A “simple guy” National MP from north Canterbury says he voted for abortion clinic safe zones after being scared by the “misogynistic vitriol” from men turning up to his office urging him to vote against it.
Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, National’s mental health spokesman, made the comments today during a Health Committee hearing of submissions into a bill recently passed to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities on a case-by-case basis.
“I am a pretty simple guy from north Canterbury, but I recall during the abortion debate, I had a pretty open-door policy,” said Doocey, who voted both for the safe spaces bill in March, and Abortion Legislation Bill last year.
“I take the point of the pro-life movement, which I respect but don’t necessarily agree with, but … why I support this was not concern about the pro-life movement but a group of men who would turn up individually to my office.
“Their argument against was just misogynistic vitriol about women not being trusted, not trusted with their bodies, saying they don’t know what is right for them, can’t make up their mind, and that really blew me away.
“I am a pretty robust guy but that kind of scared me, and I just wonder if this is more about that group of people and the potential risk they pose.”
The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill passed its first reading in March with 100 MPs making conscious votes in favour of the bill, 15 against and two abstaining.
It is now open for public submissions.
Doocey’s comments were in response to several submitters who were opposed to the bill, in particular its impact on free speech and right to protests, and other aspects including setting up protest-free zones 150 metres from abortion clinics.
Right to Life New Zealand’s Philip Creed said their protests were peaceful and often involved prayer.
By having to occupy spaces over 150m from clinics, people passing by might not notice they were protesting, he said.
Creed also provided evidence, accumulated through the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, that since 2019 there had been no complaints of harassment made to district health boards.
“So if there are no complaints, no intimidation or harassment, what justification is there to address a problem that does not exist?”
Labour MP Sarah Pallett said she had worked as a midwife before becoming a politician, and had witnessed firsthand violent harassment from anti-abortion protesters, even in front of women with their young children.
Pallett had not reported this to anybody, and so questioned the validity of Creed’s data.
She also asked Creed whether prayers were still effective, even if they were from over 150m away.
Creed said they were, but needed to be “in a public place where people can see us”.
“No woman going in should be harassed. Yes it is true, have had people say terrible things and I disagree with that totally.”
The committee also heard from a range of people in support of the bill, including Mhairi Everitt of the Otago University Students Association, who said it was well known there were always anti-abortion protesters outside Dunedin Hospital.
“It is a traumatising process, no matter what the outcome.”
They acknowledged the bill would breach the Bill of Rights Act, but that the right to protest “should not come before the right for people to seek healthcare”.
People could still take their concerns elsewhere, she said.
“This just means they can no longer protest and prevent individuals accessing healthcare.”
Often the behaviour from protesters was “violent”, with “violent images” also.
But even non-violent protest could be “felt as violent”, she said.
The OUSA also wanted the legislation to acknowledge the disproportionate impact the process also had on marginalised communities, particularly those experiencing racism and gender minorities.
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