It is thought to be the first time in New Zealand history a group of post-abortive women have spoken publicly about the issue – and follows the release of the Law Commission’s report on abortion law reform.
Spokesperson Barbara Hill says they wanted to highlight the fact many women suffer psychologically after abortion.
“Abortion is so much more than having your appendix out. It is a loss – albeit self-inflicted – and the grief and pain is very real,” she says.
Tauranga-based Hill says the eight signatories to the letter were happy to sign their full names, along with the total number of children to which each woman is a mother – including those who were aborted or adopted.
“There is such silence and self-condemnation around abortion, so we are happy the country is going to have a discussion about it. It is time to talk about the impact of what is presented as ‘just another minor surgery’ – and to be honest about what abortion is and does.”
As a mental health educator, Hill has worked with many post-abortive women struggling with the emotional fallout. She says a common theme is that there is insufficient information given at the time of the abortion.
“There is next to no counselling. We’re told it’s just a bunch of cells. Instinctively we know this isn’t true – that’s why women agonise over ‘whether to keep the baby.’ Then later, when we have ultrasound scans for subsequent pregnancies, we see the truth for ourselves.
“Personally, I did not make an informed choice. I just stepped onto an expedient conveyor-belt of medical practice, and later paid a heavy price. After my abortion, I was sad, depressed, angry, and lacking trust in myself and others. For decades.”
Published in three nationwide newspapers on Sunday and Monday – the Sunday Star Times, Herald on Sundayand Dominion Post– the full-page letter asks Jacinda Ardern to take into account the life-and-death nature of abortion, along with the health effects for women, and to err on the side of caution if making legislative changes. The letter asks the Prime Minister an important ethical question about humanity in the womb – at what point does it begin?
“The acknowledgement that abortion ends a life is one of the reasons we – and thousands of other women – live with regret and sadness,” the letter reads. “And a failure to acknowledge that many suffer after an abortion is a failure to care for women’s health.”
“When there are two bodies involved, and two people with human rights, it can be a complex legal dance to protect them both. What is clear, is that giving human rights solely to the mother at the expense of the life of a child is not something any good society would do. Nor is disregarding the health impacts of abortion. It is clear to us that abortion is both a health issue and a legal issue.”
In 2008 New Zealand scientist Professor Ron Fergusson and his team of researchers found rates of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance abuse were about 30 per cent higher in women who had experienced abortion, compared to those who had not.