Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category

This year is the 50th anniversary of the partial liberalisation of anti-gay laws in Britain.  The reform applied to England and Wales, but not Scotalnd or the part of Ireland still incorporated in the ‘United Kingdom’ – nor to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.  The reform also did not extend to the armed forces or the merchant navy.  In the article below, a longtime British marxist and former activist in the gay liberation movement looks at the significance of the law change – then and now.  

by Mike McNair

Under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act homosexuality between consenting adult males in private was no longer an offence. ‘Adult’ was defined as someone over the age of 21; and ‘in private’ was subsequently defined by the judiciary: homosexual acts were only permitted in private property and there had to be only two people present. In a public place like a hotel it would still be an offence. Given the limits of the 1967 act, I did not expect anything like the scale of celebration there has been around its 50th anniversary.

In addition we have had a brief rush of publicity around a group of LGBT anarchists forming a fighting unit alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria against Islamic State. Rather startlingly, the Daily Mail on July 25 ran the headline, “These faggots kill fascists” – a photo showed them raising the rainbow flag in Raqqa.1

This story of a very small group of volunteers has been all over the mainstream media. There has been, I think, a valid argument, presented on Al Jazeera by a Syrian-Palestinian woman activist, that this group was in substance holding up the flag in favour of the general frame of western intervention in Syria, rather than having any realistic expectation that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) will display strong and persistent solidarity with lesbian and gay rights.2

But the coverage demonstrates that this summer’s celebration of gay rights is very broad. The story is that our modern liberal society has liberated lesbians and gay men from the chains of medieval oppression. Alongside this celebration, LGBT issues, just like women’s issues, have been made into an instrument for the justification of dropping bombs on foreign countries.

In this context it is worth looking a little bit further at what has been celebrated: the 1967 Act, what followed it and what went before it. As I have said, it decriminalised homosexual conduct between consenting males over the age of 21. Even though the ‘age of majority’ was reduced to 18 in 1969, as far as homosexual acts were concerned, it remained at 21 until 2000.3

The 1967 Act had an interesting consequence, in that it initially led to a substantial increase in prosecutions! Roy Walmsley, a member of the Home Office Research Unit, reported in 1978 that offences for ‘indecency between males’ recorded by the police had doubled since 1967, and the number of persons prosecuted trebled between 1967 and 1971. Most of the additional prosecutions involved two males 21 or over, so it was not primarily about consent, but about the ‘in public’ issue. In 1978 there were wide variations between police areas in respect of this.4

This is by no means the only instance of law reform leading to an increase in prosecutions. The same was true of the reforms of street prostitution (introduced under the Street Offences Act 1959), of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, and of the 1967 Abortion Act. Nearer to the core of criminal law, it was also true of the various offences under the Theft Act 1968. The replacement of laws which are understood to be ancient, unfair, technical and difficult to understand by new legislation incentivises the police to prosecute – and makes it easier for them to do so. And it makes it easier for magistrates and juries to convict.

I might add that the ‘gross indecency’ offence, which had previously been triable by jury, became, as a result of the Act, triable before magistrates. That increased the number of prosecutions, as magistrates have always been more willing to convict than juries.

Resistance

This is not the whole story, however. There has also been a good deal of judicial and prosecutorial resistance to (more…)

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by Daphna Whitmore

For Labour’s 34 MPs the odds of becoming leader are quite high. Yesterday, for the fifth time in nine years, the party dipped into its talent puddle to present a new saviour. It was Jacinda Ardern’s turn to work some magic. Jacinda

In the press gallery expectations were not high as Jacinda stepped up for her first press conference as leader. The reporters seemed genuinely amazed when Jacinda showed she could speak fluently about nothing much, and could even inject humour into the void.

Four months ago she was elected to be Labour’s shiny new deputy leader. With her face beaming down from the hoardings alongside the last leader, what’s-his-name, she was to bring some X-factor. Somehow the magic didn’t happen and the polls fell further. That was yesterday; today Labour is optimistic.

Labour is the most optimistic (more…)

nationalcolaNo-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons.

Nevertheless, there are certainly sections of the anti-capitalist left who, in practice, retain illusions in Labour.  Some think Labour is still, at its core, some kind of “workers’ party” and that it is therefore permissible to vote for it and call on others to vote for it.  Or to take sides in Labour leadership elections.  Or to invite Labour speakers to speak at their educational conferences.  Or to demonise National in such a way that points clearly to support for Labour, without actually saying so.

Even on the anti-capitalist left, there are also some illusions about the first Labour government.  And illusions about the early Labour Party from its founding in 1916 to the formation of the first Labour government.

It is a form of comfort politics.  Just as some infants require comforters, a left which hasn’t yet grown up and been prepared to face the harsh realities of the 21st century capitalist world requires the comfort of thinking that there was once a mass force for socialism in this country and that it was the early Labour Party.

In fact, there has never been a mass force for socialism in New Zealand.  There were certainly revolutionary elements in this country – marxists, anarchists, syndicalists – in the early 1900s and there were far more of them then, when New Zealand only had a million people, than there are today when the country has 4.5 million people.  One of the functions of the early Labour Party was to destroy these revolutionary elements, in part by mopping them up and sucking them into Labour, transforming them into harmless social democrats.  Where they couldn’t do this, they worked to marginalise them and destroy their organisations.

All the while, through the 1920s, Labour moved rightwards, becoming more and more oriented to saving and running the system than getting rid of it.  Labour was always far more hostile to the anti-capitalist left than it was to capitalism.  And, of course, the early Labour Party staunchly advocated for the White New Zealand policy, indicated that they preferred a divided and politically weakened working class – ie one more likely to turn to Labour as its saviour – than a united, politically powerful working class which didn’t need the Labour Party.

Over the five years that this blog has existed, we have run a lot of articles on Labour, including some major, lengthy pieces.  Below are many of the major ones but, for a full list, go to the Labour Party NZ category on the left-hand side of the blog home page.

Labour on immigration – from bad to worse

Political donations and the National-Labour siblings

Labour’s immigrant bashing has a human cost

What every worker should know about Labour’s 1987 Labour Relations Act

Can the Labour Party survive?

A comment on Labour’s ‘Ready to Work’

Latest opinion poll – Labour just can’t catch a break

The truth about Labour: a bosses’ party

Labour’s racist roots

First Labour government wanted ‘Aryan’ immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Labour’s introduction of peacetime conscription and the fight against it

1949 Carpenters’ dispute: Labour and the bosses versus the workers

Twyford is at it again

A stain that won’t wash off: Labour’s racist campaign against people with ‘Chinese-sounding’ surnames

More Labour anti-Chinese racism and the left tags along behind them still

Anti-working class to its core: the third Labour government (1972-75)

Labour’s legal leg-irons – thanks to fourth Labour government

Some further observations on the fourth Labour government

Workers, unions and the Labour Party: unravelling the myths

For a campaign for union disaffiliation from the Labour Party

Labour’s leadership contest: confusions and illusions on the left

Recalling the reign of Helen Clark

Income and wealth inequality unchanged by last Labour government

Darien Fenton at the fantastic conference

New Labour Party general-secretary indicative of party’s managerial capitalism

Why Labour wasn’t worth the workers’ ticks

Why do otherwise sane, well-meaning people choose to delude themselves about the Labour Party and make up rosy nonsense about its past?

Chris Trotter’s false recovered memory syndrome

Empty Andy and the ‘Eh?’ team

Union movement gathers for ‘fairness at work’; Labour gathers missionaries

Labour parties and their ‘left’ oppositions

Kirk's cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

Bitter enemies of the working class: Kirk’s cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

by Philip Ferguson

While pretty much everyone on the left views the fourth Labour government (1984-1990) as obviously anti-working class, illusions remain about most of the other Labour governments, especially the first and third. The Labour prime ministers of the third Labour government are often still seen in a very positive light compared with the National government that followed, led by Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon and the fourth Labour government which gave us ‘Rogernomics’. Norman Kirk, who swept into power in a massive victory in late 1972, after 12 years of conservative National government, is still viewed by Labour supporters of the time as Labour’s last “working class hero”, a nostalgia all the more poignant as Kirk died in office in 1974. Bill Rowling, who took over from Kirk, is seen as the gentlemanly politician who was overthrown in a coup by Roger Douglas’ wide boys, respectably fronted by David Lange.

Talk about Kirk usually revolves around his working class roots, how he left school at 14, how he built his own house, how he was largely self-educated, how he ended compulsory military training, provided support for ohu (rural hippy communes), stood up to the French over nuclear testing at Mururoa, and began to seriously address Maori land issues.

What is often lost is that both Kirk and Rowling were absolutely committed to the maintenance of capitalism and thus inevitably prepared to take whatever measures were necessary to protect it. Since the third Labour government coincided with the end of the long postwar boom and the onset of years of recessionary quagmire, their commitment to managing capitalism could only mean (more…)

Protest outside Court of Appeal, Wellington, 2010

Protest outside Court of Appeal, Wellington, 2010

by Ann Furedi

Opponents of the demand for ‘a woman’s right to choose’ have always been against the choice of abortion. So it is confusing and frustrating that feminist friends and colleagues, some of whom provide abortion, have decided to mount their own assault on the notion of reproductive choice. The new anti-choice movement believes the concept of reproductive choice is limited, outdated, culturally specific and that ‘reproductive justice’ better expresses the needs of women.

This debate has not as yet found traction in Europe. But where US movements lead, we normally follow, so here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary of the objections to the concept of reproductive choice by sociology professor Tracy Weitz.

The most influential points are these. Firstly, that reference to choice is seen by some as trivialising the abortion decision, ‘suggesting that what a woman does about a pregnancy is simply another choice like picking a red or blue car… and women don’t always have a true “choice”, which is only possible when women have the resources to select the option they want’. Secondly, that the concept is elitist, exclusivist and irrelevant to the lives of many women. Weitz namechecks philosophy professor Marlene Gerber Fried, who (although an unequivocal supporter of abortion rights) has argued for many years that framing abortion in terms of a woman’s right to choose is problematic. Fried claims that because choice appeals to those who have options, but is relatively meaningless to those who do not, it is politically divisive. Plus it ignores the fact that race and class ‘inevitably circumscribe one’s choice’ (1).

These are not new arguments. (more…)

by Daphna Whitmore

Good on the Greens for putting abortion on the agenda. About time too. Their new policy to decriminalise abortion is a welcome relief. So far they are the only party in parliament saying it’s time to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. While the rest of the parliamentarians sit on their hands, there are growing calls for abortion to be decriminalised. Most recently, The Sunday StarTimes, 15 June 2014, had an editorial and two articles on the need to treat abortion as a health issue, not a crime.

National are sticking to the status quo where women are mostly granted abortions on “mental health” grounds. John Key says he thinks the law is “about right” as it is.

from Alranz

This article from the Truth newspaper 1974 shows National and Labour have denied women choice for decades (Source: ALRANZ)

Nor will Labour be leading the way to promote better rights for women, they are leaving it as a “conscience issue”. In 2010 Labour MP Steve Chadwick tried to introduce a bill to decriminalise abortion but wasn’t supported by her party and it was dropped within a month. Labour has not had a history of being progressive on women’s rights. Norman Kirk was against abortion, as was David Lange, and Helen Clark in three terms as prime minister wouldn’t go near the issue.

Imagine if other forms of healthcare were decided on by parliamentarians in a conscience vote. Imagine too if you could only access that care by having it declared that you would suffer great mental harm if you didn’t get treatment. What if getting treatment without the mental illness label was a crime? Around 98–99 percent of abortions are on the grounds of “serious danger to the mental health of the woman“. Women have to navigate their way through an array of medical professionals and be classified as mentally not able to cope with a pregnancy before they have an abortion. This farcical charade is because the law denies the woman the right to make her choice independently. (more…)

Fighting to Choose: the abortion rights struggle in New Zealand by Alison McCullock, Victoria University Press, 2013

Book review by Daphna Whitmorefightingtochoose__73920.1355261486.1280.1280

Thousands of activists campaigned in the 1970s for abortion rights. A decade later the pro-choice movement had all but vanished. The  battle over abortion is one of the longest-running  struggles in New Zealand yet little has been written about it. Alison McCullock’s book sets the record straight. Not only does she give a detailed account of the protests in the 1970s, she makes a case for reinvigorating the movement.

She has just finished touring the country visiting small towns and big cities spreading the pro-choice message. Before delving into her book let’s take stock of abortion in New Zealand today.

You could be forgiven for thinking it is not an issue; after all,  around 16,000 women access safe legal abortion services every year. Most of those women have no idea that abortion law is tangled up in the Crimes Act. They may assume the hoops they jump through to get an abortion are standard medical requirements. (more…)