The History of ALRANZ

The history of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) given here, was written by Dr Margaret Sparrow, who was National President from 1975 to 1980, and again from 1984.

Dr Sparrow (A Family Planning Doctor) was for many years employed to perform abortions at the Parkview Abortion Clinic in Wellington, and is also a director and major shareholder Istar Ltd (named after Istar or Ishtar the Babylonian female deity), the Wellington firm set up to import the French abortion pill RU 486 into New Zealand.

During 1970 the anti-abortion campaign became organised in New Zealand with the formation of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) at a public meeting in Auckland in March 1970.

This campaign invoked a reaction, with some people questioning the veracity of SPUC s claims, particularly with regard to the medical consequences of abortion and the experience of overseas countries with liberal laws. They also saw clearly the suffering of unhappily pregnant women seeking abortion under New Zealand laws and practice at that time and were concerned for the need for children to be born to mothers who wanted them.

As a response to the SPUC campaign a group of concerned individuals met in Auckland on 4 August 1970 under the chairmanship of Mr Wayne Facer, an Auckland University administrator who became the first research officer for ALRANZ.

ALRANZ The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (Incorporated) was incorporated in 11 February 1971. The stated objects of ALRANZ were:
  1. To seek the reform of the present law in New Zealand so that a woman may choose whether to continue an unwanted pregnancy or to obtain its termination, subject to the following safeguards:
    • Every abortion must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner with his consent in a public hospital or other approved place.
    • Every effort must be made to ensure that abortions are carried out by the 12th week of pregnancy.
    • Counselling should be available before the woman makes her decision and contraceptive advice must be given to avoid further unwanted pregnancies.
  2. To promote social reforms and to advocate legislation to reduce the numbers of unwanted pregnancies and the many social problems which ensue: for example:
    • The extension of education in human relationships to all sections of society, particularly schools, where social, ethical and physical aspects of sex should be taught.
    • The provision of government subsidies for organizations giving contraceptive advice with general expansion of birth control facilities.
    • Making all prescribed contraceptives freely available on social security.
    • Making sterilisation available on social security for men and women who choose this form of birth control.
  3. To seek redress of wrongs or social injustice which any person or persons may from time to time suffer and to render legal assistance to that end and to bring to the notice of the government of New Zealand or any other authority whether domestic or foreign such matters as in the opinion of the Association require attention or alteration.
The first AGM was held on 17 March 1971. Mrs Isabel Stanton, Auckland social worker, was elected national president. Membership of ALRANZ was not confined to any particular ethical position and strict adherence by all members to the widest implications of the objects was not presumed, as it was recognised that individual member's attitudes might vary in the extent of reform sought.

ALRANZ described the organization as "pro~choice" rather than "pro~abortion". A priority was to support initiatives and reforms leading to the prevention of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

ALBANZ had support from a number of leading figures in the medical profession and in the wider community. In 1975 Lady Patricia Harris QSM became the patron and remained in that role until her death in February 2003 at the age of 92 years. Dr Margaret Sparrow became National President from 1975-1980. From 1980-1984 Alistair Aitken was National President and since then Dr Margaret Sparrow resumed that role.

Early activities of ALRANZ included:
1972     ALRANZ commissioned a Public Opinion Poll by National Research Bureau in January. A feminist and more radical extension of ALRANZ became WONAAC, the Women's National Abortion Action Campaign.

1973     The first national conference was held in Wellington in July. It was agreed that ALRANZ support the Supreme Court decision from the USA, Roe v. Wade, as the basis for policy.

1974     ALRANZ commissioned a second Public Opinion Poll in March by the National Research Bureau. ALRANZ supported the opening of the Auckland Medical Aid Centre in May 1974 and opposed the introduction of the Hospitals Amendment Bill (The Wall Bill) intending to restrict abortions to public hospitals.

1975     ALRANZ and WONAAC joined forces to support the Committee to Oppose the Hospital Amendment Bill 1975 (COHAB). ALRANZ supported Dr Woolnough, on trial for abortions carried out at the Auckland Medical Aid Centre.

1976     ALRANZ opposed the Health Amendment Bill (Gill Bill) another attempt to restrict abortions to public hospitals. ALRANZ' s position was summarised in a submission to the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion in 1975:
  • ALRANZ supports a law change permitting abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy, the decision being that of the woman in consultation with her medical adviser.
  • Beyond 12 weeks and up to the time of viability, between 20-24 weeks, regulations may be imposed; the primary concern being that of the maternal health and medical safety.
  • Once the stage of viability has been reached, abortion may be carried out only in exceptional circumstances and to save the life of the mother.
  • Section 182 of the Crimes Act 1961 should be clarified while sections 183-187 should be completely revised in accordance with the above policy.
  • The prevention of unwanted pregnancies is considered of paramount importance.
ALRANZ was critical of the Report of the Royal Commission published in March 1977 and the subsequent legislation, principally the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act which came into effect on 1 April 1978. This Act set up a system of certifying consultants to approve abortions under the supervision of the Abortion Supervisory Committee.

1983     ALRANZ lobbied parliamentarians at the time of the two private member's Bills, one liberal (Marilyn Waring) and one restrictive (Doug Kidd). Both Bills were defeated.

1989 ALRANZ supported Minister of Health Helen Clark in repealing the legislation relating to contraception and under 16 year olds but ALRAINZ has always opposed the system of certifying consultants and did not support the changes proposed to the procedures for approving abortions. These were unsuccessful with opposition from both liberal and conservative groups.

In the 1990s there were no legislative changes. Activity centred mainly on protest action at various clinics, networking with other organisations and responding to social issues. ALRANZ also liaises with similar organizations in Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA.

Writing submissions has been an important undertaking e.g. responding to legislative changes that may impact on abortion care, contributing to the response to CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms for Discrimination Against Women) and complaining to the Ministry of Health about the abortion booklet "Considering an abortion: what are your options?

In 2002 ALRANZ made a formal complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board regarding a misleading advertisement by SPUC about abortion and breast cancer and was successful in having the complaint upheld.

In 2003 ALRANZ wrote to the Ministry of Health about a misleading claim of accreditation on the website of Pregnancy Counselling Services and was successful in having this changed.

In 2004 ALRANZ lobbied parliamentarians on the Care of Children Bill when an unsuccessful attempt was made to make it compulsory for parents to be notified when an under 16 year old was seeking abortion.

Responding to media requests for an opinion on abortion related issues is ongoing and this has included television, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews.