Abortion-rights demonstrators in Northern Ireland (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

It’s crunch time: Five reasons to hit the streets for abortion rights

On Tuesday, people from all across New Zealand will gather to demand the Abortion Legislation Bill be passed and that abortion be removed from the Crimes Act. Jessie Anne Dennis from Fem Force – Feminist Action Aotearoa explains why you should get involved.

At the end of this week, the Abortion Legislation Bill will exit the select committee process and be sent back to parliament. In the coming weeks, it will be voted on twice more by 120 members of parliament who get to decide whether those of us who want to decide what happens to our bodies and lives should be treated as criminals. Dedicated reproductive rights campaigners and health practitioners have been tirelessly campaigning for this historic moment for decades.

On February 18 in centres across the country, people will be taking to the streets for the Our Bodies – Our Choice: National Day of Action for Abortion Law Reform. A wide coalition of groups has organised rallies and gatherings in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin, demanding the Abortion Legislation Bill be passed and that abortion be removed from the Crimes Act. 

With the bill comfortably passing its first reading, some might wonder why it’s so important to come out and demand action now. In the immortal words of abortion rights supporters Rage Against the Machine, what better place than here, what better time than now? Here are just five reasons why you should hit the streets.

We don’t know if the bill will pass. 

The bill passed its first reading 94 votes to 23, but nothing is guaranteed. The 2017 Gender Attitudes Survey reported that 66% of New Zealanders support the right to choose. But the anti-abortion lobby, while small, has always been well-resourced, loud, and able to spark conservative and religious outrage. We know that many members of parliament support these anti-choice views. Now is the time to show mass public support for passing this bill and ensure that our voice (the majority) is louder than those who want to continue that old worn-out tradition of controlling women’s and marginalised genders’ bodies.

The Abortion Legislation Bill needs improvements

The bill, as it currently stands, makes some giant leaps forward for reproductive healthcare. It removes abortion from health providers from the Crimes Act, enables self-referral to abortion services and removes the need for certifying consultants before 20 weeks. These changes remove old hurdles that people needed to jump to access abortion. However, there are important improvements that the bill needs. Currently, it has a cut-off point of 20 weeks after which people must again see what is basically a certifying consultant who has the power to sign-off on the abortion. No medical or scientific reasons have been provided for the 20 week cut-off point. The tiny fraction (less than 1%) of abortions that happen after 20 weeks generally occur in circumstances of medical urgency. In these circumstances, pregnant people shouldn’t be faced with a legal process in addition to the medical process. ALRANZ-Abortion Rights Aotearoa has eloquently laid out why this and other changes should be made to the bill.

The stigma around abortion is still real

This stigma is felt by many who access reproductive healthcare. When we show up and raise our voice in support of abortion rights and share our stories, that stigma breaks down. Anyone who has had an abortion knows the calculations you make when deciding who to share your story with due to fear of judgement. While people of every age, culture and socio-economic status access abortions, prevailing social narratives and gendered ideas about promiscuity and ‘bad decisions’ persist, as any online comments section shows. A recent study in the US concluded that the vast majority of people who consider an abortion experience stigma, and that this stigma was a major contributor to 5% of people who experienced conflicted feelings about their abortion. In fact, many will recognise the experience of walking into a clinic with anti-abortion protestors outside. Having to be escorted out the back entrance of a clinic because of lurking and aggressive anti-abortion protestors is still a reality in New Zealand. Making our support public and sharing our stories is how we start to see abortion for what it is – important, life-saving healthcare. 

It’s a chance to celebrate those who’ve campaigned for change

Now is the moment to appreciate the hard work of countless (mostly) women who have dedicated their lives to this struggle. Feminism isn’t a dirty word anymore. Nowadays, a majority of New Zealanders support abortion rights, but in speaking out on this issue 50+ years ago when this campaign began, people faced real risks and challenges. These have eased due to their hard mahi and perseverance. We know that many of these veteran abortion rights defenders will be attending marches around the country. Let’s show them it was worth it, and that we’re carrying on this struggle, which is part of a broad movement to end gendered violence and respect bodily autonomy of all genders. 

Our rights are never set in stone

Although we’re on track to secure an incredible victory this year, we know that these rights can be reversed. As we see in other parts of the world, abortion rights are challenged vigorously and aggressively as more authoritarian discourse grips societies. By coming out en masse to support this bill we make it clear that the mandate for change, and for reproductive rights, is overwhelming. 

 

You can find more info the rallies happening around the country on February 18 here.


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