The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Category Archives: Reproductive Justice

Today in Researching the Bleedin’ Obvious

Well, who would have thought?

Free birth control led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births, a large study concluded Thursday.

From a huge study in the United States

I’ve never been able to understand the mindset of people (read, the Catholic Church hierarchy) who condemn abortion, and in the same breath, condemn contraception. Yes, I know that the Church’s arguments can all be held together by some cant about respect for life, or openness to life, or some such thing, but it just seems bleedingly obvious that if you want to minimise abortion, then one easy way to do it is to make sure that women have easy access to effective contraception, of their choice.

That choice bit is important. Our Minister of Social Welfare is keen on getting beneficiaries to use long term contraceptive implants, to stop all the slappers from breeding. But in the US study, women were offered a *choice* of contraceptives. When women could choose, when they were empowered, rates of unwanted pregnancies dropped dramatically.

Of course, it’s much harder to control women when they have choice…

Abortion is a woman’s moral choice, not a crime

I have a column in the Dom Post today, about abortion.

Abortion is a woman’s moral choice, not a crime

Why the level of surveillance? It’s because we don’t trust women to make decisions for themselves. Abortion has been treated as a matter of morality, but instead of allowing the people concerned to make moral decisions, we have insisted that they get opinions from other people first. …

When we deny women the right to make decisions about abortion for themselves, then we deny women’s autonomy. We say that women are not capable of making moral judgments, and that they are not autonomous adults.

The War on Women hits New Zealand

There I was, watching Newt Gingrich losing his shit in the Republican primaries, calling women sluts, and wryly smiling about the infamous all-male panel on contraception. I fell in love with Obama all over again. And I was all smugly, well, we women in New Zealand are so lucky, with our relatively easy and cheap access to contraception.

Aren’t we? AREN’T WE? Yeah, well, until the Government comes along and decides that it doesn’t like poor women, and their grubby little oiks, and so it’ll Put A Stop To That.

Now, if you follow me on Twitter, you may know that this has made me very caps-locky, swearingly, rantingly angry. I will try to be slightly more reasoned here, but I can’t promise this post won’t descend into me ANGRILY BANGING MY HEAD AGAINST THE KEYBOARD.

So. Some thoughts.

1. Why is this even a welfare issue?

Yes, all women should have access to safe and cheap contraception. And the way we know how we’re getting safe contraception is by talking about it with our doctors. Not our WINZ case managers. In fact, via Nikki:

In making an informed decision about contraceptive use and choice of method, all
women, including young women, must be provided with full and unbiased information about all of their options, including the expected risks, side effects, benefits and costs. This is provided for under rights six and seven of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights.” From Women’s Health Action‘s paper on welfare reform

So, why is this coming from welfare? Why is Paula Bennett not involved? (If you think you can stomach listening to her, she is here. TLG is not responsible for any damage to your desk or computer from the repeated head-banging.)

Because why? Because poor women are bad and evil and shouldn’t be costing the taxpayer more than they already are! God. Why are they even pretending this is about contraception? It’s about pretending to save money and stopping poor people from having more babies. Because I don’t know if you got the memo? But poor people are bad.

Will WINZ staff be educated in contraception, and advising people on how to get it and what they might need? Will it be explained what an IUD id, and how it works, and what the benefits and side effects might be?

Let’s be clear. If we actually want to do this, to increase access to contraception – especially for young people – then it should be universal, available to any gender, and not based on income.

2. Oh, but come on, aren’t you laydeez overreacting? “Being able to access” is not the same as “have to use”.

Well, first of all, we’re not talking about condoms here, sunshine, we’re talking about long-term IUDs and hormonal implants. So, this has long-lasting effects for the women who choose to “access” it. Five years is a long time, particularly in a woman’s reproductive life.

Secondly, if you don’t think WINZ staff would ever pressure someone into doing something like this, then you’ve never been on a benefit. WINZ staff are required to push policies like this. If you don’t think WINZ staff intimidate and coerce their clients, you are remarkably naive.

And thirdly? What’s to stop them, in a year, turning around and saying – you didn’t take the opportunity for the contraception, so we’re docking your benefit. Oh, you got pregnant while you were still on a benefit, so we’re going to punish you by making you go back to work early. OH WAIT. THEY ALREADY DID THIS.

Being on a benefit isn’t a measure of how clever or moral someone is, and this policy is fucking patronising. Nor, given the fact it will be aimed at women and their children, is it hereditary.

3. Um, there’s this other person involved? I think he’s called Dad.

(Big sloppy kiss to whoever can tell me where I stole that line from.)

Why is this being aimed at women? Why are free vasectomies not being handed out? Or giant bowls of condoms on the front desk at every WINZ branch?

Is it really appropriate for a government to target young women for long-term contraception? If the Government really wants to address these issues, why is it not putting money into much more comprehensive sex education, better, cheaper and easier access to healthcare, and many, many more employment options? Or is that just not punitive enough?

This is only scratching the surface – have at it in the comments. And Deborah has a great post at her place.


Welfare “reforms”

The National Government is no friend to women. They cancelled the pay equity research into social workers and school support staff within the first few months of their election to power. They dissolved the Department of Labour unit that oversaw that research. They reduced the Ministry of Women’s affairs into a tiny, cloutless office (that despite their meagre staff and budget still produces incredibly important work). They have continued to ignore the Education Review Office’s recommendations to improve sexuality education in this country.

They appointed Pansy Wong as their first Minister for Women’s Affairs (her pet project was getting more women into trades. Not, you know, paying women more in the roles their already doing). They appointed Jo Goodhew as the next Minister for Women’s Affairs, who voted against the abolition of force as a justification in smacking, for defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and for appointing a strongly anti-choice doctor to the Abortion Supervisory Committee. And now they’re “reforming” benefits that are primarily used by women.

These new “reforms” are aimed at the poorest of families, aimed at mothers raising children alone. And they’re masked by the rhetoric of “those who can work, should”. Because apparently, raising children doesn’t count as work.

For many sole parents in this country, if you want to raise your child full-time, then the DPB is your only option. Oh sure there’s parental leave, if you happen to be employed. Of course that’s providing you’re not self-employed, and you’ve been at your job long enough, and there’s no restructuring at your workplace. If you pass those requirements, then after the pitiful partly-paid three months that one parent is afforded by the parental laws, your job will be held for 12 months. Then you’re on your own. So you better have a shitload of savings.

For couples, on the surface our parental leave laws appear gender-neutral, with the ability for one parent to swap their 12 months leave with the other. If you don’t, your partner gets 2 whole weeks unpaid leave to be with you. But given that mothers are ideally their child’s source of food for the first 6 months, and not very many workplaces allow for infants to be present, mothers tend to be the primary carers at home. Even for couples, you either need to have savings, or one partner who earns enough to pay for you, your child, rent, food, utilities and everything else that comes with starting a family.

So our workplaces and social constructs tell us that women should stay at home and be caregivers, and our maternity leave tells us that you must have savings (or a partner to support you) to take the full allowance, and even more savings (or a partner to support you) if you want to raise your child full-time after that.

If you don’t fit that very narrow criteria, and need state assistance, our new welfare “reforms” will ensure your family planning is decided for you. And if you don’t play ball, you’ll be punished.

The changes involve parents on the DPB being made to find part-time work once their child turns 5, and full-time work once their child turns 14. Because remember, caregiving isn’t work. But the real kicker is that if you get pregnant while on the DPB, you have to find work when your youngest child turns 1.

Don’t even think about expanding your family. Unless you want to be forced back into work. Work that might not suit you or your family’s needs. Work that might not fit your skills or experience. Just work, any work at all, because you’ve broken the rules.

Despite the fact that we’re at crisis point with a lack of jobs in this country, your expectation to find work trumps your family planning decisions. Because supporting families is not a good investment for government money, apparently. And you should have known better than to get pregnant while taking money from the government.

The government dabbling in family planning decisions extends to the point of the Ministry of Social Development investigating long acting reversible contraceptives for women receiving the DPB. I know this through a few sources, and it was also recently mentioned by Jan Logie.

On the surface this actually seems really great. It would be amazing to see the government invest more in sexual health and contraception. Except, hold on, why are they only investigating providing this kind of support to people receiving welfare? And why is the contraception they considered providing, the kind that doesn’t rely on people remembering to take it? On top of their new “reform” to punish beneficiaries who breed, it kind of seems like they’re trying to stop poor people from having babies, doesn’t it? Oh hang on that’s exactly what they’re fucking doing.

Parents on the DPB (which, in case I haven’t made it clear enough, could be pretty much anyone who isn’t lucky enough to have a partner and/or fuckloads of savings when they have a child) have the added bonus of raising the child alone if they don’t want to go back to work. If they meet someone and get into a relationship with them, they lose their welfare. Have I mentioned they also live on fuck all each week? Oh and this all occurs within a society which is lead to believe (often by right-wing politicians) that beneficiaries decide to have children as some life investment so they can milk this amazing lucrative system we have.

When people like the National Council of Women put out press releases that state these “reforms” are a “move in the right direction”, and when people are iffy about the punishment part of the changes, but not welfare-recipients being forced to get a job when their child hits 5, then we have work to do. If caregiving isn’t seen as legitimate work, then everyone is going to continue to have to meet that narrow, incredibly privileged criteria in order to have the family lives they want.

When are we going to start investing in our families? Really investing. Not just Working for Families schemes, not just minimal paid parental leave, not “flexible, family-friendly workplaces” in principle, but tangible support for people who don’t happen to have investment accounts. Support that doesn’t come with a close-your-legs-clause, or a time’s up countdown, or an allowance for only one parent to take time out of work. Support that says hey if we’re going to suddenly get really worried about this country’s children we should probably invest in them and their families, huh?

Dammit, Twitter!

Twitter has been down for me for nearly an hour. This is problematic for me, because it means I go and look at other things on the internet. And because I am stupid and unable to control myself, that ends up with me looking at Garth George’s latest piece of editorial excellence.

First of all, to George’s imaginary “pro-life” friend. The New Zealand Green Party is not the Victorian Green Party. You understand we don’t actually live in Australia, right? I mean, feel free to go live there, we’d all be happier, I think. You can make friends with Tony Abbott, and leave New Zealand women the fuck alone.

Second, that “sinister hidden agenda”? Pretty comprehensively spelled out on the Greens’ website. The Greens have had well signposted private members bills on all kinds of things reprehensible to you, Garth. Have you not been paying attention?

And you know, they increased their portion of the vote markedly in this election. Has it occurred to you that a bunch of people agree with them? And that New Zealand First, your supposed foil for the Greens might too? Possibly not Richard “Ban the Burqa” Prosser, but certainly the delightful Ben Craven who appeared on behalf of NZF at Ladies In The House, was pro-choice.

And lastly, what they have in Victoria:

It provides that any woman can demand an abortion for any reason. The Greens in Australia also support same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, and an education system which teaches that homosexuality is normal.

sounds like FUCKING PARADISE. You don’t like the “murderously liberal humanism”? I can not stand your fucking creepy interest in the contents of my vagina and womb. I can not stand the way you think you have the right to control what I do with my body. The way you think your right to a legal union is more important than my friends’. You say

Improvements to the economy, health, education, infrastructure and communication are all very well. But it is decisions on these humanitarian issues which will ultimately dictate the shape of our future society.

And you know what? I will fight until I am as old and out of touch as you are, so that those things you hate – you know, equity, tolerance, acceptance, BASIC FUCKING HUMAN RIGHTS – are part of that future society.

Other than the DPB question, there was no overt discussion of women’s issues in the Leader’s Debate.

Like say pay equity, or women’s over representation in low paid and unpaid jobs, or the fact that 16,630 women underwent a procedure which is still in the Crimes Act last year, or the fact that 1 in 4 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetimes.

Just, you know, a few minor things.

Is there a right to choose C-sections?

Cross posted

Women could be given right to choose Caesarean birth

The National Health Service in the UK is considering giving women the right to choose a c-section, even when there is no medical need. That seems appropriate to me.

My reasoning goes like this. Yes, caesarians are risky, as all abdominal surgery is risky. However, mere risk alone is not enough to disallow particular activities. If it was, then none of us would ever be allowed to get into a car. Even high degrees of risk are not enough to rule out activities, such as studying volcanoes (volcanologists, especially those who study erupting volcanoes, have a very high death rate).

You might argue that caesarians can cause harm to a woman, but again, choosing an activity that causes harm to yourself is permissible. As it turns out, delivering babies vaginally can cause harm to women too, as women who have spent years and years doing Kegel exercises will tell you.

Perhaps we might worry about harm to the baby, but that only comes into play if we ascribe moral standing to the baby, and treat women merely as receptacles of precious objects. It does seem to be the case that babies are at higher risk of complications if they are delivered through a c-section, but in order to use that as a reason for refusing c-sections, we would have to say that the woman’s role in pregnancy and childbirth must be to be the best possible bearer of babies. That is, she is not important, and only the baby is important. If a woman says that she wants the best outcome for the baby, then it would be appropriate to take the risks to the baby into account when determining whether or not to have a caesarian, but only in the sense that in order to achieve the outcome she wants, that is, factors militating against that outcome must be considered.

We might be concerned about whether a c-section is medically necessary, with the underlying assumption that no medical procedure should be undertaken unless it is medically necessary. But if that’s the case, then there goes the entire plastic surgery industry, including plastic surgery or reconstructive surgery. Of course, we can defend plastic and reconstructive surgery on the grounds of psychological need, but in that case, the psychological needs of women preparing for childbirth need to be considered too, and those psychological needs may well be met by planned c-sections.

Following on from that, perhaps women choose c-sections because they are concerned about the process of labouring and delivering a baby. If that’s the case, then the answer is to provide more support for women who are preparing for childbirth, perhaps in the form of counselling and education, not just to prohibit one option for giving birth.

On the financial side, if planned c-sections are more expensive than other forms of childbirth, then given that the National Health Service in the UK is funded by taxpayers, then we might have some concerns about cost, both for the caesarian itself, and for the on-going care of mothers babies. However, it seems that allowing women to choose a c-section would just formalise existing practice, whereby women who want a c-section can already arrange to have one. Formalising the practice might well be preferable, because it would at least reduce the capriciousness of the health system, whereby women in one hospital might be able to access c-sections, but women in another might not, just because of differences in attitude.

In general, we tend to think that if someone has considered all the relevant factors, and chosen to engage in a particular activity (such as going bushwalking by themselves in the middle of winter), then that is their business. We might deplore their choice, but we don’t stop them from doing it. And if they get into trouble, we pile in resources to help them. I think that the same approach must be taken with respect to childbirth. Setting aside the matter of cost, if a woman wants to have a c-section, and she has considered all the issues, then that is her business. In fact, even if she hasn’t considered every last detail, we should still not put barriers in the way. To do otherwise is to treat women as though they were children, dismissing their fears and concerns, and telling them that they just don’t understand and that really, they had better just let the grown-up doctors and nurses and midwives make the decisions for them.

Judicial sense on abortion

Cross posted

Just under three years ago, a judge in New Zealand agreed with Right to Life New Zealand that many abortions in New Zealand might not be lawful. Right to Life NZ had argued that:

the Abortion Supervisory Committee had failed to properly interpret the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, so “full regard is given to the rights of unborn children”.

Under New Zealand law, two consultants must authorise any abortion, and they must do so on grounds specified in the Crimes Act 1961. That’s right. Abortion is a crime in New Zealand, unless you meet certain criteria. One of those grounds is concern for the mental health of the pregnant woman, and as a matter of practice, that’s the box that’s usually ticked in order to enable women to access abortion. It’s an ugly compromise, and not even one that works very well. But three years ago, thanks to Right to Life NZ, and a judge in the High Court, even that compromise was under threat. We all thought that it would be back to the barricades on abortion.

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