Body politic

It is March of 2019, and the prime minister refuses to talk about publicly funding access to abortion services for women.

He says it would not be “good for the country” to speak of such things.

Labor promises to link public hospital funding to abortion access, only to baulk at the first sign of disquiet from Catholic health providers.

“Obviously not every hospital provides every medical procedure,” a spokesperson for Catherine King told The Sydney Morning Herald.

But this was not obvious to a woman who recently sought a procedure at Tamworth Hospital, only to be turned away because of “hospital policy”. She was forced to travel six hours to find a clinic that would take her in, according to BuzzFeed News.

It is March of 2019 and a vital medical procedure is dismissed as nothing more than elective surgery.

In New South Wales, abortion remains a crime. All attempts to marshal its removal from the criminal code have failed.

Asked whether he would support a change in the law, NSW Labor leader Michael Daley offered that he would “take advice from the women in my life... and arrive at a position”. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said much the same. Neither has pledged to legislate decriminalisation.

In an address this week at the National Press Club, ahead of International Women’s Day, Anne Summers spoke of the perception that the Morrison government has a “woman problem”.

“No,” she said. “The Liberal Party has a man problem. And a merit problem. And a misogyny problem.”

But it is naïve to think this misogyny is contained to one party – it is laced all through our politics, and our culture in turn.

When Summers joined the press gallery in 1979, there was not one female MP in the house of representatives, a fact she mentioned in her speech.

Forty years later, there are 45 women in the lower house and 30 in the senate. The Morrison government has elevated a record number of women to its cabinet.

Yet women’s reproductive rights are still seen as an issue too divisive, too politically toxic. And women’s right to choose, a debate that felt long-settled, is once more open to litigation.

When this happened is not entirely clear. The conservativism that has crept into our politics is insidious, but it far too often has a human cost.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 9, 2019 as "Body politic".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on August 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.