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Backstreet abortions not prevalent here.

I have recently read the article by Ann Simmons in the February issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand ("Taking the judgement out of abortion", p26-27). In the article she refers to her 30 years as a nurse and midwife, and further on she says: "Those of us who are old enough can remember women being admitted into wards with overwhelming sepsis from self induced or backstreet abortions. Many of these women died." That reads as if Ann herself has witnessed the above events, in other words women from the 1970s onwards have died of self-induced abortions. This simply cannot be true. In 1975, the government set up a Royal Commission of Enquiry into contraception, sterilisation and abortion. This resulted in the present law on contraception, sterilisation and abortion, which became law in 1978.

Relevant to Ann Simmons' article are the findings of the Royal Commission on the matter of illegal abortions. They had this to say: "The evidence which the Commission has heard at the various sittings which it has conducted throughout New Zealand suggests that the traditional back street concept of illegal abortion is not prevalent in New Zealand." A number of gynaecologists throughout the country told us that cases of women admitted to hospital suffering from complications of backstreet abortion were almost unknown and that deaths and complications from septic abortion were a thing of the past.

If Ann has any official information that shows that, in the 1970s, women were being admitted, and indeed some dying of septic abortions, I for one would be interested in seeing it.

Winifred Armstrong,

retired RN /midwife, Timaru

Ann Simmons replies: In the '60s and '70s, women were still being admitted to gynaecological wards with incomplete septic abortions. However, they were termed "incomplete septic miscarriages" (a euphemism) because to try and procure an abortion yourself meant, and still does under the Crimes Act, a term of imprisonment of six months or more or $1000 fine. That was a lot of money back then.

I know of two recently retired gynaecologists who performed abortions following the law change because of their belief that it was better for these desperate women to have safe physical and emotional care than to end up in hospital extremely ill. In Western Australia, the State Government repealed the abortion laws in 1999, only to reinstate even more liberal laws later the same year after the deaths of two mothers of young chidren from septicaemia following self-induced abortion.
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Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Armstrong, Winifred
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:411
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