Last night Amy Adams, who is resigning from parliament after 12 years later this year, addressed the House during the third reading of the Abortion Legislation Bill. The historic bill would go on to pass 68-51, removing abortion from the Crimes Act and making it legal to self-refer for an abortion up to 20 weeks.
Abortion legislation is, of course, deeply personal. Over the last few days and weeks we’ve heard very personal stories from all sides about how it affects not only members of this House but the people they know and love, and it’s no different for me. I have sat with and held the hand, over my life, of women that I know and love who have had to make an incredibly difficult decision to have an abortion.
I have seen them face the delays, the difficulties, the struggles, the judgment, and the abuse, frankly, and feel marginalised and criminalised because of our law, and that is not OK. I am very proud that in my last few months in this House, I get to be a part of – hopefully – putting that right for women today.
I’ve heard a number of people in the House, particularly of those who are supporting the bill, be at pains to say that they respect the rights and the views of everyone in this House and that their views in the debate are all valid. Interestingly enough, I haven’t heard those views expressed much by the voice of those opposing this legislation. I find it somewhat staggering that those who preach freedom of expression and religious tolerance the most are the least tolerant of those who are supporting this legislation.
If religious leaders in our community want to do something about unwanted pregnancies, then perhaps they could stop teaching that contraception is a sin. That would go a long way towards advancing the views and the rights of women.
It is not an easy topic to tackle, but after 44 years, it is well past time for this bill to pass. It is time that our law was changed so that it isn’t outdated and incredibly paternalistic. When this law was passed, there were only four women members. In fact, there were more men called William in this House than there were women MPs. The fact that it has taken us until now to relook at this isn’t acceptable, but at least we are here today.
The current law is incredibly flawed, and I have found it difficult to listen to those who have claimed that there’s no problem with the framework as there is. I would respectfully suggest to those people that they should get out and talk to and hear from some of the women that we heard from in the committee, and not just the women but their families, their doctors, and their counsellors, who told us time and time again about how difficult and traumatic and needlessly heartless this process was.
To those who are voting against the bill: if you’re true to your word and this isn’t just an opposition to abortion, full stop, then recognise and hear from the women who are telling you that the current law is not serving New Zealand women well. We are now behind so many countries in the world. A country that prides itself on being a world leader in women’s rights and equality and fairness and justice, and we have now let ourselves fall behind. So when speakers ask if my conscience will be clear tonight, my conscience will be absolutely clear. In fact, I will feel proud to have done my bit to stand up for the women in New Zealand.
I’ve said in this House before in my contributions that I have an absolutely innate view that parliament needs to stay out of the medical and personal decisions of women’s lives. Women have an absolute, inalienable right to control their bodies and their reproductive systems. It would be utterly unconscionable for any woman to be forced to have a child she doesn’t want. It would be unconscionable, and it would not be the right thing for that child.
I’m very happy to brand myself a feminist. I’m very happy to stand up for the rights of women and to respect the autonomy of women, and I will continue to do that. I trust women. I trust women. I trust them not to make the sorts of irresponsible decisions we’ve heard thrown around this House as examples of what might happen.
Women do not wake up late in their pregnancy and have just changed their minds for no reason. Women do not callously throw away a much-wanted pregnancy because of a difficult diagnosis. Any number of women will come and tell you – and did come and tell the select committee – exactly that.
I also understand the role of doctors in this. Doctors are not mindless automatons who’d go along with anything. Doctors have to satisfy their own conscience, their ethics, their professional obligations, and their Hippocratic oath. They make these decisions very carefully, and only when they’re appropriate clinically and ethically.
This House doesn’t belong in those decisions. We don’t do it for any other medical decision. We shouldn’t do it to express control over women’s reproductive rights.
I want to touch for a minute on the issue of safe zones, because I am disappointed that this House, late one night last week, took them out of this bill. It’s not the biggest part of this bill, but I do not accept that this is policing speech. What I’ve seen happen personally and have heard stories of actually amounts to psychological abuse and torture, and I don’t think any woman seeking the help that she needs in making such a difficult decision needs to be abused, intimidated, and threatened.
I’ve even heard stories of members of this House being threatened in a number of ways, which I won’t detail because of their own privacy, because of their views in this House. If that is the mechanism by which the anti-abortion protesters operate, then they don’t deserve the right that we would normally expect in terms of protest. I would support safe zones, and if I have the chance to support them in another forum, I will again.
I do think that we need to trust women, as I’ve said, and yet we’ve heard people in this House say “yes, we need to trust women,” but then say they’re going to be voting to take those decisions off women. It isn’t right. It is time for this House to understand that women have the right to control their bodies, and this House and our lawmaking does not have the right to intervene in that.
I think those who are voting against this legislation are out of step with New Zealand. I think this House is in grave danger of becoming far more socially conservative than New Zealand, and we do a disservice to New Zealand when we get out of step with the views of New Zealand. Like many of you, I take a lot of time talking to my community in my constituency. I represent a constituency that wouldn’t be regarded as urban liberal by any stretch of the imagination, and I can tell you that the strongly held majority view is: why wouldn’t we pass this legislation? It seems a no-brainer to so many, and yet we run the risk of allowing a vocal minority – largely, in my view, directed by the religious leaders across New Zealand – to derail important legislative reform.
In my last few minutes, I want to pay tribute to Dame Margaret Sparrow and others who have advocated tirelessly for this reform. It is time, I hope, as a majority across this House, to get this work done. I want to vote for this legislation in the belief that it will mean for women, finally, that they won’t have to face the shame, the delays, and the lack of equity of access to receive a service that every woman in New Zealand is entitled to have, without this House making that decision for her.
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