Don’t pretend that Texas is the place with the abortion problem

Yesterday afternoon (New Zealand time) many of us watched in awe and disbelief as US Senator Wendy Davis and her supporters worked to stop the passing of a bill which would reduce abortion access in Texas.

The bill seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, severely limit access to medication-induced abortions and regulate first-trimester abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centres (forcing many of them to close).

Basically, the bill would allow only the most privileged of pregnant Texans to terminate their pregnancies, and only if they discover they’re pregnant in time.

Davis filibustered for over 9 hours until she was overturned by Republican senators. They succeeded in getting her ruled out of order for needing assistance for putting on her back brace, as well as for going off topic onto frivolous things like sonograms when discussing pregnancy. She remained standing for a full 13 hours.

In the end, after much uncertainty and an amazing display of pro-choice solidarity through a full 15 minutes of screaming from the gallery, the passing vote was held after midnight. It’s unclear as to whether it will be legal and upheld, or whether Davis won.

But the process is just as important as the outcome.

When the sole hope of combating a bill which would severely limit access to what the World Health Organisation has called “a key health intervention”, is for a woman to stand for 13 straight hours without food, water, a bathroom break or the ability to lean on anything, there is something seriously wrong with the system.

We might not be Texas, but make no mistake – we are also fighting a constant battle to retain autonomy over our reproductive health.

In New Zealand, many people assume that we’re sheltered from the extremities of the U.S. abortion debate by virtue of distance, political ideology or lack of homicidal “pro-life” nut bars. We’re wrong:

  • Abortion in New Zealand is still part of the Crimes Act. There is a legal loophole to access abortion, which medical professionals must coach patients through IF they’re so inclined. This is in order for their patient to get access to…the second medical professional who has to coach them.
  • Depending on where you live in New Zealand, in order to even get to a doctor who will refer you (let alone to a clinic), massive travel is required. Some New Zealanders are sent to Australia to access abortion.
  • NZ pro-life social media groups crop up which incite violence against clinics. Recently an abortion nurse had her car’s mechanics tampered with, suspected as an act of pro-life terrorism. Pro-lifers stand outside abortion clinics throughout the country and make what can be a painful decision even worse through heckling and harassment.
  • Pro-life organisations in this country challenge the current iteration of our abortion law through lengthy legal battles that attempt to further close the loopholes that allow some people to get abortions from some places.
  • Pro-life groups have started websites which take the names of people who attend pro-choice events on Facebook and archive them online for any future employers to stumble across.
  • In 2011, we appointed a strongly “pro-life” doctor to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.
  • Our parliamentarians get a constant barrage of mail from groups like Family First and Right to Life any time anyone so much as sneezes the word ‘abortion’.
  • Most politicians don’t want to touch the issue with a barge pole. In 2008 the Labour women’s caucus declined to support Steve Chadwick’s well-researched and much-needed bill to take abortion off the NZ Crimes Act. There are no known plans for anyone else to take up the torch.

We are fighting to maintain what is not even a legal right. I can’t state that strongly enough – it is a battle just to maintain a status quo which sees abortion as illegal.

It’s not just because the opposition are relentless, senseless bullies. It’s not just because conservative organisations hold far too much monetary and perceived voter influence over our democratic representatives. It’s because the majority of the moderate people in power would rather avoid the subject all together.

So next time you think Texas, or the United States, are the ones with the problem with abortion, I suggest you think again. At least in Texas there was someone willing to stand for 13 hours to challenge the attack on abortion access.

In New Zealand, we’re just ignoring it.

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