The Dominion Post

One less thing to shame us

- Verity Johnson

When I heard the news about the proposed changes to our abortion law, due to be read on Thursday in Parliament, my response was a long, exhausted sigh of, ‘‘finally!’’ I know a lot of people, largely those who’ve never had/thought about getting an abortion, won’t understand why it’s such a big deal.

And that’s reflected by the attitude of previous government­s, which until now have felt distinctly complacent on the issue. They said the right things about it being the woman’s right to choose, but never really much more than that, preferring instead the classic Kiwi tactic of, ‘‘well, the status quo seems all right and who wants to poke that sleeping dragon’’.

And that’s fine if you don’t have to get an abortion. But if you do, you quickly realise the current system can make you feel like shit. Because while the status quo allows abortion, it also allows the culture of shame around it to fester. And that’s why we need law reform.

The removal from the Crimes Act is a biggie. There’s still so much internal struggle over the decision to get an abortion. Even if a woman knows it’s the right thing to do, she’s still likely to be grappling with a deep sense of societal-inflicted shame and self-doubt. And so turning up to the doctors and being reminded again that it’s technicall­y a criminal act only compounds this.

So by taking it out of the Crimes Act we’re sparing women yet another subtly shaming experience.

Not to mention sending a clear signal to society that the Government doesn’t consider this a moral experience, rather an individual’s health matter.

And that’s a powerful step towards taking some of the moral hysteria out of the public debate, and creating a more balanced, less heated decisionma­king environmen­t for women.

The ability to self-refer to an abortion provider is also incredibly important. Under the status quo, women make a decision mostly after intense soulsearch­ing, only to have this all dragged up again with the first doctor and again with the second. It’s exhausting. And it would only likely increase selfdoubt as it made you feel your decision-making ability is being questioned, as though it’s not quite good enough for you to decide on your own . . .

Plus, no-one wants to have a difficult medical decision drawn out. When you’ve made up your mind about your body, you want to be able to act swiftly without rejustifyi­ng it repeatedly.

Allowing women to self-refer lets us feel as though this is our decision on our own terms, rather than feeling we have to justify it to two random (albeit medically approved) strangers.

Last but not least are the importance of safe spaces for clinics.

While our popular images of abortion clinic picketing are from the United States, as Justice Minister Andrew Little referenced in his speech, it does happen here too. And while it might be worse in the US, it’s still important to women here to know the Government takes this seriously.

I’ve written before about how young women are living in an age when it doesn’t feel very safe to be female. So seeing the Government take a step, any step, towards preventing any of the harassment and shame thrown at women is reassuring.

Especially in a global environmen­t where it feels as though women’s rights, and even human rights, are slipping backwards.

What we want is a society where women feel both unashamed and supported in their own choices. We don’t have that yet, so that’s why we need this.

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