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Vol. 73/No. 31      August 17, 2009

New Zealand students
discuss abortion rights
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—The killing of Dr. George Tiller by an antiabortion rightist in Kansas in May was the focus of a meeting July 23 at the University of Auckland. Tom Baumann, a leader of the Young Socialists from the United States, was the featured speaker at a meeting organized by the Campus Feminist Collective on the topic “Attacks on Choice.”

“The fight to defend and extend access to safe, legal abortion is more important today than ever,” Baumann told the 30 students and others who attended.

Baumann is a student at Hunter College in New York and is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Manhattan borough president. He visited New Zealand during July on a speaking tour with Socialist Workers Party leader Mary-Alice Waters (see article on front page).

“Tiller had been the target of rightist attacks for many years,” Baumann told the audience, “but he refused to back down.” Tiller’s killing shows that “as we organize to defend and extend our rights, working people, women, and our allies must also mobilize so that those who wish to silence us by violence are pushed back.”

Toni Haraldsen, who chaired the meeting on behalf of the Campus Feminist Collective, pointed out that those who attack abortion rights also target access to contraception, thereby showing that their true intent is to deny women the options necessary to decide whether and when to have children.

She asked Janet Roth, a long-time active defender of women’s abortion rights and a member of the Communist League who was in the audience, to clarify the current stage of the fight for abortion rights in New Zealand. Roth explained that legislation adopted by parliament in 1977 sought to tighten restrictions on abortion in New Zealand by requiring that two doctors certify that a continued pregnancy would result in serious danger to the life or to the physical or mental health of the woman before she could obtain an abortion. By the 1980s, however, due to ongoing protest in the streets, this same law was being interpreted and applied in a way that allowed relatively open access to abortion.

This prevailing interpretation of the law is now being challenged in court by the antiabortion group Right to Life, she noted, and actions are needed to prevent this new attempt to deny women in New Zealand the right to abortion.

A lively exchange of views among the students followed the presentations.

One participant suggested that perhaps a woman’s right to abortion should be conditional, depending on the viability of the fetus, because another life was involved. Some discussion ensued on “when does life begin,” but the student was answered by others who insisted that was not the issue. The question was the fight for women’s equality.

Another participant pointed out that in many parts of Asia abortion is available, but is often imposed on women against their will for reasons of family “honor,” or under the banner of state population control policies. “The point is it must be the right of women to decide,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, many participants stayed to continue discussion informally and to look at the photos and Militant articles Baumann had brought that documented the history of the struggle for abortion rights in the United States as well as recent actions protesting the killing of Tiller.

The next day, a meeting of the Campus Feminist Collective decided to organize similar discussion meetings on a regular monthly basis.  
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