From Crime to Care: the History of Abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand – book launch

From Crime to Care - the History of Abortion in New Zealand - book cover

My latest book From Crime to Care will be launched at at 6 pm Thursday 9th  February in the Atrium of the Auckland Medical School (Faculty of Medical & Health Science), 85 Park Road Grafton

From Crime to Care presents the history of abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand from pre-colonial times to the present, weaving in stories and experiences from key people on both sides of the debate. After the first abortion clinic opened in 1974 there were protests and pickets, and the issue shaped our politics in the 1970s. Moral crusaders, activists, legislators, abortion-providers and many others put their reputations and sometimes their lives on the line to do what they thought was right.

The abortion struggle serves as an illustration of our changing political and social landscape, with a public move from conservative towards more liberal values. Finally, after 180 years, abortion in Aotearoa is a health rather than a criminal concern. However, the issue continues to divide people, and events in the United States have shown how quickly change can occur, with their Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and several states banning abortions.

Retail price $39.95, publishing 9 February 2023 ISBN:   978-0-473-66306-03 F

Format: 229 x 152 mm (portrait), 254 pages, paperback plus 12 pages of black & white images (insert)

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5 thoughts on “From Crime to Care: the History of Abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand – book launch

  1. fgsadmin

    Media about the book:

    Wairarapa Times-Age Wairarapa’s blackout on abortions by Grace Prior
    PUBLISHED January 21st

    Between 1840 and the 1950s, abortions were illegal in New Zealand – they were commonly referred to as “back street abortions”.

    A government inquiry in 1937 found that at least one pregnancy in five ended in abortion and that the majority of women dying from illegal abortions were married with four or more children.

    In the late 1930s, the right for a woman to receive an abortion, if her life was in danger, was extended by a court judgment.

    However, abortion was still strongly disapproved of, and many doctors refused to perform the procedure.

    The New Zealand Family Planning Association eventually opened its first abortion clinic in 1974, but soon after it’s opening, it was raided by police and forced to close.

    The association had been operating since 1936, but battled public sentiment that contraception was obscene.

    Its first contraception clinic opened in Lower Hutt in 1951, and others followed in Auckland.

    When the contraceptive pill became available 10 years later, married women had a reliable form of contraception.

    Many women who lived through the era remember the abortion debate flaring up in New Zealand in the 1970s.

    Felicity Goodyear-Smith was a general practitioner and certified consultant for abortions during the 1980s, initially practising in Freeman’s Bay, Auckland. She assessed women who had been seeking an abortion for almost 40 years.

    She recently published her book, ‘From Crime to Care: The History of Abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

    Family Planning said large numbers of women flocked to Australia for abortions. In New Zealand, abortion could only be considered at less than 20 weeks.

    Goodyear-Smith said some of those women had been suicidal.

    The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act came into law in 1977, allowing health practitioners to provide abortion services to women who were less than 20 weeks pregnant.

    After a pregnancy reached 20 weeks, a woman would only be allowed an abortion if the pregnancy put her health, mental health, or wellbeing at risk.

    The procedure would need to be signed off by another doctor.

    Goodyear-Smith said the law had been aimed at destroying Aotearoa’s only abortion clinic, Auckland Medical Aid Centre, which had been set up by Rex Hunton.

    In February 1983, the abortion debate hit home for Wairarapa women when then Wairarapa District Health Board [DHB] medical superintendent Dr Leo Buchanan voiced his opposition to abortion.

    During his five-year tenure, Buchanan refused to renew the abortion licence and planned to invoke conscientious objection as the debate made its way out of the board room and into the community.

    As a staunch Catholic, Buchanan had been an executive member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children before joining the DHB.

    His opposition to abortion raged within the DHB, resulting in his eventual refusal to sign an abortion licence for the board in 1987.

    This forced the board to seek a discretionary judgement from the High Court on whether Buchanan could avoid holding a licence under the conscientious objections provision of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.

    The licence was renewed in Buchanan’s absence.

    Buchanan refused to sign the newly-acquired licence, and not a single abortion was performed between April and July 1987.

    The Times-Age reported women leaving the region to have an abortion procedure.

    Goodyear-Smith said that women would travel from Wairarapa and other parts of New Zealand to the three main centres to a clinic to have an abortion, but most went to Auckland.

    “It’s quite disruptive; just to have an abortion, they’d have to travel the length of the country.”

    She said when there were financial barriers to travel, women would end up having babies when they would have preferred to have an abortion.

    Goodyear-Smith said DHB’s would often pay for women to travel to a clinic.

    It was unclear if Wairarapa DHB had funded travel while the hospital did not have a license.

    Buchanan issued his resignation in July 1987, earlier that week, the board had just decided to appeal to High Court.

    Support for Buchanan’s stance came from members of the public and St Patrick’s Church Parish.

    In an excerpt from the book Helping Hands – The History of Wairarapa Health Services, then-board member Trish Taylor said she was vilified by the Catholic weekly magazine, ‘The Tablet’, for standing her ground.

    “Dr Buchanan refused as a Catholic to seek a new licence, and the controversy attracted major media attention and polarised the community.”

    The book reported a special mass was held at St Patrick’s Church in Masterton and a public meeting occurred at Chanel College in support of Dr Buchanan’s stance.

    Quoted in The Tablet, Taylor explained she was a Catholic and personally did not support abortion but that “the matter was not about whether you support abortion or not, it’s about whether or not to provide a legal service in a public hospital”.

    “It is a matter of principle to have an abortion licence.”

    Buchanan said in his resignation announcement that the catalyst for his departure had been his “exercising honest beliefs” about his responsibilities as holder of the hospital’s abortion licence.

  2. fgsadmin

    FIRST PUBLISHED at on FEB 8, 2023

    When abortion swayed elections

    Felicity Goodyear-Smith looks back at just how political the issue of abortion was in New Zealand

    On Wednesday March 25, 2020 New Zealand moved to nationwide self-isolation in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Unless essential, there were to be no face-to-face primary care consultations.

    I work full-time as a professor of general practice at the University of Auckland and by then my only clinical role was certifying consultant at an abortion clinic, assessing whether women seeking abortions had legal grounds, a role I have had since 1981. Fortunately, on that Wednesday I no longer had to worry about carrying out what can be sensitive consultation with women by video call or over the phone.

    The day before lockdown the Abortion Legislation Act had come into force on Tuesday, 24 March. The Act decriminalised abortion, making it available without restrictions to any woman under 20 weeks pregnant. With that the role of certifying consultant had ceased to exist, Fortuitously, my job had disappeared after 40 years.

    It was a job that was largely about trying to make bad law work, and a role established when a woman’s decision on whether to have an abortion was an issue that swayed elections and elected prime ministers.

    In the 1970s, abortion was a crime unless there were medical grounds. Abortions were often approved only to preserve the life of the mother. Few women seeking abortions were able to get them. The first abortion clinic in New Zealand (the Auckland Medical Aid Centre, AMAC) opened in 1974, operating on the edge of the law – that a woman may suffer potential physical or mental harm should the pregnancy continue.

    The anti-abortion Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) sprang into action. SPUC’s moral crusade involved enlisting MPs as members, and a drive for mass membership assisted by the Catholic and other churches. Members attended rallies and wrote letters to their MPs condemning abortion as murder. SPUC leaders met with then prime minister Norman Kirk in July 1974 to discuss legislation that would force the clinic to close. Kirk was an anti-abortion champion; his wife Ruth was SPUC’s patron. Kirk’s sudden death the following month did not deter SPUC.

    Armed with affidavits from SPUC members, in September 1974 the police raided AMAC and seized all 500 confidential medical files. Women who had had abortions were confronted by police at their homes or workplaces, often in the presence of family or colleagues unaware they had had an abortion. Abortionist Dr Jim Woolnaugh was charged with 12 counts of illegally procuring an abortion, where the police considered the grounds social rather than medical. Woolnaugh was eventually acquitted in November 1975.

    At the same time, a Labour MP and SPUC member Gerard Wall introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Hospitals Act, restricting abortions to hospitals. Despite protest, this Bill was pushed through Parliament by Kirk’s successor Bill Rowling without the usual scrutiny by select committee and was enacted in September 1975. By this time, AMAC had purchased Aotea Hospital in Epsom, and continued to operate, despite protests, threats to staff, and arson attacks. The Act was so badly constructed it was subsequently declared null and void legislation.

    Abortion was the key election issue in November 1975. Prior to the general election, SPUC conducted active campaigns against MPs who had voted against the Hospital Amendment Bill. Church congregations and the general public were encouraged to vote on the basis of the candidate’s attitude towards abortion. These tactics worked, and National Party leader Rob Muldoon, who opposed abortion, became prime minister.

    Rowling had set up a Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion in June 1975. Its hearings were dominated by SPUC, who employed Queens Counsels who aggressively interrogated pro-abortion witnesses, so anti-abortionists received a relatively easy time. The Royal Commission’s report in November 1977 made a raft of recommendations aimed at reducing the number of abortions taking place. This formed the basis of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, positioned within the Crimes Act.

    Abortions were now more difficult to procure. Women seeking abortions had to see their doctor, two certifying consultants for assessment of their legal grounds, and then an operating doctor. An Abortion Supervisory Committee regulated these certifying consultants, and abortions could only take place in institutions licensed by the committee.

    The committee refused to license the Aotea Hospital and with the clinic closed, for two years the Sisters Overseas Service helped women travel to Australia for abortions. The committee struggled to appoint certifying consultants. Doctors were confused about how to interpret the new law. SPUC doctors unlikely to approve any abortions were appointed, and consultants who certified too many abortions were not relicensed the following year.

    After two years, AMAC was licensed and re-opened. Slowly, public clinics were set up in main centres, and certifying consultants appointed who approved abortions on the grounds a woman’s mental or physical health would suffer should her unwanted pregnancy continue. For 40 years, health providers have found ways to make this bad law work. Pro-abortion groups such as the Abortion Law Reform New Zealand were reluctant to rock the boat, in case we ended up with a worse law.

    In 2020, the law finally caught up with the view of abortion held by the majority of New Zealanders. Abortion, along with issues like homosexuality and euthanasia, became accepted as the decision of the individuals concerned rather than morally prescribed by the state.

    Which is not to say that the issue had gone away. As recently as the leaders’ debate prior to the September 2017 general election, Labour leader Jacinda Arden told anti-abortion prime minister Bill English that abortion should not be in the Crimes Act. She and her government were as good as their word. The 2020 Abortion Legislation Act no longer falls under the Ministry of Justice, instead it is in the domain of the Ministry of Health, where it rightly belongs.

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