Review: Fighting to Choose by Alison McCulloch

I struggle to find a properly punchy intro to this review.  Because all I really want to say is, if you have an interest in the history of the reproductive rights struggle in New Zealand, read this book.

If you don’t have an interest in the history of the reproductive rights struggle in New Zealand, also read this book.  Because you’ll develop one.

Abortion has a long and dramatic history in NZ, but it’s not a history we talk about, or remember.  And remembering that history is vital to our continuing push for reproductive rights today.  We need to know how we’ve gotten into this bizarre situation, with a law passed in 1977 which makes pregnant people jump through hoops but functions just well enough that most people carry on under the misapprehension that we have abortion on demand.

Just check out Jami-Lee Ross’ speech on the third reading of the marriage equality bill, when he referred to abortion being legalised.  It isn’t.

Why it isn’t, and who decided it wouldn’t be, and how activists fought hard for it to be, is what this book’s about.  Alison McCulloch, Pulitzer-winning journo and general badass, lays it all out, plain and simple, and being pretty damn even-handed towards the antichoice movement in the process.

This book was a joy to read … and it made me angry.  Angry at chickenshit politicians who folded at the first threat of Catholic voters’ ire.  Angry at a Royal Commission who dared to produce an incoherent, inconsistent report which controls people’s lives to this day, who let antichoicers derail an important moment in our societal debate on reproductive rights.  Angry at the condescension shown toward New Zealand people, particularly women, to this day.

Angry that we still have to fight for this.

But you know, it’s a good anger.  A motivating anger.

And now I’ve added “release helium balloons into the House of Representatives” to my bucket list.

Overall rating: five out of five speculums.

Fighting to Choose is available online from the Victoria University Press.

An abridged excerpt from Chapter Four, covering the opening of the Auckland Medical Aid Trust clinic in 1974, is up on Werewolf.

Prochoicing on the Prochoice Highway

Alison McCulloch is taking the book on tour.  Follow the Prochoice Highway for more information.

Videos from the launch, via the ALRANZ blog.


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