Addressing Family First

Whoops! Apparently I saved this when I meant to publish it, and was thinking all night I had left you with something to read. Apologies if anyone missed it. 😉

Firstly, a little background. Family First is a well-funded lobby group that is not declaring itself political for EFA purposes this election, and is focusing on issues-based campaigns. It takes a traditionalist judeo-christian outlook on family life and lobbies for legal concerns to do with that. The two recent examples have been its campaign opposing Green MP Sue Bradford’s member’s bill to repeal §59 of the Crimes Act, which had been used to successfully defend extraordinary cases of child abuse involving beating kids with hose piping.

Family First has stepped into the new abortion debate as well, with a press release criticising the Abortion Supervisory Committee. We should note that until this week’s ruling by Justice Miller, the Committee had every reason to believe it did not have the authority to act on these subtle breaches of the word of the law.

As a result, approximately 18,000 abortions are performed every year

First, a word of clarification- medically speaking, “abortion” refers to any fetus delivered while not viable, regardless of whether it is deliberately done so or not, which can be confusing as the term used casually is actually a lot more specific. In looking for statistics of what we mean when we usually debate abortion, we want to look for induced abortions, which refer to abortions that have been deliberately performed with the consent of the mother, and not through injury, sickness, or just natural miscarriage.

In 2006 we were just about a hundred short of the 18 thousand mark mentioned, according to Statistics NZ, and this was the figure for induced abortions, and I’ll freely concede that it’s likely we’ve passed that amount by a little in 2008. I’m happy to be able to congratulate Family First on using the appropriate figure, and hopefully anyone else joining the debate will show the appropriate level of care on this, too.

and since 1991, the number of 11-14 year olds having an abortion has increased by 144%

Their statistics detailing percentage increases are also mathematically correct, although spun for impact. If I were to tell you that 52 more girls aged 11-14 had abortions in 2006 compared to 1991, you’d react with slightly less alarm. Overall, only .09% of 11-14 year-old girls have an induced abortion. (That’s about a .03% rise since 1991) That’s nine in every ten thousand girls. In a culture where many girls that age are increasingly sexualised by media and society, don’t know or may not care about sexual education1, birth control, sexual consent, or sexual independence, and certainly have not had enough time to really absorb the lessons that may have come their way already, that is still remarkably low, even though it has increased significantly.

That’s even ignoring the fact that most women getting abortions are in their mid-twenties. Family first is ignoring the forest for the trees quite deliberately.

“Abortions being performed at greater than 12 weeks has increased by 220%, despite all the pictures and scans we are seeing showing the fetal development of the unborn child,” says Mr McCoskrie. “These images are obviously being kept hidden from some of the women seeking an abortion.”

Yes, “obviously” the best conclusion is that the ultrasounds are being kept from women in some sort of conspiracy, because all women apparently want ultrasounds, and apparently any woman that can recognise a fetus will be compelled by motherly love to carry it to term. The attempts at emotional manipulation here are shockingly transparent. When you make conclusions from statistics, you need sound and direct evidence, even for a theory. This isn’t even a theory- this is pure speculation. We can only hope that paragon of journalism, the Herald, doesn’t pick this line up, too. If you want to prove these images aren’t being shown, you need testimonies from people who have expressed interest in such images but haven’t been allowed to see them.

On that topic… I’m even more amused that it’s a man making this press release. While I accept that men have a place discussing gender issues, especially where it impacts us directly, I accept that women need to be the drivers of issues that primarily effect them, and that it’s their opinions that matter where their bodies and rights are on the line. It took me quite some time to get completely sold on the whole pro-choice thing- partially because abortion is an issue with so many unknown and complicated factors. Given that, I want to hear from women who have had abortions who think our laws and policies need to be enforced more rigidly, and why they think that. How many members or supporters of Family First actually have personal experience in the matter? If you’re going to interfere with that type of policy, it’s generally wise to have people with practical experience in an influential position to look over your ideas. How much impact do women who have had abortions have on Family First’s abortion stance?

“The high numbers of abortions (despite all the supposed safe sex messages and availability of contraception), and now this ruling, confirms that the Abortion Supervisory Committee continues to fail both women and the unborn child.”

Firstly, their figures only confirm that the Committee is failing to prevent unlawful abortion.2 It does not confirm that the abortions that happen are wrong, only that they do not unambiguously meet the word of the law. A law can still be bad, (for instance, this one is very unclear, and talks about “serious” danger to mental or physical health. Try to define “serious” for me unambiguously and without border cases or matters of perspective influencing the decision) and this law is a social law that has not been updated for about thirty years. If we were in a similar situation for gay rights, we’d still be imprisoning people for daring to have sex with people they’re attracted to for another eight years or so. There has essentially been a sort of unspoken cease-fire going on here, in that on the one hand, people advocating choice in these matters largely haven’t spoken out during that time, and on the other hand, people advocating further restriction haven’t tried to influence the legal process.

Apparently our cease-fire is over, especially given that recent comments in the Herald from Right to Life are implying that any reduction in the number of abortions is necessarily a good thing, despite the continually growing population and consumption pressure on the planet, the increased prices of basic goods, and the treatment of women like objects, and the possibility that these women had legitimate mental or physical health reasons to abort is sad. It would be nice if Right to Life would acknowledge that now and then there might be an abortion that’s justified.

As for their insinuation that safe sex and contraception are failing to reduce these figures, perhaps they might then join us advocates of contraception and sexual education in trying to make multiple types of birth control more universally available and adopted, encourage further development of birth control methods, and generally try reducing the factors driving abortion rates in the first place rather than restricting availability? I feel the failure is not contraception itself, but the fact that it’s not being used universally or often enough, and that it’s not being used redundantly. I’ve blogged before that comprehensive sex education, even without easy access to contraceptives, reduces incidence of teenage pregnancy significantly, and actually decreases incidence of teenage sex, too. I would like to know why they seem to think it is a hopeless cause for significantly reducing teen abortion rates.

Family First NZ is calling for a law which requires informed consent (including ultrasound) for all potential abortions

An ultrasound is only required for informed consent in cases where a woman doesn’t actually know or comprehend what a fetus is and that it is reasonably close to a baby in physical form. Educating both women and men on this in the first place would be a better option, and any qualified doctor approached about abortion is going to try to make sure their patient has all the facts. If our goal is to reduce unnecessary abortions, we should not wait until women are pregnant, and we should start by giving her the tools and knowledge she needs to avoid pregnancy in the first place. Even then, many abortions are completely unrelated to development of or attachment to the fetus and have to do with mental health issues, and I think this is much more likely to be driving the figures FF is protesting- mainly, that there are some women who literally would not be able to cope as a parent and see no way out. Supporting these women and giving them options is the answer, not pidgeonholing them with restrictive legislation.

and counselling to be provided only by non-providers of abortion services.

If we are to insist that, we should just generally insist on all abortion counselling being non-partisan. Which is basically mandating good counselling practice in the first place, which is why all counsellors have supervisors. I’d like to see some good evidence this is needed. Family First seem to be strong on emotive statistics at the front of their press releases, but weak on justifications for their extended policies. Show me the bad counselling. Give us testimonies from women who are upset with the fact that they were counselled by someone who provided an abortion service.

Parental notification of teenage pregnancy and abortion should happen automatically except in exceptional circumstances approved by the court.

There are huge issues with this. Firstly, there are teenagers that have trouble telling their parents that they had a party without them knowing. How is a young woman who is panicing about being pregnant and sees abortion as her only way out going to react knowing that she has to tell her parents to go forward? Why is it not parents’ jobs in the first place to encourage this kind of trust themselves? If you want an environment where you can help your daughters through difficult decisions like this, you need to demonstrate to them that you’ll advise them on their decisions, not try to make them by proxy, which is exactly what mandatory notification encourages. I see no effort to cultivate this type of parenting from Family First.

Secondly, what about abuse cases? It’s scary enough coming forward as a young girl or teenage woman as a rape victim, but to have to worry about your parents thinking you’ve consented to unprotected sex? What if it was her father who abused her? This will merely stop teens from getting the help they need to deal with their pregnancies- and sometimes, yes, that is an abortion. Rape and abuse leave a woman or girl under no obligation to continue their pregancy.

Thirdly, exceptions to be approved by the court? That’s even worse than telling their parents. Even if such a process were to work under the condition of anonymity- how many teenagers would really understand that? How many of them would just hear “court” and think they were being judged like criminals? How many would need the assistance of the counsellors Family First seems skeptical of in order to get over that initial reaction? Why should we even put teenaged girls and women through that in the first place?

Fourthly, “teenaged” includes women who are legally sexually independent of their parents. The age of sexual consent in New Zealand is sixteen. Why should parents have a right to interfere in their child’s sexual sovereignty after they are considered legally sexually independent? Unless the meaning of the word “teenage” has suddenly morphed overnight, Family First has three years of independent female sexuality that it is trying to put into the hands of parents, and I think that’s fundamentally wrong from a human rights perspective, regardless of any practical issues it might also bring up. Once a child is recognised as having the ability to manage their own affairs, there is no justification for a parent to be notified about them.

Ironically for an organisation called “Family First”, they don’t seem to grasp the fact that the teenage years are when children need independence from their parents in order to discover and develop themselves. Children aren’t beautiful because they’re untarnished nostalgic innocents, and abortion isn’t some moral crime that sullies them forever. It’s their independence as adults that makes children so beatiful and worthwhile in the first place- the yearning for that independence is the passion and joy that lies underneath every smile, every milestone as they grow up. It’s why they laugh so much when they discover how to walk, it’s why they cry and throw fits when they’re punished, it’s why healthy children celebrate their bodies, and it’s even why teenagers have sex, whether we like it or not.

1That’s even assuming they’ve not had their right to sexual education vetoed by their parents.
2I’ll freely admit that there are likely a significant number of abortions going on that Justice Miller will regard as unlawful, especially as only about 20% of abortions could be accounted for as rape even compensating for notorious under-reporting of rape by assuming every reported crime resulted in an abortion, it seems unlikely that other serious mental and physical health issues could fully account for the other 80%. Of course, I think the wording of our abortion laws restrict abortions that could protect the mother’s health, or be socially beneficial, and they foster an attitude to women and mothers that reduces them to objects, who lose their say in pregnancy once it is started, so maybe that accounts for the fact that I’m willing to be honest with the fact that I’m quite happy for people to flout the word of the law with tacit permission from doctors and counsellors.

3 Responses

  1. If our goal is to reduce unnecessary abortions, we should not wait until women are pregnant

    well, we could try to reduce abortions for those who are not pregnant, but as far as I know, no women who is not pregnant has had an abortion, so that wouldn’t be very effective . That’s because only pregnant women can have abortions..

    <Edited italics into blockquotes. -Ari.>

  2. One reduces abortions before women are pregnant… by reducing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, Dave. 🙂 Easy and free access to emergency contraceptives, promotion of and education about birth control options, free/convenient condoms, advocating development of further male contraceptives, removing the ability of parents to veto their kid’s sex education- all very easy ways to support women and men to make decisions that avoid unwanted pregnancy, and largely ought to be measures that people on either side of the abortion debate can get behind.

  3. <I’ve approved you to comment for now, but please don’t post comments that consist entirely of links without establishing their relevance. Consider this strike one of two. 😉 -Ari.>

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