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From Campus to Parliament, Abortion Debates Are Still Relevant

NEWS | SEX

Written by Caeden Tipler (they/them) | @caedentipler | News Editor


TW: Reproductive Rights


[Coco Dixon pictured with other organisers at a 2022 pro-choice rally. Photo: Supplied]


This story began when I noticed pro-life ads in the bathrooms at the Queen Street Event Cinema, a short walk away from the AUT City Campus. The ads were subtle and aimed at women scared and unsure about being pregnant. They did not come from an organisation backed by science, like Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa (Family Planning), but from Gianna’s Choice - a group I quickly learnt was a branch of Family Life International. Their website describes the branch’s aim as to reach “abortion vulnerable New Zealand women” and promotes prayers for “abortion vulnerable” foetuses. They are firmly against abortion being treated as healthcare. 


It is not Debate’s place to determine if pro-life groups are inherently bad. However, Gianna’s Choice exists in a world where Christian lobby groups, not unlike Family Life in views, have successfully overturned abortion decriminalisation. It is that which should be challenged. This notably includes 16 American States and territories that have implemented rigid near-total abortion bans following the overturning of Roe v Wade. It also includes a growing number of states that are removing the ability to get an abortion from 12 weeks, or even 6 weeks - at which point many people wouldn’t realise they are pregnant. 


Aotearoa student Coco Dixon (Ngāti Porou) became involved in pro-choice activism after the overturning of Roe v Wade. She said realising she was “living in a world that was largely dictated by the decisions of men” pushed her to start organising. They believe the overturning of Roe v Wade has a connection to Aotearoa, where “decriminalisation [of abortion] was still so fresh and is still something that can be taken back as easily as it was in the US.”


Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has sparked headlines for his religious beliefs, especially being pro-life in a country that is largely pro-choice. However, he told Q&A that if any changes to abortion legislation were made then he would resign as Prime Minister. Dixon doesn’t believe it, telling Debate “He’s vocally pro-life. There’s nothing much to stop him from changing the law if he really wanted to.”


Pro-life views in the National Party are not limited to the Prime Minister. Simeon Brown, amongst 19 of the 55 National MPs at the time, voted against the 2020 Abortion Law Reform. He said in his speech, "I do believe that all lives matter. Old or young, male or female, black or white, born or unborn." The law change allowed unrestricted access to abortion for up to 20 weeks and repealed sections of the 1961 Crimes Act pertaining to abortion. When the United States Supreme Court repealed the Roe v Wade decision, allowing states to criminalise abortion, National MP at the time Simon O’Connor posted “Today is a good day.” The post was liked by Brown.


Simeon Brown has been a pro-life activist since university. When AUSA affiliated the pro-life club ‘ProLife Auckland’ in 2010, Brown called it a “victory for common sense and freedom of expression more than anything, as well as an acknowledgement that pro-life is a valid perspective.” He was the club’s President. 


The abortion debate will be familiar to AUT students. In 2019, students petitioned to ban the campus ProLife group after the student association voted to affiliate them. AUTSA defended the decision at the time, stating, “There are students from many different backgrounds at AUT. Many of them will hold pro-life views. If AUTSA wishes to faithfully represent all its members it should avoid discriminating against those who reasonably hold to minority viewpoints.” Student Lily Evans, who started the petition, said freedom of speech was important but the pro-life club was “impinging on a basic fundamental human right: the autonomy of one’s own body, which is possibly more important than the right to freedom of speech.” Simeon Brown’s legacy in student politics remains today, carrying across both UoA and AUT. AUT’s ProLife campus group posted on Facebook as recently as late last year in support of a pro-life protest.


Campus Feminist Collective’s Lily Chen has been vocal against these pro-life groups. She told Debate, “Student-led pro-life clubs at universities campaign on the singular issue of controlling bodily autonomy. Masquerading as protectors of the unborn, these so-called activists utilise manipulative tactics to attack the autonomy of those with the capacity to get pregnant, and consequently, curb reproductive justice.”


Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa’s Kirsty Walsh told Debate pro-life lobby groups remain an issue that “hasn't gone away.” A key next step in abortion access is maintaining safe access to abortion providers, including by stopping protestors from accessing the spaces surrounding providers. Walsh stated, “Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa was a strong supporting voice for The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Act 2022, which came into force on 19 March 2022. Safe Areas aim to protect the safety, wellbeing, privacy and dignity of people who are accessing or providing abortion services. Attempting to stop a person from accessing or providing these services are prohibited within a Safe Area. A Safe Area can cover up to 150 metres around any premises where abortion services are provided. For example, a hospital or a general practice.”


As Coco Dixon highlighted, the debates we have on campuses remain relevant when abortion law could be overturned as easily and quickly as we saw in the United States. As Walsh highlighted, we are not all the way there in terms of abortion access. Dixon says students “have a right to be afraid.” She encouraged students to sign petitions, attend marches, and use their voices. They ended our interview by stating “doing a little bit is enough.”

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