Irish abortion scandal echoes here

23:18, Nov 19 2012

The most chilling part of her death was what she died of. Septicaemia. Like a great number of the women who succumbed to complications after illegal abortions, Savita Halappanavar perished last week because, under Irish law, she was refused a legal one. A Catholic country decided killing her was preferable to allowing her the right to terminate her pregnancy. Little wonder the so-called "Pro-Life" groups have fallen silent (albeit temporarily).

Let's not duck the issue. Savita Halappanavar died because, in Ireland, the state controls the womb. Every sperm is sacred. Women are effectively farmed, like some sort of nationalised livestock. Once impregnated, they're legally obliged to continue with their pregnancy whether they want to or not. Choice is not up for debate. Not so different, then, than what most of the anti-abortion groups are agitating for in New Zealand.

And before you say, "oh well, that could never happen here" - think again. It already has. A few years ago a woman died in Wellington for want of an abortion. Pregnant women are still required to put themselves through the hoops in order to obtain a termination; often they're forced to lie about their motives to satisfy the criteria. That's because abortion is still a crime in New Zealand under the Crimes Act, albeit with a few pointed exemptions.

Everywhere you look, extremists and fundamentalists are trying to deny women access to abortion services. The tactics of anti-abortion protesters in Southland are a case in point. Outraged at the creation of a termination services centre at Southland Hospital, the group has descended to intimidation and bullying; vowing to publicise the names of all those who participate. And readers wonder why I once called them "batshit crazy"?

These are the people who would kill the Savita Halappanavars amongst us. These are the zealots who, so deluded by their own personal belief system, would put the rights of a cluster of cells ahead of the rights of the women who carry them. The folk who would have the state force women to continue with pregnancies against their will; who would push abortions services underground. Bottom line? They're fighting for the right to harm women.

As much as some of us like to consider New Zealand an "abortion on demand" country, in truth we're a long way short of that. Women seeking abortion services are being obstructed at every turn by busybodies with personal ideological agendas. The threat to name those providing services at Southland hospital is just another indication of this. Intimidating and threatening health professionals can only lead to more Savita Halappanavars.

In contrast, the people in New Zealand who should be made to identify themselves for the greater good are those GPs who, because of their personal convictions, are not prepared to refer women to abortion services, or even to other doctors who would. They should be forced to reveal themselves as compromised. No woman should ever be denied a legitimate health option because of her doctor's arbitrary, individual beliefs.

Hopefully, Savita Halappanavar's death will resonate with Kiwis. She's the latest example of why we shouldn't only dismiss the claims of our own anti-abortion lunatics, but make termination services more accessible for women here. No longer should it be deemed, for any reason, a crime. No longer should women be made to run the gauntlet to qualify; no longer should we allow medical staff to be harassed in the course of their duty.

Yes, Savita Halappanavar died unnecessarily. But her death doesn't need to be meaningless. At the very least, we should remember her as a monument to what "Pro Life" groups really stand for.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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