Women don’t own their bodies, apparently

Think New Zealand women have control over our reproductive rights? Think again. 

Yesterday, Stuff broke this story – ‘Contraceptive device inserted without consent.’

The headline speaks for itself, but here’s the intro “An Auckland woman was unable to have children because a doctor inserted a contraceptive device in her uterus without her knowledge.”

The woman was trying to get pregnant. She had to suffer not knowing why she couldn’t. The IUD was inserted in 2010 and not discovered until 2013.

The Auckland DHB described this is as “brief inconvenience” and denied wrongdoing until an investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner found both them and the operating surgeon to be in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights.

New Zealanders seem to live in a haze when it comes to reproductive rights. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell people that abortion is illegal here. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to discuss difficult access to contraception.

Before the election, I wrote a column about healthcare, and the Green’s Valuing Women Policy (the only one of its kind).

From the Green’s press release:

Abortion is currently a crime under the Crimes Act. It is only legal if two consultants agree that the pregnancy would seriously harm the woman’s mental or physical health or that the fetus would have a serious disability.

“The Green Party trusts women to make decisions that are best for them and their whānau/family,” Green Party women’s spokesperson Jan Logie said.

“The Green Party believes the time has come for New Zealand to take an honest approach to abortion, to treat it as the health issue it is, and remove it from the crime statutes.

“The fact that 99 percent of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds and that rape is not grounds for an abortion reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation.

“By keeping abortion a crime, New Zealand has created an unnecessary stigma around abortion that has led to delays, erratic access to terminations depending on where you are in the country, and unnecessarily late terminations.

“Decriminalisation will reduce the stigma and judgement that surrounds abortion, and enable abortions to be performed earlier in pregnancy, which is safer for women.

When this policy was released, Nicole Skews wrote this great post: ‘Some things to remember when discussing decriminalising abortion.’

It’s a good list. Read it.

I wrote this on the blog at the time:

“I want to talk a little bit more about the Valuing Women policy. I didn’t really want to get too personal in the column, but, basically, motherhood is something that has been on my mind. It’s something I always assumed I would be able to do “one day,” if I wanted to. With my recent diagnosis and much more awareness of my genes, well… it may not be that straight forward.

That means that things like contraception and abortion are even bigger on my list of considerations. (TW here). For example, if I got pregnant now, the likelihood of me being able to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby feels pretty low. I don’t know the actual statistics, but I know how unwell I am. And I know what my genes are. So I want to know that I can prevent that from happening. And if a pregnancy did occur, that I could have the option of doing what is safest. At the moment, that option is still considered a crime in New Zealand.”

I now know that having a baby is perfectly possible with my illness, it just makes things a little more complicated. And those complications could still mean that abortion would be the better option.

Despite the fact I have an increased chance of having the “pregnancy would seriously harm the woman’s mental or physical health or that the fetus would have a serious disability” that is currently required for an abortion, I’m still denied some contraception options.

Some of you may remember last October, I wrote about my friend’s doctor refusing to remove her IUD on the grounds that she was mentally unfit to have a child. This was despite the fact that A) She was requesting the removal, which should alone be enough, B) She already has a child and is a good mother – and who are they to evaluate this?, and C) She had all the symptoms of pregnancy at the time. She wanted the IUD removed because if she was pregnant, it posed a risk. Two weeks later, she miscarried.

I don’t think these stories are uncommon. We need to talk about pregnancy, we need to talk about abortion, we need to talk about contraception. We need to talk about female experiences, without penalty and without judgement.

This is not an “over there” problem. It’s here, and it’s one we can fix. The first step is awareness.

No one owns my uterus but me.

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