EDITORIAL NOTE: In preparing her recent article on abortion law reform (available to view here), EJP Content Contributor Rebecca Hallas had the opportunity to interview Jan Logie MP regarding the Green Party’s policy on abortion. Released in the build up to the 2014 election, the Greens’ policy was met with fierce criticism by opponents of liberalised abortion laws. The full text of Rebecca’s interview with Jan is reproduced below.
As an apolitical organisation, EJP extended the opportunity to be interviewed by our volunteers to all parties represented in Parliament at the time of writing. Only the Green Party replied to our invitation. Any other parties or organisations that wish to be interviewed on this issue should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview with Jan Logie MP (List, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand)
Conducted by Rebecca Hallas in Auckland on May 1 2015
Rebecca Hallas: What motivated the Green party to introduce this policy? What are the problems with the current law on abortion?
Jan Logie: Ah, so big question. I guess there were several motivations. One principle motivation was women’s right of control over their bodies, and bodily autonomy. Also I guess, one of the triggers would have been the CEDAW recommendations [the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women] and us looking at our obligations under international law, and the inconsistency of our law in this area. Our policy is actually quite, I think, a comprehensive policy, in looking at all aspects of reproductive and sexual health rights. So it’s about increasing access to contraception, it’s about taking abortion out of the Crimes Act, it’s about ensuring that counselling is neutral, so not pushing people to go into an abortion which may not be what they want, and also the reverse of that; not pushing people into not having one when they don’t want to, and increasing supports for people who want to have a child, but don’t feel that the social conditions would enable them to do that.
For readers who may not be aware, could you explain the contents of the policy and what it would change? Are there any common myths or misconceptions about what the policy involves that you would like to dispel?
So I guess I’ve kind of covered that. But I guess a bit more specifically, the key bit is to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, which it is [in] at the moment. In New Zealand, the grounds to be able to access an abortion require going through two certifying consultants, which can actually mean people seeing up to five medical professionals. Because your first doctor is probably not going to be a certifying consultant, so they can refer you to somebody else, and it can end up being five different people. And the length of time that that can add to people being able to actually get the abortion, can push people over the line; [from having] a medical abortion, which is where you take a pill, to a surgical abortion, which is under general anaesthetic.
It’s a bit more intimidating.
Yeah, definitely! And you, know the physical consequences of that, it’s significantly different. There’s a whole lot of differences. The [legal] procedure at the moment is actually increasing the number of abortions happening later into the pregnancy, and I can’t see how anyone would think that was ideal. So the law at the moment, it’s in the Crimes Act, and you’re seeing two certifying consultants. And they approve your eligibility on grounds of mental health, or… and I can’t remember it off the top of my head, terrible wording… the foetus being “subnormal”? It’s disgusting. It’s really outdated, disabling language. So we believe the legislation really needs to be updated, and we need to get that [language] out.
Even if decriminalized and legal barriers are removed, there may still be de-facto barriers to accessing abortion faced by women of lower socio-economic backgrounds. For instance the necessary ultrasounds and blood tests prior to the actual procedure require time off work and funds that many New Zealand women do not have. Under the Green party’s health policy, there is a commitment to helping people with low socio-economic status. How might the Green party assist women of lower socio-economic backgrounds when paying for the costs associated with abortion?
The more appointments you require the more expensive it is. The more restrictions [e.g. seeing two certifying consultants] there are on access to the medical abortion, then you’re more likely to have to go further to be able to get it. So changing those things would make it more accessible in the first place for women on lower incomes. And then beyond that I think we need to be doing a consultation with women, around kind of nutting down what the barriers are and how we can remove them.
While abortion is a safeguard for women, being in an unwanted pregnancy is always a difficult situation. What are some ways the Green party proposes to prevent unwanted pregnancies in New Zealand? Specifically, how do you intend to target the deeper social causes of unwanted pregnancies, such as poverty, sexual assault, and poor sex education?
I mean actually, there are more reasons that lead to unwanted pregnancies as well, in terms of just a sense of control and purpose in your own life, to use contraception. We’ve got a very clear focus in our policy on access to information and making sure that’s culturally appropriate, and we’ve got some work to do in our schools, in terms of ensuring consistent and useful education around sexuality, and decision-making, and consent, as well as contraception.
When you say ‘consistent’ – I went to a public school and a private Catholic school, and the difference in sex education was huge. Are Catholic schools legally allowed to offer different types of sex education?
Yes, they are. This has been in the spotlight recently, in response to… I’ll use the shorthand even though I really hate it – the ‘Roastbusters’ case, around the need for education about consent. So the Ministry of Education has been working on guidelines for schools. There was one media story that came out where I was like, wow they’re going to be bringing in these guidelines for schools around what is appropriate for teaching around sexuality… but it turns out they’re going to be voluntary. So it’s not going to change that fundamental difference [between schools] we have at the moment. And I’ve experienced that directly when I was working in youth health and going into schools to tell students about our free confidential service, and access to contraception. This Catholic school would only let me talk to the assembly if I promised not to mention contraception, which I agreed to. But then when I mentioned the fact that the service was confidential… that was so concerning to them that they wouldn’t allow me back. So that’s the degree of unhelpful control that the schools have, and we have no concept of – we’ve signed these international documents and declarations around sexual and reproductive rights, and the right to information, but actually we are not delivering on that right.
You are currently the only political party in New Zealand with a clear policy stance on abortion [available to view here]. What do you believe might be preventing other parties from creating their own policies on abortion?
This is pure opinion, and conjecture really. The Prime Minister, what did he say?
He said that he thinks it [the law] is fine currently.
Yeah, and I know the Labour Party’s policy, or what they were promoting was for it to go to the Law Commission? That was my understanding.
That sounds right. I thought they were going to review it but weren’t really confirming anything.
It could be a mix of two things. One, there’s going to be different views within the parties, because there are different views in society on this. But also, I suspect – which I’m hoping might change – they’re worried… there was an interesting discussion on Radio New Zealand a couple of years ago, they were having a discussion about, well if you start to change the law, if you open it up, there’s the potential that it will become more regressive and oppressive. Because, this battle was really hard fought, to get this. And I think some of the women that were involved in the fight to get this, they are worried we might lose it. That’s my most generous analysis around why other parties might be scared. But in terms of the response to our policy, there was a very concerted campaign to attack it, that came from the likely sources. But the initial response, before that campaign of misinformation, was, the response in the media was like – what are you kidding? It’s in the Crimes Act?
Yes! Everyone I have spoken to was not aware that it’s currently in the Crimes Act.
Yeah! So actually, my view is, that the response to our policy indicates that it’s not going to be as difficult a public debate as some people might think it would be. I believe, that what came out of that, is that a majority of New Zealanders think it should be out of the Crimes Act.
I noticed on the Green party’s Facebook page there was some backlash, but it tended to be after there was some fear-mongering from pro-life groups. Aside from that I think most people just aren’t actually aware it’s technically illegal.
Yeah, and that’s what I’ve taken from it. I really think it was a very concerted attack, and that’s going to happen, but it was on a point of misinformation, which I think could be dealt with.
The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) recently published a report finding that over one-sixth of New Zealand women have to travel long distances in order to receive first trimester abortions. Furthermore, they found that Maori women were traveling some of the longest distances to access the procedure. Under the Green party’s Maori Issues Policy Summary, there is a commitment to ensuring all Maori people have better access to health services, and under the Green party’s Health Policy summary there is a further commitment to healthcare being available at the earliest possibility, as well as equitable health outcomes for all. How can we rectify the current situation, which has left Maori women travelling some of the longest distances to access abortion?
The first step is to take it out of the Crimes Act, remove the need for those two consultants. Because then this [abortion] can be done quickly and safely, with an easy point of access. Our policy is also to increase access to Family Planning Clinics across New Zealand. So I think there are some quick, easy things we could do to improve that situation.
The Green party defines health as: “A state of physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of disease or infirmity”. How do you believe decriminalizing abortion will positively impact the physical, mental, and social well-being of Kiwi women?
For those women who are accessing abortions, or who are wanting to consider it, this would definitely improve their mental health. Because it would ensure they have support and they don’t have this terribly long waiting period worrying if they’re going to go over the time limit, and even moving over [the time limit] from medical abortions to surgical abortions, and just that undue stress… as well as the physical toll for themselves of not wanting to be pregnant and being pregnant, that’s a really difficult situation. So it will have a positive impact in that sense, it will also, I believe, have a positive impact on the people around them, and most closely related to them. But also, there’s a fundamental point around health, and control over our bodies, and the fact that currently, women’s agency is removed from them by law, by the state. This, I think, undermines health, because to be healthy, we need to have a sense that we have control over our bodies. And this law removes women’s control of their bodies. And for me, this is on a spectrum of violence against women. Because violence against women is enabled by this belief that women don’t have the same rights, don’t have the right to bodily integrity. And here we have a law that says women don’t have the right to bodily integrity. And [this law] is also founded on the suspicion of women, where in the debates at the time, they specifically ruled out rape as a grounds for an abortion because they couldn’t trust women, because – ‘oh, women will just say they’ve been raped to get an abortion’.
Yes. I was shocked when I found that out – that rape was not grounds for an abortion?
And it was not overlooked, it was a conscious decision not to include it as a grounds.
Do you have any concluding statements?
I do, just around some of the complexity of it. Just to address that campaign of misinformation, which was pro-life groups saying we were promoting abortion to birth.
That was a bit extreme.
It was quite extreme, and it was not correct. Because what our policy does is, it decriminalises it, and where our policy is at the moment is, after 20 weeks, we’re not looking at changing the threshold from where it is at the moment. Post-20 weeks, the status quo would apply, which is technically on the grounds of a threat to life. But there are legitimate concerns around current practice in relation to post-20 weeks. Particularly in relation to, if the child is known to have a disability. I’ve heard from people working within clinics that those are currently treated as the ‘good’ abortions, and that’s completely unacceptable. Which is part of the reason, in our policy, we’re wanting to ensure that there’s increased support and education for parents if they’re considering an abortion on the grounds of disability. And that there is also education in the medical system around rights and international obligations in relation to people with disabilities. We need to remove that medical culture that says having a disability is a terrible thing. And we are trying to fight against that in this policy, as well as we are trying to promote women’s bodily autonomy.
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