Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
The struggle for a woman’s right to control her own body continues in New Zealand. Abortion remains in the Crimes Act, and a woman must go through hoops – sometimes expensive and demeaning – to access services necessary for her own reproductive autonomy.
The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act of 1977 was, and remains, a conservative piece of legislative, and its passage was in contrast to the (relative) liberalisation occurring across the Western world in the 1970s. The Act was opposed by feminists and socialists as a piece of legislation entrenching anti-woman and anti-choice practices. It continues to be challenged by the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) today.
Campaigns for abortion rights, alongside equal pay campaigning and movements against male chauvinism and misogyny generally, found new audiences (and new layers of activists) in the era of Women’s Liberation and the rise of the new social movements across the Seventies. Feminist collectives organised on university campuses, women in the trade unions grouped together, and the question of women’s rights touched hundreds of thousands across the country. Abortion rights were crucial to all of this campaigning, and two campaign organisations, ALRANZ and the Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign (WONAAC) grew across the major centres. There were often tensions between the two, with ALRANZ representing a more medically-focussed approach with support from professionals, and WONAAC growing out of Women’s Liberation and leftist movements. But, at their best, both groups brought the question of abortion rights prominently into public view.
This image is of the 1973 Suffrage Day march in Wellington. You can still see some of the buildings behind the march in this much-changed street. Abortion rights were a central demand of the march that year. The photograph is from Socialist Action newspaper. Many Socialist Action League women played leading roles in WONAAC and the abortion rights campaign.
Want to learn more?
Alison McCulloch’s Fighting to Choose (Victoria University Press, 2013) is a detailed history of the abortion rights movement in New Zealand, and draws on interviews with many participants from ALRANZ and WONAAC.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Radical Wellington