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Feminism, Financial hardship, Mental health

MY BODY. MY CHOICE. PART TWO.

This is a followup post to MY BODY, MY CHOICE – yesterday’s story regarding my friend who has been denied the right to remove her contraception.

I’m so grateful for everyone’s responses to this story. Understandably, some of you questioned whether I had my facts straight – whether perhaps myself or my friend had heard wrong or misunderstood.

Unfortunately, the story is correct. She was told by a doctor that they did not want to remove her IUD, because they felt that she should not have more children (she already has a son).

I’ve been informed that the doctor is acting with their rights to say this. There is no law that compels a doctor to perform an elective medical procedure. In which case, I may have been wrong to say it is illegal for them to deny her the removal of the IUD.

However, if not actually illegal, it is still horrific. They still denied her a medical procedure based on their evaluation of her social, mental, and financial circumstances.

My friend is working through the Health and Disability Commissioner website, and figuring out what she’d like to do. Thank you to everyone who has shared their knowledge with me, and engaged in the conversation so far.

CHOICE IS VITAL

Since I started writing on this topic, several of you have shared your abortion and contraception stories with me. I’m so humbled by your bravery.

I haven’t had an abortion. I don’t know the details of the procedures, or the law. This is not meant to be a conclusive, evidence-based piece, though of course I’ve done research.

This is about providing a voice for those that might otherwise be silenced. I hope that giving them my words will help, in the same way speaking out has helped me process what I’m going through. Injustice needs a mouth. Awareness needs to be raised. Basically, it’s the least I can do.

What struck me about all the stories I have read is CHOICE. In every single story, women felt like their choices were limited, or that they were being judged for them or forced into choices they didn’t want, or that they had to jump through hoops to say the right things in order to be able to be given the choice they wanted.

The basics

  • Abortion is still illegal in New Zealand, unless you can convince at least two medical professionals that you fit the below criteria.
  • There is no law that forces women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, but many DHBs mandate it. (ALRANZ info here).
  • It is law to be  offered counselling before having an abortion.

This is from Young Labour, who stand for abortion law reform:

Section 182 of the Crimes Act 1961 makes abortion an offence punishable by 14 years in prison.

The exceptions to this crime are listed in section 187A. They are:

  • Serious danger to the life or to the physical or mental health of the mother.
  • Risk that the child would be severely handicapped, physically or mentally.
  • Pregnancy as a result of incest or unlawful sex with a guardian.
  • Severe mental subnormality of the mother.”

YOUR STORIES

Anna* was 14 when she had an abortion. Despite this not being law, she was told that she could not leave until she signed up for one of three contraception options – an implant, IUD, or injection. She was given the injection, and told “this won’t happen again now, will it?”

Sally* got pregnant after a condom broke. She knew immediately she didn’t want to be pregnant. It took four weeks to see a consultant, and additional time for the counselling sessions and other tests. She felt like she could only give the answers doctors were looking for, in order to be given the choices she wanted.

What strikes me most about telling you about this, is how I had to make sure I was giving the “right” answers at each stage of the process.  Had to be sure I wasn’t too mentally ill to have the pill.  Had to make sure I was ill enough not to be pregnant – but not so ill that it would raise other alarm bells!  Had to figure out that having a heavy period meant I would get the Mirena for free.  It was a very delicate tightrope to be walking at a very stressful time.

When Tania* had her scan, the nurses were very respectful and didn’t press her to look. However, she felt forced into an STI check, which was rough and uncomfortable. When she had her procedure, she felt like she was treated “like a piece of meat” and there was a lack of care from everyone involved. She suffered for weeks following. She cried telling me this story.

There’s a blog for women to share their experiences – abortionnz.tumblr.com. (I encourage you to contribute, if you can). Here’s another woman talking about choice:

“At the moment, I’m feeling really scared. I’m worried about protestors, having to wait a long time between day one and day two and having to have a medical rather than surgical abortion. I’m worried that the people at Te Mahoe will be uncaring. Most of all, I’m worried that they’ll say I don’t fit the criteria and won’t let me get an abortion.”

I’m not telling these stories to scare anyone. I’m definitely not telling them to put people off getting an abortion. I’m not telling them because I think this treatment is systemic. I believe that there are many, many caring doctors and nurses providing an incredibly necessary service.

I’m writing this because the status quo sucks. Women should not have to jump through bureaucratic hoops, and be shamed, to access medical treatment that is our right. If abortions were legal, and freely accessible across New Zealand, perhaps this wouldn’t be true. If all contraception options were freely accessible, and not surrounded with subjective moral cultural baggage, perhaps this wouldn’t be true. If more indepth, relevant sex education was provided in our schools, perhaps this wouldn’t be true.

Again – how many times can I say it? MY BODY. MY CHOICE. 

More reading

ALRANZ post on mandatory ultrasounds.

NZ Abortion Law: more hoops than you can throw a Tux wonderdog at (Ideologically Impure).

Don’t pretend that Texas is the place with the abortion problem (Coley Tangerina).

Abortion Services NZ website. 

*All names changed.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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