

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