British Honours recipient challenges abortion laws

CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 05:00 02/01/2012

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A Wellingtonian lauded in Britain's New Year honours list for her work on sexual health has called for a closer look at New Zealand's abortion laws.

Gill Greer, 67, has been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her work on sexual health for women and girls around the world.

She was the director-general of the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation – the world's biggest sexual and reproductive organisation. Second only in size to the International Red Cross in the health field, the IPPF operates in 170 countries and served 33 million clients in 2010.

On learning she was to receive the honour, the one-time head of Family Planning in New Zealand said: "It was a great surprise and I was really overwhelmed by it. I think it's a real recognition that the UK government sees issues of health, particularly women and girls' health, as being absolutely critical, to human rights and development issues."

After working as an English teacher for 20 years at Queen Margaret's College and Wellington Girls' College, Dr Greer went to Victoria University to teach New Zealand literature. Later she became the director of student services at the university and assistant vice-chancellor.

After heading Family Planning for eight years – for which she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 – Dr Gill moved to London to take up the IPPF job. She returned to New Zealand two weeks ago, her contract with IPPF having finished.

"I was hugely proud to be a New Zealander during my five years there because I think while we don't always get things right, we've made an effort to do a number of things differently, particularly with human rights.

"Having said that, inequalities persist everywhere. I'm very aware that I'm just back ... but it seems to me we still have major issues with child abuse in this country and these are often linked to poverty and generational disadvantage.

"We also still have serious issues in relation to violence, particularly sexual violence."

New Zealand's unplanned pregnancy rates remained high, as did rates of sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia.

She also believes the current abortion laws need to be examined.

"A system which requires women to tell their stories several times over and still sits under the Crimes Act seems to me to be one that needs a review."

Comedian Ronnie Corbett, actress Helena Bonham Carter and broadcaster Clive James were also among the 984 names on the British 2012 honours list.

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- The Dominion Post

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