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Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all

Monday, July 11, 2022

Feature

By Family Planning chief executive, Jackie Edmond

The theme of this year’s World Population Day couldn’t be more timely. It is about harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all. With the United States Supreme Court overturning a 49-year-old Constitutional right to abortion for American women, the world has witnessed just how fragile rights can be.

Realising sexual and reproductive health and rights is central to fulfilling the full range of human rights and eliminating gender discrimination. The ability to choose a partner, have safe, healthy relationships, positively express gender identity and sexuality, determine if and when to have a child, and access confidential, quality sexual and reproductive health services is fundamental to wellbeing, and the ability to fully participate in society. For Māori, sexual and reproductive health and rights also relate to cultural rights and identity, namely concepts of mana wāhine, mana motuhake, tino rangatiratanga and whakapapa.

These rights should never be subject to politically driven debate. Ever.

Family Planning has always acknowledged that people have different views about abortion. Some people oppose abortion and that is their right. However, to safeguard health and rights for everyone, we cannot allow the views of some to infringe on the human rights of others to make decisions about their own bodies, pregnancies and future.

Despite abortion law reform, there is still work to do to ensure equitable access to abortion in Aotearoa. Equally, there are large disparities in access to a full range of contraceptives. Unfortunately, sexual and reproductive health care for women, girls, non-binary and gender diverse people has not been prioritised in Aotearoa, despite it being essential health care and fundamental to realising human rights and gender equality.

With health reform, we have an opportunity to change this. Access to safe abortion and contraceptive care must be embedded as a core service within a national health system. The new system must provide a full suite of sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion care, that is fully funded and fully integrated within the new structure so that wherever you live, no matter your economic situation or your ethnicity, you can access a full range of contraceptives and abortion in a timely manner without stigma and shame.

For too long these services have been an add on, or subject to a post-code lottery. They have been all too easily ignored as essential primary care services. Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all requires recognition that sexual and reproductive health services are fundamental to the health and wellbeing of people throughout their lives. Provision of sexual and reproductive health services should not be subject to political will or rely on the tireless advocacy of individuals and under-resourced NGOs for adequate funding and access.

Specialist primary care providers of sexual and reproductive health care must be better resourced and supported in our new health system. Family Planning is a leading expert and only national provider in this area of health in primary care, yet our important role providing low cost services across the country is often minimised or overlooked. The new Ministry of Health clinical standards for long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) say that health practitioners need to insert 10 LARCs a year to maintain competence. Most of our clinicians (nurses and doctors) will do that in one week. We know we provide high quality services cost-effectively and we need to be trusted and supported to do this work.

Family Planning holds high hopes that the Women’s Health Strategy, required under the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act 2022, will be a mechanism and guide for safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls by prioritising sexual and reproductive health services and establishing clear mechanisms for implementing, monitoring and reporting on equitable access. This would mark the first time since 2001 that sexual and reproductive health services are meaningfully included in a national health strategy.

It is understandable that New Zealanders are concerned about what they’re seeing in the United States and how it might impact us here. Today, issues become global very quickly. Family Planning has had more people signing up to be members in the past few weeks than we usually do in a year. It is clear New Zealanders want to see sexual and reproductive health services and rights safeguarded here at home. Let’s do this together.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.