Carol Shand


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    The song „The Knitting Needle Bill“
    Carol Shand, MD New Zealand
    Explanatory notes for the song by Dr Carol Shand & Dr Margaret Sparrow
    This song* was written in 1976 at the height of the abortion debate in New Zealand (NZ).
    In the 19th Century, abortion laws in NZ and Australia (based on UK law) were restrictive.
    A test case occurred in June 1938 when Dr Aleck Bourne, London, carried out an abortion
    on a 14 year old girl who had been raped. Mr Justice Macnaghten directed the jury that an
    abortion was not unlawful if carried out on the grounds of preserving the health (as
    opposed to the life) of the woman. In 1967 a more liberal law was passed in the UK but NZ
    and Australian did not follow suit. Most abortions were clandestine acts. NZ women with
    money could travel to the UK or Japan for a legal abortion. Poor women relied on do-it-
    yourself techniques, backstreet abortionists or doctors acting covertly within NZ.
    Each State in Australia has different abortion laws. In 1969 a Melbourne court case
    exposed police corruption and political interference but the result was an acquittal,
    liberalising the law in the State of Victoria. In Sydney in 1971 the jury in another trial
    involving an abortion “clinic” again failed to convict, effectively liberalising the law in the
    State of New South Wales. After this, clinics in these two States operated more openly and
    the trans-Tasman traffic increased greatly. (Auckland to Sydney is 2146 km)
    In May 1974 a private abortion clinic opened in Auckland to test whether NZ would also
    accept a more liberal interpretation of the law. Rich or poor now had access to a safe NZ
    service. The police raided the clinic in September 1974 and one of the operating doctors 

    was brought to trial. Fearing that a NZ jury might not convict (as had happened in
    Melbourne and Sydney) anti-abortionists lobbied for parliamentary change.
    In September 1974 Dr Gerald Wall MP introduced a Bill (The Knitting Needle Bill) to try
    and close down the Auckland clinic, by restricting abortions to hospitals. The Bill was
    passed in May 1975 but never enacted due to an error of drafting. The clinic remained
    open. Another attempt in August 1976 to restrict abortions to hospitals was made by the
    Minister of Health, Air Commodore Gill. Parliament rejected this as they had already
    appointed a Royal Commission in June 1975 to review contraception, sterilisation and
    abortion. The Commission produced a very conservative report in March 1977. This
    resulted in a redrafting of the abortion laws which although still restrictive on paper, in
    practice deliver a reasonable although excessively bureaucratic service. The Prime
    Minister at the time, Rob Muldoon was also anti-abortion.
    The writer of the song, Dr Erich Geiringer (1917-1995), a medical doctor, a refugee from
    Vienna, ran a weekly talkback radio session and this song was one of the satirical songs
    he wrote and sang on Radio Windy. The illustrations depict from Top left: a rampant
    farmer in black wool singlet, and gumboots, smoking heavily. Top centre: Coat of Arms per
    Qantas (Australian airline) with NZ icons of rugby, sheep, beer and knitting needles. Top
    right: Bernadette. The bottom scenes depict various illegal abortion methods: Higginson
    syringe, herbs, potions, hot bath and gin etc. The satire ostensibly mocks the rich young
    miss who hopes to enjoy a days shopping, trip to the opera and visit to the famous Bondi
    beach after her quick Australian abortion and is cross that liberalised legal practice might
    limit her fun. In fact the song was intended to remind the politicians that a repressive law
    would oppress only the poor who would be forced to resort again to dangerous backstreet
    *Tune: Victorian Music Hall song “She was poor but she was honest”
    Chorus: “It’s the same the whole world over, it’s the poor wot gets the blame. It’s the rich wot gets the gravy. Ain’t it all a bleeding