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Review: Fighting to Choose by Alison McCulloch

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 pm, May 8th, 2013 - 61 comments
Categories: abortion, books, feminism, history - Tags:

I struggle to find a properly punchy intro to this review.  Because all I really want to say is, if you have an interest in the history of the reproductive rights struggle in New Zealand, read this book.

If you don’t have an interest in the history of the reproductive rights struggle in New Zealand, also read this book.  Because you’ll develop one.

Abortion has a long and dramatic history in NZ, but it’s not a history we talk about, or remember.  And remembering that history is vital to our continuing push for reproductive rights today.  We need to know how we’ve gotten into this bizarre situation, with a law passed in 1977 which makes pregnant people jump through hoops but functions just well enough that most people carry on under the misapprehension that we have abortion on demand.

Just check out Jami-Lee Ross’ speech on the third reading of the marriage equality bill, when he referred to abortion being legalised.  It isn’t.

Why it isn’t, and who decided it wouldn’t be, and how activists fought hard for it to be, is what this book’s about.  Alison McCulloch, Pulitzer-winning journo and general badass, lays it all out, plain and simple, and being pretty damn even-handed towards the antichoice movement in the process.

This book was a joy to read … and it made me angry.  Angry at chickenshit politicians who folded at the first threat of Catholic voters’ ire.  Angry at a Royal Commission who dared to produce an incoherent, inconsistent report which controls people’s lives to this day, who let antichoicers derail an important moment in our societal debate on reproductive rights.  Angry at the condescension shown toward New Zealand people, particularly women, to this day.

Angry that we still have to fight for this.

But you know, it’s a good anger.  A motivating anger.

And now I’ve added “release helium balloons into the House of Representatives” to my bucket list.

Overall rating: five out of five speculums.

Fighting to Choose is available online from the Victoria University Press.

An abridged excerpt from Chapter Four, covering the opening of the Auckland Medical Aid Trust clinic in 1974, is up on Werewolf.

Prochoicing on the Prochoice Highway

Alison McCulloch is taking the book on tour.  Follow the Prochoice Highway for more information.

Videos from the launch, via the ALRANZ blog.


61 comments on “Review: Fighting to Choose by Alison McCulloch”

  1. karol 1

    And still many just don’t want to talk about the problems of NZ current conservative abortion law. Meanwhile large numbers of women have to go through degrading hoops to get abortions.

    • pictishmonster 1.1

      Agreed. In her interview with Kim Hill, McCulloch attributed this weird passivity to fear that the situation could get worse if we rocked the boat. But I wonder if that is still true. Is it possible to get accurate polling data on the issue?

      Anyway, she also made the point that if we’re not moving forward we’re moving backward by default – there’s no such thing as standing still. I think that’s true.

    • Populuxe1 1.2

      That rather depends on what sort of abortion you’re talking about. Levonelle-1, the “morning after pill” can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy – I’d hardly call that jumping through hoops.
      In terms of medical abortion, I think there does need to be an amendment to The Crimes Act 1961 to decriminalise termination, but we all know that there is a tacit understanding medical termination doesn’t usually require much beyond the usual consultation for informed consent as per The Health and Disability Commissioners Act 1994 and The Code of Health and Disability
      Services Consumers Rights 1996 based on a consensus that the The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 be interpreted very loosely. Basically no woman in New Zealand today is going to be refused an abortion in the first twenty weeks. When was the last time a woman died of a backyard abotion? That’s the foremost issue – protecting women’s lives and reproductive health. I would be very surprised if a single woman in this country has been denied an abortion in the last thirty years.

      • QoT 1.2.1

        I would be very surprised if a single woman in this country has been denied an abortion in the last thirty years.

        Gosh, if only the world worked entirely according to things which would “very much surprise” you, Populuxe. Unfortunately, in this universe, I’m really, really over you shitting all over my thread assuming your half-baked opinions and “I know lots of women so I must be an expert” should rule the day.

  2. kiwi_prometheus 2

    New Zealanders don’t support abortion on demand,and rightly so.

    I guess you crazy Feminists are all hyped up after the successful propaganda campaign to trash marriage, and think you got another ‘win’ coming up.

    • fender 2.1

      You sound like one of those deconstructed kiwis_. Better go get a recon.

      • kiwi_prometheus 2.1.1

        You sound like one of those Social Constructivists that infest the Sociology and Literature Uni Depts.

        Deconstructing social constructionists is fun!

    • joe90 2.2

      I guess you crazy Feminists are all hyped up after the successful propaganda campaign to trash marriage, and think you got another ‘win’ coming up.


      • ghostrider888 2.2.1

        “her” -ga-tory

      • kiwi_prometheus 2.2.2

        Linking to your favourite Feminist propaganda site, joe.

        • ghostrider888

          btw, all things being equal, I Flew you some Modern Love yesterday. Thought it might suit your school of thought.

      • QoT 2.2.3

        Well played! But unfortunately you only get points for k_p’s misogynist antichoice views, his deep-seated loathing of women has long been recognised around these parts.

    • QoT 2.3

      Next we’re coming FOR YOUR PENIS.

  3. kiwi_prometheus 3

    At least not all Feminist have been brain washed into the Abortion On Demand stance:

    “the original feminists — understood that the rights of women cannot be built on the broken backs of unborn children. Anthony called abortion “child murder.” Paul, author of the original 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, said that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women”… it was the neo-feminists of the 1960s and ’70s who asked women to prize abortion as the pathway to equality.”


    • Roy 3.1

      I would be surprised if any women ‘prize’ abortion, and I suspect that few if any find it an easy option.

      • kiwi_prometheus 3.1.1

        Its exactly what the neo feminists have done, they are obsessed with Abortion On Demand.

        • fender

          No I think they just want full control of their own bodies.

          Imagine if you were deprived of being in control of your own body, how would you react if say you were not allowed to perform your favourite pastime of jerking off ?

          • One Anonymous Knucklehead

            Every sperm is sacred.

          • kiwi_prometheus

            “No I think they just want full control of their own bodies.”

            Well that has to be balanced by the right to life of the baby.

            Feminasties like the narcissist QofT are peddling an extremist postion.

            [QoT: You have been warned on more than enough occasions not to attack authors. Final warning for this post as at 7:04pm.]

            • One Anonymous Knucklehead

              That has to be balanced by your duty to provide good strong sperm and we’re going to make sure you abide by it, sonny.

              Now get your hands off it and get down on your knees and pray for forgiveness for the insects you have killed, deprived of the gift of life. For the butchers meat on your table, deprived of the gift of life, for the seed you have spilled, for the unbelievable bullshit you construct around QoT.

              • kiwi_prometheus

                “for the unbelievable bullshit you construct around QoT.”

                LOL, you are a Feminist unic.

                • One Anonymous Knucklehead

                  I’m a knucklehead, and you’re an ill-mannered misogynist. What of it?

                  • kiwi_prometheus

                    You are an obedient minion, NO ONE on here dares to contradict the Feminasties and their dogma.

                    [lprent: Go too far down that track and I’ll start demonstrating how much my “feminist” partner, mother, sister, nieces, female relatives of all types mean to me and whom you insult (not to mention me) whenever you’re here with mindless dreck. Fuck “femanasties”. What you have to worry about is a pissed off sysop declaring a personal vendetta on your dickless wonderment.

                    I’ll show you what nasty really means – you misogynist cretin. ]

                    • One Anonymous Knucklehead

                      For the night is dark and full of terrors.

                    • NickS

                      …pissed off sysop..


                      For those who don’t quite understand why this is a bad thing, sysops on websites can see everything you’ve submitted to their website bar your password(s). And generally they have contacts to anti-spam groups, so your details may make their way into a spam blacklist, leading to all sorts of fun across the net.

                      This on top of the usual editing of luser content via disem-vowl-ment, post moderation, luser harassment and final application of the ban-hammer once the luser hath been suitably mocked.

                      (see http://bofh.ntk.net/BOFH/index.php for $fun)

    • Murray Olsen 3.2

      Only a century behind now. That’s progress, I suppose.

  4. kiwi_prometheus 4

    Knucklehead: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.”

    Are you aware of the Feminist belief that E=mc2 is a “sexed equation”, along the same lines as Karol’s hilarious, psuedo intellectual, copy cat number about “the sexing of politics”?

    Yes that’s right, the speed of light has been “privileged” apparently thanks to the “Patriarchy”.

    Or the Feminist belief that Newtons Laws of Physics is a “rape manual”.

    So becareful talking about “night” and “dark”, Knucklehead, or you may find yourself accused by the feminasties of an anti Feminist, privileging, “othering”, heterosexists MAN sin!

    [QoT: A further warning: any future arguments which are uncited and clearly copy-pasted from your favourite men’s rights whinesite (I’m picking you for a Spearhead kinda guy) are being edited, because I’m not having my posts derailed by your shit-flinging trollery any more.]

    • Populuxe1 4.1

      “Are you aware of the Feminist belief that E=mc2 is a “sexed equation”” – I think you are going to have to cite that, and in any case, relying on fringe nonsense isn’t making you look less like a mysogynistic buffoon.

    • karol 4.2

      Please do tell me what I was copying with my p-suede intellectualism. I have never heard of this “E=mc2, sexed equation” before. Do please explain the theory & why it is wrong. Sounds interesting.

      And also please explain what it has to do with abortion law reform.

      • QoT 4.2.1

        Googling raises an argument by Lucy Irigaray, which has clearly become a meme in misogynist / MRA / whinging douchebag circles because it aligns very neatly with their own sexism (i.e. they all think women are stupid and inconstant, and Irigaray pointing out (possibly, I’m not wasting time doing k_p’s citation work for him) that science which privileges “hard” things over “fluid” things reflects this sexist approach cuts too close to the bone.)

        • karol

          Oh. OK. Got it.

          In my experience, when I ask k_p to explain his points/abuse/theoretical understanding in any detail/depth, he disappears.

          PS: issues to do with female bodies and reproductive systems are fluid as, and often a cause for squeamishness for those wanting their politics focused on solids.

          • QoT

            Oh yes. It’s another reason I do quick Googles on his bullshit, as soon as freerepublic.com shows up in the top 5 results it confirms it’s his usual unoriginal material.

            • karol

              He also has a rather quaint notion that all feminists are into abstract theory and of those that are, they are all in agreement and into the same theory – anyone with a knowledge of feminism and/or philosophical theories would know that is so not how it is.

              Especially, when 2nd wave feminism was in full swing, it was more about women’s actual life experiences. I think in the mid-late 70s, when the campaign was under way for abortion in NZ, most feminists would never have heard of a French psychoanalytic theorist like Irigaray.

              It was, and still is (as far as I’m aware) about what happens when safe abortions are not available to all women. In the 70s it was much more about women coming out and telling their own stories of dealing with pregnancies and abortions.

              I imagine it’s still hard for a lot of women to talk publicly about such things.

              But k_p’s preference seems to be to go on about abstract theory, and avoid dealing with people’s actual life experiences.

              • felix

                Oh so you’re an actual-life realitist. How do you reconcile that with your post-bullshit philosophy?

                /in before k_p

                • karol

                  Ah, well I’d turn to (some say) post-structuralist Foucault (himself he didn’t really accept that label).

                  Thought it was a good thing his later theories were a little different from his earlier ones – why work on theory all your life just to keep repeating the same things.

                  And no matter how abstract his theories, the HIV/AIDS got him in the end. And he said some interesting things about fist-fucking…. but little about abortion.

              • Rhinocrates

                But k_p’s preference seems to be to go on about abstract theory

                Well, he “goes on” about it, but he never actually engages with it, let alone real life experience as you say.

                How about just pulling the plug on him? Redbaiter, Dad4Justice, kiwi_procrustes etc need not be dealt with on their own supposed terms – surely the proper arena is psychiatry rather than ideology?

                Their ilk might be amusing at a distance, but their persistent derailing actively blocks real discussion, and I worry that k-p’s aggression prevents some people who might have something constructive to add from contributing – as it is surely meant to.

                Old proverb: “Who defines the terms wins the argument”.

                • karol

                  Yes, it does usually derail.

                  I’d much rather discuss why our conservative abortion law is still standing and not yet been updated.

        • Populuxe1

          To be fair, Irigaray did talk a lot of crap about the sciences that actual scientists of both genders would find hysterically funny.

          • QoT

            Many people talk a lot of crap about many things, yet I still don’t feel the slightest need “to be fair” where k_p’s incessant derailing is involved.

            • Populuxe1

              I was speaking for myself because I value fairness. You can do whatever you like.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 4.3

      Yes! I’ll be so upset I’ll cry all the way to the dairy.

  5. Murray Olsen 5

    I certainly thought access to abortion was better than it is. I don’t really know where I got that impression, except maybe from being out of touch with the issue.

    • Populuxe1 5.1

      It is actually easy to access – the issue here would appear to be the letter of the law, not its interpretation by doctors.

      • QoT 5.1.1

        No, it isn’t, Populuxe. Yes, a number of pregnant people are able to access abortion, but we’ve literally only just got to a situation where, for example, people from Invercargill don’t have to travel to Christchurch to get abortions.

        Considering the time involved (and that’s if you have a smooth ride with all five practitioners you have to see), the money to see doctors and travel and get childcare … it really isn’t “easy”, and saying it is just because some lucky people have managed to make our shitty system work isn’t helpful.

        • karol

          It seems to me that another problem with the law in NZ as it stands, that, women get abortions now as a result of the goodwill of the medical authorities. That sort of goodwill could be removed. Our current government pressures public services to provide less and less, and to find ways to deny services to more and more people. I think it needs to be inscribed into the law that abortions be available to those women who want them.

          • Populuxe1

            Given that it was National’s office or Eugenics and Paula Benefit that came up with the idea of free contraception for beneficiaries, I doubt they will be doing that for termination any time soon. But yes, it is shameful that abortion is still criminalised in the letter of the law, and that needs to be changed.

        • Populuxe1

          Five practicioners?! The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 says TWO! Which can usually be acomplished at the same clinic.Yes, it is good news that there has been since 2011 a termination clinic in Invercargill, however as I don’t imagine being seen entering such an establishment in a small and somewhat traditional community is all that desirable for many of the local women either, I imagine many of them will continue to go to Lyndhurst Hospital for the anonymity – it’s the stigma that needs to be tackled as much as the law. Stop with the “some lucky people” crap, though, unless you can provide me evidence of the overwhelming majority of New Zealand women being refused termination, not being able to get them within a reasonable timeframe, or recieving an unsafe backyard termination out of desperation. Ireland is a shitty system, the US has multiple shitty systems (intravaginal probes for fuck’s sake), we have a system that certainly needs impovement, but is far from shitty. I have held the hands of enough female friends over the years to know what bullshit that is.

          • Pascal's bookie

            So unless it’s an “overwhelming majority of New Zealand women ” it ain’t no thing?

            • Populuxe1

              No, I was leaving a little room for the possibility of some insane Catholic doctor or something not giving a referral as a one off. There are always exceptions and outliers in every system, no matter how perfect. Try not to be obtuse.

              • Pascal's bookie


                You don’t have to scroll up very far to see that what you ended up writing was:

                Stop with the “some lucky people” crap, though, unless you can provide me evidence of the overwhelming majority of New Zealand women being refused termination, not being able to get them within a reasonable timeframe, or recieving an unsafe backyard termination out of desperation. Ireland is a shitty system, the US has multiple shitty systems (intravaginal probes for fuck’s sake), we have a system that certainly needs impovement, but is far from shitty.

                I don’t see how it’s ‘obtuse’ to think you were saying that unless there is an “overwhelming majority of New Zealand women” affected then the system is “far from shitty”.

                In fact, I think you’d have to be pretty obtuse to think that your comment doesn’t directly imply that it’s not a shitty system even if there are many women who do not have easy access to local providers should they choose to use it.

                • Populuxe1

                  In case you hadn’t noticed, dipshit, ANY medical services are hard to obtain in rural centres – nothing termination specific there – anything more complicated than a broken leg usually requires referral to a main centre DHB. In which case it’s the whole NZ medical system that needs the overhaul. It would have to be a pretty fucking unusual and extremely rare situation in which a woman was not able to get a termination, however I like to be precise in my language hence I leave room for outliers – that’s basic statistics. However I am still waiting for a single example of a woman in New Zealand not being able to get an abortion in the last twenty years. I know there is plenty of room for improvement, but this isn’t Ireland where for years you had to fly to London, and just recently a woman DIED because she was refused an abortion. Nor is this the US where some states demand you have a big ultrasound scanner inserted in your vagina so they can show you da widdle fingers and toes etc. The morning after pill is available OVER THE COUNTER. Using language that only a small minority are “lucky” enough to be able to get a termination is bullshit. The law, however, does need rewording, decriminalising termination like a civilised country – a technicality.

                  • Pascal's bookie

                    None of which explains the what you actually said.

                    And QoT did not use “language that only a small minority are “lucky” enough to be able to get a termination”. That’s just another reading misinterpretaion on your part.

                    Check the context, before launching jihad.

                    And no one owes you a single example of anything.

                    And the fact that other places are worse, does not imply that people are wrong to call ours bad, or not good enough, or that it needs change.

                    And if that’s not what you are saying, if your disagreement with QoT, karol, and everyone else is so very minor, then why all the heated aggression? What’s the point of all this Pop?

                    Oh, and Invercargill has a population of over 50,000, it’s not Taihape, ffs.

                    • Populuxe1

                      “None of which explains the what you actually said.”

                      I suppose not if you are going to deliberately ignore it.

                      “And QoT did not use “language that only a small minority are “lucky” enough to be able to get a termination”. That’s just another reading misinterpretaion on your part.”

                      How else is one to interpret phrases like “it really isn’t “easy”, and saying it is just because some lucky people have managed to make our shitty system work isn’t helpful.”?

                      “Check the context, before launching jihad.”

                      What jihad? And apparently unlike you, I do check context.

                      “And no one owes you a single example of anything.”

                      Yes they do or else I can continue to call bullshit. It’s called the burden of proof if you are going to claim something. You might as well say no one owes anyone an abortion. Stupid stupid thing to say.

                      “And the fact that other places are worse, does not imply that people are wrong to call ours bad, or not good enough, or that it needs change.”

                      Only if you really don’t care anything about accurate communication of an idea.

                      “And if that’s not what you are saying, if your disagreement with QoT, karol, and everyone else is so very minor, then why all the heated aggression? What’s the point of all this Pop?”

                      Minor doesn’t make it any less valid, and I think it is pretty important if something as important as the availability of termination in this country is being misrepresented. It’s bad enough when the Pro Life scum do it. And what heated aggression exactly? How do you get that from words on a screen – not enough smileys and lols?

                      “Oh, and Invercargill has a population of over 50,000, it’s not Taihape, ffs.”

                      Good for you for googling, but do a bit more googling – Southalnd hospital has 180 beds to cater to the Southland population of 107,000 and only deals with acute medical, surgical and orthopaedics, an Intensive Care Unit, 24 hour emergency department, paediatrics, maternity plus rehabilitation and therapy services.”

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      Really, you think demanding evidence that an overwhelming majority can’t access abortion services easily, is being precise in language to account for outliers?

          • QoT

            Five practicioners?! The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 says TWO! Which can usually be acomplished at the same clinic.

            Surprise surprise, despite your protestations to the contrary you don’t actually know what the fuck you’re talking about! Good job that this isn’t the 1980s and you can look these things up on the internet.

    • QoT 5.2

      Well, it’s not something you really have to know about until you really, really have to know about it, if you catch my drift.

      • Populuxe1 5.2.1

        This isn’t the 1980s. You can look it up on the internet http://www.abortion.gen.nz/index.html

        • QoT

          Yes, Populuxe, and while I realise you’re perfect and know everything about abortion everywhere, most people don’t even have to think about it as a political issue so won’t be actively seeking out information on it. Because they’re not as awesome as you.

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    It was a privilege to visit Rātana Pā last week with fellow Greens’ Co-leader James Shaw, our Māori Caucus and senior staff to meet with the leaders of te iwi mōrehu, to strengthen the ties between the Green Party and ...
    GreensBy Metiria Turei
    2 weeks ago
  • MBIE docs show country needs KiwiBuild, not Key’s pretend “building boom”
    John Key’s spin that New Zealand is in a building boom does not change the massive shortfall in building construction as new MBIE papers reveal, says Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “We can fix the housing crisis, by the ...
    2 weeks ago
  • 1 in 7 Akl houses now going to big property speculators
    Speculators are running riot in the Auckland housing market making life tougher for first home buyers, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  Newly released data from Core Logic shows a 40 per cent increase in the share of house sales ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Disconnected thinking dirties the water
    Iain Rabbitts’ belief that drinking water quality, charging for water use and the land use that leads to water quality degradation should be treated separately is part of the problem we have right now in this country. The connection is ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Report back from Hands Off Our Tamariki hui
    This week I attended a hui in Otaki organised by Hands Off Our Tamariki about the proposed reforms to the Child Young Persons and their Families Act. Moana Jackson and Paora Moyle spoke.  They expressed deep, profound concern about the proposed ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour mourns passing of Helen Kelly
    Helen Kelly was a passionate advocate for working New Zealanders and for a safe and decent working life, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says.  “Helen Kelly spent her adult life fighting for the right of every working person to ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National’s visionless immigration policy
    National’s recent immigration announcement is a continuation of the visionless approach to government that it has displayed in the last three terms. Rather than using the levers of government to implement a sustainable immigration policy that benefits new and current ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    2 weeks ago
  • Andrew Little: Speech to the Police Association Conference 2016
    Police Association delegates, Association life members and staff, representatives from overseas jurisdictions. Thank you for inviting me here today. The Police Association has become a strong and respected voice for Police officers and for policing in New Zealand. There is ...
    2 weeks ago
  • 1,000 more police for safer communities
    Labour will fund an extra 1,000 Police in its first term to tackle the rising rate of crime, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Labour will put more cops on the beat to keep our communities safe. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Call for all-party round table on homelessness
    Labour is calling on the Government to take part in a roundtable meeting to hammer out a cross-party agreement on ending homelessness.  Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the country wanted positive solutions to homelessness, and wanted the political parties ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Seclusion rooms in schools
    Schools are undoubtedly stretched and underfunded to cope with students with high learning support needs. But this cannot justify the use of rooms (or cupboards) as spaces to forcibly isolate children. It has emerged via media that this practice continues ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Public should get a say on new Waikato power station
    I had an opinion piece published in the Waikato Times about a controversial proposal to build a new gas-fired power station. It’s not on their website yet, so here it is: If you think the public would get a say ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    2 weeks ago
  • MSD and their investment approach
    The Government talks about investment but there is no investment. It is not investment if it isn’t over the whole of life and if there is no new money  — Shamubeel Eaqub   Investment sounds like adequate resourcing but this ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Certainty needed for community services
    A couple of months ago I was at a seminar where three community organisations were presenting. Two of the three presenters were waiting to find out if their organisation would get a contract renewed with MSD. Not knowing if their ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Domestic Violence – some advice for the media
    For the purpose of this piece, I’m going to use Domestic Violence (DV) as a proxy for intimate partner violence. DV is not isolated to physical abuse in a relationship between people with the same power. DV is a pattern of ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    3 weeks ago
  • Leroy’s New Paw Prints
    Leroy, an Auckland great dane recently received a new 3D printed bionic leg after cancer was discovered. I think this is a fantastic story and highlights the real potential of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing Leroy’s prosthetic was printed in titanium and was ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    3 weeks ago