Updated: Sep 1, 2021
The cover page of Broadsheet Magazine Jan 1978, issue no. 56.
While doing some archiving work for the Charlotte Museum, our team was given the enduring task to arrange the Broadsheet magazines. It was my first time coming in close contact with the magazine. I came across one of the copies that had a weird sticker on top of the cover. It read, "Where to get an abortion. See inside". I was intrigued by this little advertisement, not knowing or thinking what the inside would look like. Flipping through the pages of issue no 56, published in January 1978, was a pamphlet titled "How to get an abortion." The synopsis of the pamphlet was that New Zealand women had to seek refugee within her neighbour Australia when it came to abortion. When the cruel men sitting in parliament dictated a woman's body scene, she was forced to go overseas for a procedure that should be one of her legal and human rights.
The Contraception, Sterilization and Abortion Act of 1977 allowed abortion after fulfilment of specific criteria. This process seemed tedious, and many appeals were rejected. The organization SOS (Sisters Overseas Service) was a non-profit that collected funds to send women to Australia for safe abortions. The only other alternative for women were backstreet abortions. As much as it pains me to write this, I hope the patriarchy reads this and apologizes to all the women who ever had to DIY an abortion. These alternatives included using alcohol, Epsom salts, herbs, vitamin C, and some self-induced operations with instruments. Broadsheet magazine's March 1978 issue no. 57 gives a detailed list of other options that women could refer to. At the end of the article, they mention that all these methods are illegal and dangerous. This was a failure and a slap on the faces of women who had to see their friends or relatives go through this trauma. The 1977 act allowed contraceptives like the IUD and the pill, there was still suspicion around the legitimacy of these products.
The pamphlet inside issue no. 56 that gave instruction for women who were seeking an abortion.
The pro-life protestors who sided with the draconian laws should be ashamed for putting women through this trauma. The Society for the Protection for the Unborn Child (SPUC) in 1970 had a travelling roadshow, wherein they used foetal sonograms and foetal heartbeat recordings to convince their audience of the humanity of 'the unborn child.' Abortion for them was a political and religious issue. Then the regular drama of when something doesn't align with their beliefs, the practitioners of that religion make sure to crucify whoever breaks the rules. The idea of fearmongering with the reminder that your actions hurt God is usually an easy way to push gullible people further away from the truth. Did anti-abortion groups ever care about women? With the whole conversation of banning abortions in American states, the pro-life community is constantly edging itself away from reality.
Women were expected to be loyal housewives, loyal homemakers. Her duty towards the state and her family was to bear children and keep the lineage going. A few days ago, I being a millennial /gen z, came across this TikTok (a video app), where a woman talked about how it is usually the white people who are opposed to abortion. With the idea of nationhood and preserving their race, white women faced oppression from families and the legal systems. A duty! A responsibility!
Since pro-life groups influenced the parliament in the '70s, pro-abortion groups organized themselves to stand against these ridiculous laws. Abortion was no longer a personal issue; it was a political issue. It was the woman vs the state. Abortion clinics and facilities were burnt down by anti-abortion to send a message of the hatred they felt towards women and people who supported this cause.
In 2020, New Zealand successfully made abortion legal, eliminating it from the Crimes Act of 1961. It is relatively easy for women to receive and consult for an abortion now. Before this legislation, women had to go through a hierarchy of processes, from GP's to consultants, to approve abortion. The mental strain of an unwanted pregnancy can be so scarring on women. The law also allows women of colour and poorer women to access safe abortions through the health systems. Now was that too much to ask for? Women were never selfish, and abortion was never a sin. The burden of having children at a young age or financial difficulties could be why women would like to go through this process. How can the government or some fetus loving freaks ever take away this freedom from her?
I am glad that I came across this and have a platform to talk about this. But there were so many who can't and who isn't allowed. Women were in pain. Tossed and turned in a legal system that doesn't care about her. She was scared of what people would say about her. She wondered how her parents would react. She was ashamed. But this was the only option for her. She had to survive by sacrificing herself to the laws of the government. My heart goes out to all the women who have been victims of ridiculous abortion laws. To all the women that have lost their lives at home or outside, we'll make sure that no one will ever have to go through that pain again. It stops with them. Now no more.
We are lucky to be alive in this century.
We deserve better than this. This picture in Broadsheet March 1978 issue no.57 depicts an emotional scene. Where a bath is supposed to be calming and relaxing, women were changing their lives with the alternatives that they had.
Annaida Varghese is a student at the University of Auckland and is currently working at the Charlotte Museum as part of our internship programme through the Museum and Cultural Heritage course.