As of last Wednesday, the fist day of Lent, the street outside Wellington Hospital became camp site for members of 40 Days for Life. This is a worldwide organisation dedicated to ending abortion, and they’re mobilising throughout Lent, holding “peaceful vigils” outside healthcare facilities that provide these services.
Wellington Hospital is no stranger to anti-choice protesters. Occasionally there’s one old man with a giant picture of a foetus stationed somewhere by the bus stop on Riddiford Street, sometimes there are a few people outside the Salvation Army offices across the road. In the 1970’s their abortion services were provided in Ewart Hospital, a separate wing of the main campus with it’s own driveway, which protesters used to line and attempt to block entry to as a daily norm.
But this protest is different. This is every single day for 40 days, with at least a handful of people, holding large signs and chanting directly outside the main entrance to the hospital. This is a globally backed organisation, with hourly schedules, ensuring that there is always someone right outside the hospital. While their terms and conditions state a commitment to pacifism to fight the “violence of abortion”, children being brought to the protest (according to their guidelines, and y’know, the pictures of people holding their babies up outside Planned Parenthood) and they’re advertising in community newsletters.
They don’t care why you’re at the hospital; what kind of day you’re having, whether you’re anxious, grieving or going to visit someone for the last time, 40 Days of Life is in your face at the front entrance with audible prayers and big bold signs to welcome you.
They are counting how many “lives saved”, they are rejoicing in closing down options for people to access sexual and reproductive health. They are celebrating job losses:
The Wellington chapter, at least, is aligned to the Catholic Church. Opening their “campaign events” was a mass with Archbishop of Wellington John Dew.
Te Mahoe Unit are aware of the presence of 40 Days for Life, and have an agreement with the protesters that they are not to enter hospital property. They are also informing their patients about the protesters and letting them know about alternative entries to the hospital. Te Mahoe staff are, as always, going out of their way to ensure patient safety.
I spoke to one of their staff members today and let them know that I would be happy to organise volunteer escorts to help patients get safely to their appointments, help block the protesters from sight if needed, and offer anything else the unit may want. The surprise in the staff member’s voice was heartbreaking, and their gratitude was not needed.
It is basic human decency to protect access to a key health intervention without trauma, guilt, politicking or having to listen to a pack of people chanting at you.
New Zealand has very serious issues with abortion law, access and opposition. We are not so far removed from the United States culture of anti-choice intimidation and violence.
40 Days for Life are also organising vigils outside Auckland Medical Aid Centre on Dominion Road, and the staff and patients of abortion services in both cities are going to need lots of support and solidarity until April 13, when Lent is over. Here’s hoping this kind of evangelical, insensitive and badly targeted protest ends there.
I feel really strongly that the point of this anti-choice protest is to disrupt access, so anything anyone does in support of these services and their patients should be to help enable ease of access and reassure patients, rather than create a counter protest. Most people wanting to access the abortion services want to be able to do so free from ideological clashes and with as little notice as possible. Pro-choice protests are absolutely vital, just not outside healthcare facilities.
I’m suggesting to Te Mahoe that we could provide a ‘Messages of Support’ noticeboard in the patient waiting room to allow people to contribute words of solidarity throughout the ’40 Days of Life’ and into the future. The Unit is going to let me know if they’d like this, and also if any escort or volunteer help is needed.
If you are keen to be a volunteer to support Te Mahoe patients in Wellington, comment here, or send me a tweet.
Please also consider supporting the Auckland Medical Aid Centre on Dominion Road.
UPDATE: Wellington Hospital staff have said they don’t need any help for now, but thanks to everyone who has offered ❤