Women’s safety has always sat on a political sea saw. We can feel the anxious internal turbulence, as if we were being physically rocked. But this is no maternal embrace- a social ill more impactful than monthly period pains. January’s international women’s day marches were empowering evidence that in the face of fear, we will push back; we’ll rock the boat, embrace the sea sickness and stand with the wind in our face. Then the lawmakers, the Trumps’, the republicans- the literal and symbolic ‘man’ that we’re trying to stick it to- increase the stifling humidity, take the wind out of our sales and anchor the boat with spiteful policy. Within days of taking office, Trump removed federal funding from abortion services within the states, and placed an international gag order on the discussion of such services. So anyone currently justifying their Trumphillia as a fight for free speech, please get down from your ideological high horse and back to the trenches where the real fight is being waged; not just for words, but for lives. Essentially, this gag order means that any international health organisation that receives funding from the US must now stop talking about abortions, and providing patients with safe healthcare information (verbally, online, on leaflets) or they will lose funding. Both options lead to unsafe abortions, unwanted pregnancies and the removal of women’s bodily autonomy. But Beyonce is having twins, so… ups and downs.
There is no such thing as a ban on abortions, only a ban on legal and safe ones. I don’t believe that there is any religious or morality-guised justification against abortion that should be accepted, especially by countries that claim to have basic human rights. This is a global issue, not just one that solely exists in ‘those Muslim countries that we’ll never understand’, or the television screen of Trump’s America, that we can pretend is a hyperbolic reality show for us to indulge in. The October Black Monday protests in Poland show that there is an ongoing war right on our doorstep that is forcing women to claim their freedoms. Whilst the Polish backlash was successful, and the government have suspended the proposed ban on abortion, Polish women are certainly not out of the firing lines; neither are women in so many other countries- Australia included.
Surely not? There are no worries, no stresses in this liberal paradise, we’re all mates hey? We protect our women. Nope, actually. When living in Brisbane I discovered that Abortion is a criminal act in New South Wales and Queensland, and has been since the 1800s. It’s only in 2016 that a new bill was introduced to parliament in order to decriminalise it, championed by independent MP Rob Pyne, which proves that the issue is far removed from the agenda of the main political parties. The bill has been rejected in NSW, and postponed in QLD. Women who have an abortion continue to face imprisonment for up to ten years, and their doctors can also face charges, unless they believe that childbirth would cause ‘serious danger’ to the woman’s physical or mental health.
Polls tend to show that the majority of Australians are in favour of better abortion rights for women * , which ironically seems to make this legality all the more difficult. Because cases so rarely end up in courts, and through media outlets, we can further pretend that this isn’t a public health emergency, and that Australia is an equal and progressive country, not like those ‘backwards Americans’. Aussies abhor Trump’s gag orders, pat themselves on the back for not actively introducing restrictive policy, but passively neglect the reality of 1/3 Australian women. Sorry guys, still nope. 1 in 3 women will require an abortion at some point * , but we can’t see ourselves amongst those statistics until it happens. But life happens, in ways that you could never conceive of, and our lives are not statistics. There is no way to understand the complexity of this issue unless you have been through it. It helps if people have confided in you about their experience, but unfortunately there is such a stigma on the issue that people aren’t talking about it- so I guess we’re just at a stalemate?
The law affects all women in these states who have unwanted pregnancies, but abortion access is even sparser in the dry and desolate landscape of rural Australia. Even without complications, logistics and overt scrutiny, an abortion (or the prospect of one) can be an incredibly traumatic ordeal, making you question your sense of self. Now imagine you live in a rural area, on a farm even, eight hours inland, where the local town is two hours away. You can’t see the wood from the trees, because there quite literally is no wood, only the baron remains of bushfires and the endless space between yourself and facing reality. The only way to see a doctor is to drive out, but since you work on a farm 7 days a week, with cows, sheep, farmers and perhaps other kids to look after; you can’t just nip off. And you work with people that will judge you for the situation, so you can’t just ask for the day off. There is only one working phone out there that dials to local numbers, so you can only call the local store and ask for a pregnancy test, but you work 12 hour days and need to make sure there is no one around when you make the phone call. You finally find your ten minute window, arrange a delivery, but an unlikely rainstorm hits, keeps going for three weeks, and turns the dusty sand into a muddy moat that traps you on the property. So you try and maintain your cool under your perpetual panic attack, and wait for the storm to subside. The pregnancy test eventually comes back weeks later, and it’s negative. You breathe a sigh of relief. Otherwise you’d have to find a way to travel to another state for a legal abortion, and you can’t even afford petrol for your Ute.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, and I refuse to. I have heard too many, each with their own nuances, horrors and physical or social obstacles. And my heart and support goes out to each and every woman. People need to stop over-simplifying women’s fertility. It is not as simple as wear a condom, take a pill. These aren’t always effective, and when you bring coercion, force, alcohol, misinformation and even just human error into the mix, you realise you can’t bring this issue down to statistics.
Decriminalising abortion is so important, not because it will solve the issues, but because it will remove grey area that exists for doctors and support providers. Due to the sketchy legality, women’s fate is down to the whim of individual doctors, who can deny an abortion, and feel more inclined to protect themselves from potential imprisonment. Hospitals run by faith based organisations can refuse to provide emergency contraception, and individual doctors can carry anti-choice attitudes into their practice. Private clinics operate in metropolitan areas, so rural women must travel to the city or accept the options presented to them in their towns. This may be non-existent, limited, and because of the tight nit communities, confidentiality is not guaranteed. Women may delay an abortion until they can afford the travel costs, childcare or upfront cost of the private clinics ($120-$250), which may run into the short window of opportunity women have in order to obtain a safe abortion- or have unwanted children. Once the state legislature has to accept that this form of health care is not a crime, but a human right, then maybe the government can make further moves to financially and emotionally support women. Simple though yeah, just strap on a condom?
The NSW Parliament have just had a conscience vote on the issue, every Liberal and National Party MP voted to keep abortion as a Criminal act in law. Their decision is inconsistent with opinion polls; The 2015 survey by Lonergan Research * found that people in rural or regional areas were more likely to vote for decriminalisation than in Sydney, despite the expected trend that country folk are behind the times. It is clear that with this issue, the reality of people’s health comes before religious objection. Except in parliament, where male politicians hold each other’s tridents and circle jerk around a hellfire ring, all over women and their rights. Rob Pyne has withdrawn his bill for now, so discussion will now be postponed to the next parliamentary term. So the fight continues. You should contact your local MP and urge them to vote YES on this issue, because if it’s not you who will be affected by their decision, it’s someone you know. Or someone you’ll never meet because they live too far out from you and your reality.
See Mehreen Faruqi’s statement on the NSW Bill here…