Anti-abortion protestors are using ‘free speech’ as a smokescreen for harassment

Published by ‘The Spinoff’ July 25th 2018 ~

Yes, anti-abortionists should have the right to protest. No, they shouldn’t be allowed to bully, intimidate or harass people accessing abortion services, writes Amy Pearl.

Anti-abortion protests in New Zealand predominantly occur outside clinics and hospitals. Some protests, or ‘vigils’ as they are named, are only held on the one day of the week abortion clinics are open. Currently in Auckland protests are every Wednesday outside the Auckland Medical Aid Centre. As I write this a rosary procession is being led to pray outside the Wellington Regional Hospital. The protests can intensify into sustained harassment during times such as Lent, when each year the anti-abortion organisation Right to Life holds its ’40 days for life’ campaign.

I cannot understand why our law, our institutions and our people are so unenthused about protecting the human rights of people seeking reproductive care. Our abortion law is still basedin the Crimes Act, but our laws still allow people to seek abortion services, albeit under specific circumstances. So why then are groups permitted to ‘protest’ outside abortion clinics and hound those with legal consent to obtain the health services they are seeking? I use the term ‘protest’ very loosely, because I don’t think what they are doing is really protesting. What I do see them doing is bullying and intimidating those seeking services they are legally entitled to.

To be clear, I’m not arguing against free speech. But free speech and protest can occur at parliament, in the streets, and at venues who’ll have you. Why should we enable intimidation at the doors of clinics? Is this what free speech looks like? I don’t think so. Is facing off with extremely vulnerable people a suitable way for anti-abortion protesters to express their views? No it is not.

We don’t accept this type of intimidation at other places of work or other facilities providing health care, so why do our institutions provide permits to ‘protest’ outside clinics and hospitals which provide reproductive care? Where are the buffer zones around our clinics to protect the rights of our people against a small group of zealots?A ‘buffer zone’ or a ‘safe access zone’ is an extended area around clinics where anti-abortion protesters are no longer permitted so “women can access the health facilities in privacy and free from intimidating conduct.” In places were safe access zones have been introduced, people in areas outside abortion clinics and hospitals people are now protected by law from harassment, intimidation and obstruction.

In May 2018 in NSW, Australia, a bill to establish safe access zones to abortion clinics passed the state’s parliament. Other states such as Tasmania, the ACTVictoria and the Northern Territory had already established similar laws. The NSW bill passed the legislative assembly in June and now makes it a criminal offence to interfere with the rights of people to access abortion in a safe manner. In the UK buffer zones are now being considered by councils as the number of protests rise.

New Zealand anti-abortion activists often boast of their ‘success’ taking abortion staff out of the workforce and share statistics from affiliates overseas about many abortion clinics they’ve had a hand in closing worldwide. The workers in these clinics are not immune to the protests. Imagine going to work each day and being told by strangers you are going to hell.

This is both a health and safety and a workplace harassment issue. As far I’m aware, clinics take security and the welfare of their staff seriously. But their hands are tied when it comes to protecting their workers on the pavement and in their car parks. They are not able to protect their patients from psychological stress or further impacts on their health. They are not able to ensure staff morale doesn’t suffer or that staff turnover does not increase due to the presence of protesters. How can clinics ensure the health and safety of their workers, as is their duty, if councils keep handing out permits for protest at their doors? 

We need to stop turning a blind eye to the way that pro-life groups are often allowed to protest – even if we’vebeen lucky in New Zealand that some of the more vindictive approaches to clinic protests haven’t been adopted by pro-life groups here. In other nations women and those accompanying them can be splattered with fake blood or have dismembered dolls thrown at them; they can be followed and filmed as they enter clinics. Threats of violence against US abortion clinics almost doubled in 2017. 

Closer to home, the most recent pro-life killing in Australia was in 2001. Security guard Steven Rogers was shot dead by a perpetrator intending to kill all 15 staff and 26 patients by setting a fire. In New Zealand the last major plot to incinerate a clinic was at the Lyndhurst Hospital in Christchurch in 1999. A protester who spent most of his days protesting outside of the gates of this clinic had spent his nights tunnelling beneath the clinic to prime it with explosive material. The judge presiding over the case in 2000 told defendant Graeme White that “you claim to be a pacifist but there isa certain incongruity to that claim.”

I’ve no doubt one of my feminist heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, would today be arguing against sanctioned protest outside abortion clinics. Roosevelt was a great proponent for free speech and one of the authors of our most important global human rights documents, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but even she would see the absurdity and cruelty of allowing protest at the places where women access their right to reproductive care. She said “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.” Many of today’s free speech advocates quote Roosevelt in their arguments – but it’s clear they don’t always understand her actual beliefs. 

This is where the concept of ‘balancing the scales’ comes into play. Golriz Ghahraman, a Green MP with a background in human rights, recently noted that “freedom of speech, like most rights, is not absolute. It’s subject to the rights of others, to safety, freedom, equality.” Universities in the UK are struggling with these new definitions of ‘safe versus free’, as safe spaces on campus are being used to shut debate down. New Zealand doesn’t have to follow their example if we continue to have our own debate around these highly contested concepts. Safe spaces are places where a group of people or an individual won’t be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, physical or emotional harm, and we need those places in society. We also need to define where those places are and whether they should be enforced at all costs.

New Zealand had this debate as it relates to anti-abortion protest at Auckland University in 2015 when a complaint was made about the anti-abortion group ProLife making students feel harassed. ProLife won the right for their club to stay on campus and I was relieved for that result. Places of learning, by nature, should not be used to prevent the propagation of thought. Could a student body who has a constitutional obligation to support the rights of women remain associated with a pro-life group? That is a different question. 

If there is one institution that should remain open to debate, even open to offensive views, it’s our universities. They should be places where counter narratives can be explored on any topic, no limits, but always accompanied by the rights of the individual and the right of reply. As a feminist, I’m well aware of the lack of safe spaces – but also the way that complaints about ‘hate speech’ can be used to shut down debate.

In 2013 I joined Alison McCulloch as a part of her Pro-Choice Highway tour of New Zealand. She was ‘on the road for reproductive justice’ raising the issue of reproductive rights with public meetings and related events for her new book Fighting To Choose on the history of the struggle for reproductive rights in this country. That morning in the Wairarapa we set up in an alcove off the footpath in front of a shop whose owner had given us permission to be there. It was a productive morning with many unsolicited discussions, especially with women who had had an abortion and wanted to discuss their families’ experience of having been affected by abortion politics.

A representative of the local council arrived and told us we had to leave, “because there had been a complaint.”

We packed up peacefully and left. There was no breaching of the peace, no offensive behaviour or language. This wasn’t a protest requiring a permit. So where would have been an appropriate place?

We need to find the balance. We cannot say we supportfree speech and then shut it down; likewise we should always be vigilant of theloudest voices in a debate as they too often hijack the discussion and become the ones who end up setting the the agenda.

Pro-life protesters at the doors of our health facilities are my case in point. 

It is a disgrace that our reproductive laws currently stand where they are. While we fight to have abortion law to be removed from the Crimes Act, our justice system could show some moral courage of its own and impose buffer zones around reproductive health clinics. Our politicians cannot be intimidated by groups who use a false claim of rights to freedom of speech in order to perpetrate harm.

The law commission review of abortion law needs to look at this issue very closely. Buffer zones should be implemented and they need to be extended to GPs and smaller clinics. Anywhere a person can access health or reproductive services should be out of bounds. New Zealand’s laws around abortion already fall short of our human rights obligations, and still we must fight for our rights to access medical care, including abortion, which must be considered a health care issue rather than a criminal matter.

Anti-abortion campaigners are entitled to their opinion but they are not entitled to play a dirty game. This is not free speech in action, it is sponsored intimidation and I call foul.


Amy Pearl ~ guest writer on behalf of The Weaving House for The Spinoff 

days as dark as nights – domestic violence in New Zealand.

This article was written in 2015 & is being re-released by Weaving House as not much has changed. –
It’s a Woman thing…. days as dark as nights…..domestic violence
Amy Pearl
What cost domestic violence? The days are dark as nights. Sexual and family violence in New Zealand, as estimated by the Ministry for Women, comes in at a combined 6.5 billion dollars per year.Each of us would need to pay$1415 to cover the yearly financial cost of these two specific forms of violence. Women’s Refuge supports a higher figure of 8 billion dollars per year for domestic violence alone.
Most forms of violence are due to friction between opposing groups over resources and ultimately, to control and dominate another or many and the power relations between women and men are the most fundamental of all social division.
Gendered violence produces itself from structural inequality and inorganic gender roles and remains a pernicious ailment of humanity at its lowest point, a disease eating away at the best we’ve found in social bonds.
Violence directed specifically at women is endemic across the world; the most prevalent form against women is domestic violence and dozens of nations have no laws against it.
Steadily the number of disclosed incidents rise and police estimate that only 18-25% of domestic violence incidents in New Zealand are reported. There are now close to 100, 000 family violence investigations each year. If we consider that, we can assume there could be a further 455,000 cases that go unreported this year.
Our courts engage with about 20 prosecutions of assault on women by men each court day, 91% of protection orders are made by women and we can currently expect the death of a woman in New Zealand every 8 weeks in a domestic dispute. Women’s Refuge receives on average a call every 9 minutes of every day. 
(recently updated to a call every 6 minutes – 8/7/2015)
There are too many variables muddying the waters for a clear picture to know how invasive this form of violence is. The most basic of assumptions is that the numbers are great and they offer us a minimalist view. A domestic violence case report might only refer to a specific incident or the worst of violent acts.How hard it is to document torment committed hour after hour, day by day and year by year.
Many women don’t think they can leave and they’re traumatised, enslaved and powerless, they’re broken. Women are too often subjected to wait at courtrooms with their aggressor and go home in fear. Descriptions of torment portray a battlefield with all the weariness and terror of the landscape of war. These are crimes against women, our whole community and humanity.
From the centre of a violent act is the ripple of physical, mental, social or economic strain, lives under duress and generations caught in the repercussions and cycles of violence. One hundred years on and we’re still living with the psychological detriments of the World Wars.
We can expect nothing less from domestic violence, this trans-national, multi-faceted, never-ending aggression. It is easy to estimate a global wall of remembrance of those women dead by a violent male hand to stretch far beyond the lives of soldiers lost in conventional state run wars.
There’s not enough coverage of any one of the violent acts upon woman. We have to be keyed in or aware of the nuances to bear witness to the reflections of the various forms of violence in our nation and across our world.Just as the perpetrator of domestic violence needs the veil of privacy and intimacy to hide their crime, society as a whole has been cast in a veil of not knowing.Somewhere along the line woman’s plight is being muffled.
We need more comprehensive services to protect and assist women in danger especially as trends point to the problem getting worse.Look to Australia and count the figures, 2 dead women each week, in the UK a woman dead every 3 days, look to India and we lose 22 women a day, the ones we know of, Russia 600 a month.
New Zealand has won a place on the United Nations Security Council, but what of home security?What of the international war of domestic terror? Not to be taken seriously when no one earns a penny from this war, women aren’t as precious as oil, trade agreements don’t hinge on a woman’s smacked face and globally it’s still a man’s world.
Women face rights violations in every town and city of New Zealand and funding for safety nets are shamefully scarce. How is it possible that we close organisations that exist solely to support and protect women and children from violent crime?How can we let services that prevent women from sleeping cold close their doors? Why is it the services we have must beg for resources?Without volunteers and donations women would be surviving in a dark hell.
Victims of violence deserve access to specialist independent services regardless of whether they report, regardless of whether they fit a confined criterion and can’t conform.
Science and philosophy state that the two evolutionary tricks humans use to evolve,  are language and cognitive structure; it’s here where society’s perspective on violence needs to change. It’s known that gendered stereotypes promote abuse; condemning a message on the side of a rental van which jokes about drowning ‘the wife’ is a small measure but one that needs to be taken.
Everyday sexism needs to be expunged by everyone at every level, and women need to be supported when they speak out, not degraded and threatened with rape and violence.
If gender inequality gives rise to violence against women, then that violence is preventable. What’s wrong with our institutions?What’s wrong with our men? There must be a cultural deficit, a power complicit with inequality and an assorted box of institutional misdirection and negligence at play.
The recent case of the ‘Roast Busters’ is one example of the cultural deficit and institutional negligence I refer. The murder of the Livingstone children in Dunedin had red flags flying all the way to the final sad fateful day.
Perpetrators of misogynistic and threatening behaviour need to be challenged by more non-violent men. National and community leaders need to make the security of women a priority. This is a pressing issue and our nation’s people are being repressed.Where is woman’s respect?
Our mostly male parliament should begin the process of public denunciation and commit to a world free of gender specific violence. Each Minister should make a statement denouncing what is a national and worldwide scourge whilst committing the government to turning the tide. Committing to not cutting areas women occupy before ensuring our rights are secure.
Not having state housing available for our most vulnerable is a fine indication of where current values lie and there is no justifiable excuse. What is our collective attitude for prioritising the budget towards social welfare against growing the buck? Money rarely talks compassion.
All due respect should be given the Minister For Women, the position should not be outside of Cabinet as it is today. Leaders of good standards lead by good example. We should never have a Prime Minister that pull’s a woman’s hair.
Socially, the perpetrators of male violence against women need to lose status amongst their male peers for what is unacceptable and criminal behaviour. The conversation needs change, derogatory remarks usually beget derogatory behaviour, just as violence begets violence and on the story goes.
At what stage do we decide we’re beyond crisis point? Is it when more than one in three women has violence enacted upon them as they do today?I’ve heard said ‘things have changed’ and ‘it’s not like it used to be’, I don’t buy that, it sounds like defeat with nothing laid to rest. 
Women’s Refuge Annual Appeal runs in New Zealand throughout July Please visit their website to donate. –
Since publication Women’s Refuge have updated their figures to a call for help every 6 minutes June 30 2015 … far the ripple.

What’s in a Vote?

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

What’s in a Vote?

First published in The Wanaka App on Sunday, 28th of May 2017.

Amy Pearl.

The by-elections for the Wanaka Ward and the Dunstan Constituency of the Otago Regional Council are under way and voting papers are due to arrive soon in the post. With turnout for by-elections typically as low as thirty percent, now is a good time to consider what comes with a vote.

Voter turnout for local body elections is rarely more than fifty percent, including for mayoral elections, district councils, city councils and community boards. And our General Election turnout has also continued to decline since Robert Muldoon’s snap election in 1984, when David Lange won and voter turnout was at 93.7%.This century, we’ve had five General Elections and, Helen Clark’s win in 2005 aside, voter turnout has fallen below eighty percent.

These statistics are “social indicators”, measures that describe the well-being of individuals or communities; civic freedoms are the cornerstone of a healthy political system, and having people participate in these processes increases a community’s well-being.

Here in Otago, Michael Laws won his Dunstan Constituency seat on the Otago Regional Council by just five votes. Five more people voted for Michael Laws than for his opponent. Five votes gave power and a position to one person over another.  Then the United States ~ aside ~ where Trump didn’t win the popular vote, and for the particularly corrupt nations, do not say that one vote does not count – in the Dunstan Constituency, it certainly did. It is for a Dunstan Constituency seat that we have one of our by-elections, with Ella Lawton and Gary Kelliher the two candidates.

A choice between candidates is a choice between courses of action, between particular visions and directions, between people with varying potential.  One question I ask when voting is, “Each candidate has the potential for what?” I always hope I’ve made the right choice, as a vote carries power. My vote is me giving power to someone, and to that person’s ambitions and aspirations. My values therefore should align with those of the candidate that best demonstrates my hopes for my nation and community’s future. We vote to potentially create a better world.By not voting, the danger is we recreate the legacies we no longer want.

A vote becomes an expression of an opinion, of ideals, of a vision and of hope; voting is a choice, and do question what have we if we have no choice. By voting, we also declare ourselves as a part of a system, our system, where power is vested in the people who freely elect representatives.

Major referendums and elections overseas have more than clearly demonstrated the importance of voting. Most recently, France escaped being led by Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party, defined by its ethno-nationalism. Voters prevented that outcome and the new French President Emmanuel Macron has now named half of his cabinet as women, a mighty Trudeau-esque move contributing to the diversity we need for working democracies.

Consider what is happening in the UK as they head into another General Election, where a potential eight million women may not vote and 57% of young people aged 18-24 didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election. The problem is having a low voter turnout doesn’t make for a fair representation of opinion or a healthy democracy.

The Brexit referendum had a higher youth turnout than for the General Election, with an estimated 64% of registered voters turning up, most voting to remain in the EU. Comparatively, 90% of over 65’s voted, and a majority voted to leave. What would have been the outcome had everyone participated?

(Since UK’s last General Election registration to vote by youth there continue to rise – and do not for a second think that it is New Zealand youth who are failing to use their vote, it’s not that simple. * ) 

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

As citizens, the fundamental ability to change our political structures and the outcomes they produce is in our hands, with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power. By voting, we participate in constructing an evolving system and the nature of our system changes with the environment we provide. It is easy to see governments and governing bodies as having increasingly limited power with corporate interests gaining a bigger foothold, but let’s continue to seek a real democracy, a truly untrodden road. Alienated citizens don’t thrive where politics aren’t inclusive, which is why we need to rekindle our interest and maintain control of a system of government which belongs to the people.

What would society look like if democracy had its best foot forward? Perhaps voters would be willing, able, informed and uncoerced at elections throughout the world. Perhaps governments would be much more diverse, saturated with the many colours and patterns humanity weaves, and perhaps woven, this rich fabric would find common ground. Ode to the potential.

I was warmed of late to read the words of Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult urging voters to participate in upcoming elections. The fact that our mayor is urging our district to engage in politics is encouraging, as one of the dangers for any representative system is a disconnect between leaders and the people on the ground. If people at the top are not engaged with the communities they represent, we can expect poor outcomes for the future. I recommend you read QLDC mayor Jim Boult’s message – he talks of diversity, the importance of choice, a strong representative voice and a vote that counts. I wish all our leaders did more to support civic participation and help the people lead through exercising our fundamental rights.


As we slide into unchartered territory with water security, biodiversity stability and economic diversity being just a few of the massive issues we have at a serious crossroads, it’s important to pay attention, as the future will provide its own challenges to further generations and our participation today enacts upon the world of tomorrow. We must ask ourselves when voting, “what position do future generations inherit to enact change and live fulfilled lives?”

Kua roa kē te wā e pōti ana ētahi tāngata – some people have had the vote for a long time, and we know it’s black and white, there is no grey on election day. Let’s not lay idle, let’s continue to vote – for now.

Be sure you are registered to vote and that your information is up to date. The process couldn’t be easier: go to the Electoral Commission’s website (click on MORE below); or fill out a form at your local post shop; or free phone 0800 ENROL NOW (0800 367 656); or text 3676 with your name and address (it’s free).

First published in The Wanaka App on Sunday, 28th of May 2017. (with *supplementary text & links added here – screen shot –  Archillect on twitter @Archillect).

“..with the stroke of a pen in a box; it is one way we share power.”

The Conversation we hope to have.

For a healthy democracy there must be a conversation between those that govern & those that are governed. When there is a disconnect, democracy fails.

Below is a link to a document which contains the contact details of candidates for the September 2017 General Election in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Candidates – Contact details for 2017 General Election Aotearoa New Zealand


The document gives links to contact candidates via traditional & modern forms of communication and has links to information on each candidate.

Please feel free to download the information, print or share.

Use of the list by any group or organisation is welcome.

The list has been compiled by Weaving House to assist our candidates and political parties in being easily accessible to the general public – as for democracy to work, it must be accessible.

The document was put together to further enable the conversation between voters and those we share power with – as by voting we give power to the candidate we select.


Below are the contact details for Political Parties taking part in this years General Election. Please find information for Independent candidates in the Candidates document.

For Political Party Contact Details.

For Party secretary names and contact details.    

“Members of Parliament are your representatives in Parliament.” – There are many ways to contact them and post is still free. The following is a link is to New Zealand Parliament which will offer you further suggestions for contacting Members and Ministers.

New Zealand Parliament Pāremata Aotearoa

Weaving House works to help create a diverse representative systems and to have more Women obtain seats within our government.

Below is a list of Women Candidates running in this years General Election. Find their contact details in the Candidate’s Contact list at the very top of this page.

Women Candidates 2017 General Election.

The following is a link to Associate Professor Jennifer Curtin speaking at our 2016 Convention on ‘Making New Zealand Parliament a Parliament for Women.’ 



The details in each document were obtained from public sources, either from Party websites or candidates biographies. These lists were created to co-exist with the information the political parties provide individually.

The candidates list is mostly complete,  we await the political parties to further update their information.As you are aware, this years General Election is so far defined by a great deal of reshuffling within the parties – The Weaving House will check regularly and update as required.

Feel free to comment or if you are a candidate please email with further or updated information.  If something or someone has been missed, please contact via –

All information given is to the best of knowledge & collated as a community service.

Women Everywhere Always Vote at Elections

Can we find our nation on one page?  With the many colour and pattern of our weave hopefully we can have a conversation to take us there.