The problem with judgements

The US Supreme Court is being asked to rule on the Texas measure that bans abortion after about...
The US Supreme Court. Photo: Reuters
I didn’t know anyone at school who’d had an abortion. One of the most popular girls in the year above got pregnant and had the baby. Adults dripped pity in her direction - talked behind her back about how she’d ruined her life and to her face about what a great job she was doing, writes Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
I saw this and I was scared. At university a housemate of a friend went to get an abortion which, shock horror, she knew how to do because, shock horror, she had had one before. Adults dripped judgement in her direction but I was an adult now, wasn’t I? And I had learned these judgements.

I had also learned that I didn’t agree with them. Having an abortion was a lot better idea than having a baby you didn’t want, I thought. Though I also knew (thank you small town religious upbringing) I was not supposed to say this out loud.

It wasn’t until maybe 15 years after it happened that I thought about revisiting my own abortion story out loud for the first time. I was fortunate enough to be MCing at The Weaving House conference in 2016 and I listened to Dame Margaret Sparrow speaking about the history of abortion rights (and wrongs) here, and to Terry Bellamak talking about the work of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) to take abortion out of the Crimes Act. At dinner afterwards, I listened to a table full of incredible activists talking and one thing that was talked about was the importance of sharing our stories. Which, I didn’t, not right away, but I’m learning. I know that might seem like it’s ancient history now, but the brutal abortion bans that mean pregnant people are dying in Poland right now, and the repeal of Roe vs Wade in the States last week remind me that history is/our stories are of course relevant.

In my case I didn’t know that the law as it was written in Aotearoa New Zealand was not how it was interpreted. There I was, in Thailand, on my way to my new life here. And accidentally and unwantedly pregnant. I dialled up the rusty traveller internet of the very early 2000s and it told me that abortion in New Zealand was only possible if two doctors certified that I was medically unfit to be a mother. This seemed very difficult to co-ordinate, somewhat unlikely to be able to prove and also very unreasonable and rude that there would be a record of me somewhere as medically unfit to mother because I thought that maybe in the future I wanted to have children just not this child not then. So that was not an option. I waited long minutes over dial up internet sounds. I found out that Singapore has had legal medical abortions since 1969. Because I had some savings, some access to information and some support (though I did spend the afternoon after my abortion being sympathetic to my then boyfriend for his headache which may have been from all the heavy red flags he was carrying around but who knows) I was able to arrive in Aotearoa unpregnant. It didn’t occur to me at the time that these were extraordinary lengths to go to. It didn’t occur to me that I deserved compassion or support.

The response last week to the overturning of Roe vs Wade has me dripping in heart and in fear (with a slight twist of annoyance at the yet-again US-centrism, but I love it how local commentators are turning to what we can learn for our laws here). Heart because I know people growing up here who have believed all their lives that abortion is a medical right and they have language for that and law that now supports it. Fear because of bold opposition to bodily autonomy that is also being expressed. (Dude! If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one. But jog on and let the people who do, access one in peace, OK.)

I don’t think this means we’re going backwards into some more fundamentalist controlling world. I think it means we’re in danger of going forward into one. Yes, the internet is so good now that it took me 0.51 seconds to access more than 30 million results about the availability of abortion in Singapore when I was fact checking my story to work out just how legal mine was back then. But internet searches just like that one can and have been used against people seeking abortions where they are no longer legal. And the gap between people who do have the money and tools and support to seek any kind of health care, and those who don’t, is only getting wider. And this, for what it’s worth, is my story.