Updating the abortion law is a women's rights issue

Last updated 10:57 21/03/2017
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We have come a long way in empowering women, but outdated abortion laws prove we have not come far enough.

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Editorial: Is it time to update New Zealand's abortion law? Dave Armstrong: Abortion law not just archaic but hypocritical Karl du Fresne: The minefield that is abortion law ACT leader David Seymour calls out the government on its 'archaic' abortion laws Prime Minister Bill English won't 'liberalise' abortion law Hundreds of Kiwi women told their abortions were 'not justified' Narelle Henson: Overhaul of abortion laws overdue Forty-year abortion law, described as 'offensive', in fact still good, says Government

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Are women equal in NZ?

Updating the abortion law is a women's rights issue I'm a carer in a society that doesn't value us Male Zealand: We live in a sexist country

It was with mixed feelings that I watched John Key step down as Prime Minister last year.

My first thought was, "I bet he's done it now so he doesn't have to deal with Donald Trump!"

Although I could never really make up my mind if I liked him or not, I certainly have no ambiguity about his successor, Bill English.

I'm not a fan - he's far too conservative for my tastes. But I was willing to give him a chance to grow into the role, right up until he allowed his personal beliefs to cloud his political judgement.

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I'm talking about the abortion law. And since English made his own views clear, it's become a major talking point in New Zealand.

The debate has always been there, it's always been polarising, and in recent weeks it has taken centre stage.

There have been numerous articles on Stuff and in other media quoting politicians from both sides, with National's own Paula Bennett and Amy Adams saying there's nothing wrong with the law as it stands.

As Minister for Women and Minister for Justice - and both of them women themselves - I am deeply disappointed in them for taking the easy way out.

I do truly wonder how they might have reacted had Bill English been pro-choice. If they are kow-towing to their leader over an issue of such significance and importance to women, then shame on them.

Everything is wrong with the law as it stands.

To criminalise women over what is essentially, crucially and fundamentally a health issue is outrageous.

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I'm not even going to get into the outdated language.

The law needs to be completely scrapped from the books, removed from the Crimes Act and totally redrafted from scratch as a female health (physical and mental) issue, by women, for women.

I am a feminist and proud to be.

However, I've always prided myself on trying to balance my feminist views against what should be an equal, humanist society.

In other words, I'll always speak up for and support women's rights, because women have had to fight hard for them, but the ultimate goal should always be that of equality between genders.

In saying that, when it comes to abortion, it should always be a woman's choice.

Women are the ones on whom it has the greatest impact.

I'm not saying that men are unaffected by unwanted pregnancies, or that they don't suffer from the decision to terminate them. But in the end it is still the woman who will endure the pregnancy and give birth. And if she does not want to, then no one should force her to.

I volunteered for Women's Refuge for two years, and in that time I saw many cases that would support a woman's right to choose. They include:

- A 13-year-old girl, who had only had three periods in her whole life, raped by a stranger and pregnant as a result. A violent, brutal man forced himself and a pregnancy on a child.

- A 17-year-old girl, raped by her uncle, pregnant as a result.

- Several women who attempted suicide when they found out they were pregnant, because they could not handle the pregnancy as well as the violent circumstances of their lives.

- Women who successfully committed suicide.

- Several cases of women who were pregnant as a result of their husbands/partners raping them, or who at least were too afraid to deny him sex in case they got a hiding. Many of these women already had more children than they could care for, who were being abused by their fathers. In one case, she was badly beaten when he found out she wanted to go on the pill, because the more kids she had, the more money he got from social welfare.

Anti-abortionists will argue that cases like this are extreme and rare, but I can tell you without hesitation that I came across far, far too many of them.

And even if they are rare, what's your point? You still believe that abortion is wrong under any circumstances, so why bother with the frequency of rape and incest?

That's always the stock-standard answer any anti-abortionist will give you - those are rare cases.

It doesn't happen too often, as if it doesn't really matter for the small number of women who do have to deal with it.

But they won't actually tell you what they honestly feel if it happened to their daughter, or their sister, or their friend.

They can't bring themselves to say that a 13-year-old child should be forced to deal not only with the trauma of being raped, but with the trauma of a pregnancy that she is not only physically, psychologically and emotionally unable to handle, but one that resulted from that rape.

So when this article is published, and the comments begin, those who are opposed to abortion will not attempt to provide an argument for the above circumstances.

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They will instead focus on the foetus, and not on the body that's being forced to carry it.

They will not acknowledge that in those cases, a woman has become pregnant through no fault of her own, and certainly against her will.

They will argue that even though the choice to become pregnant or not has been taken from her, her choice to continue with the pregnancy should also be removed.

They will argue that what matters to her does not, in fact, matter.

These people lack the courage to put themselves or their loved ones into any of the above "extreme and rare" cases, and to then answer honestly.

But what about cases that are not extreme? Just a plain old everyday unwanted pregnancy.

Those, anti-abortionists will argue, are what we focus on. Those are the largest number, the most common.

And they're right. They are. But if a woman has become pregnant and she does not wish to be so, then it is her choice and her right to terminate the pregnancy.

It is her body, her life.

She will be the one most impacted by carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.

Not the man who got her pregnant. Not the people who insist on forcing their views upon her. Not the politicians who are afraid to even consider updating an archaic law.

What I would like to see, other than an overhaul of the abortion law, is far more education around sex, contraception and women's self-esteem.

Girls need to learn from a young age that they don't have to have sex in order for boys to like them, and that when they are ready, contraception should be freely and readily available.

I would like to see invisible contraception such as injections and IUDs provided free, so that women in abusive relationships (that they are not ready or able to leave yet) can at least prevent unwanted pregnancies.

In other words, I would like to see women taking more control over their own bodies and their own futures.

If they are educated and understand how and where to get contraception, and if they are confident enough to take control over their sexual decisions, then I promise you, the number of abortions will reduce.

But unwanted pregnancies will still occur, mostly in the violent ways I've outlined. And when they do, women still need to have control over their own bodies - in those cases, more than ever.

We have come a long way in empowering women, but outdated abortion laws like New Zealand's are proof that we have not come far enough.

And that Bill English has more in common with Donald Trump than New Zealand would probably want in their Prime Minister.

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