Women’s fights

“Abortion re-establishes the patriarchy.”

“Abortion has been a don’t ask; don’t tell issue for as long as I can remember. Why would any government want to legislate pregnancy termination?”

“Unbelievable. New South Wales is in the grip of a drought and this is the best that the parliament can turn out.”

If the arguments offered up by those opposed to the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW weren’t entirely circular, they were so twisted around themselves it was impossible to see the logic.

Meanwhile, in the NSW parliament, debate stretched late into the evening throughout the week, edging towards a conscience vote. There were warnings of the scourge of sex-selective abortions in other states.

Tanya Davies, the state’s minister for women, opposed the decriminalisation bill, which she said “sees the termination of pregnancy as a medical procedure almost akin to the removal of an ingrown toenail”.

Davies voiced objection to the fact the decriminalisation bill doesn’t once mention the words “woman” or “female”.

“Instead the term ‘person who is pregnant’ is used to ensure that it is gender fluid. Why is the bill claiming to enshrine women’s rights to their bodies and being celebrated and endorsed by women’s rights activists and organisations when women are invisible and, therefore, silent in the bill?”

But women are not silent on the issue of abortion. For decades, women – cis and trans – have fought for better access to reproductive health services in Australia.

In 2005, four female senators from vastly different political backgrounds joined to support a private member’s bill to wrest control of access to the abortion drug RU486 to the Therapeutic Drug Administration, the expert body that oversees almost every medicine in Australia. The bill’s passage ended a veto held by the health minister who was, at the time, Tony Abbott.

Our politics tends to flatten the experiences of women. There’s a common refrain: the decision to have an abortion is one of the hardest a woman can make. She may well know she made the right choice for her, and yet, it will always remain a profoundly sad memory.

Unless, of course, it doesn’t. And it isn’t. Unless it is simply a choice.

As Greens MP Jenny Leong wrote this week, “Maybe you aren’t supposed to say this – and I’m certainly not saying it is this way for everyone (this is my personal experience) – but I found the procedures involved in giving birth to my daughter significantly more confronting and challenging than having an abortion.”

It is time for our law to acknowledge that this is a medical procedure.

And it is hard to think of another medical procedure that requires a patient to walk past a pack of protesters condemning their sins or cross state lines or Bass Strait just to access it.

This stark reality strips away the intellectual dishonesty from this debate and shows it for what it is – a fight to control who decides what someone can do with their body. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 10, 2019 as "Women’s fights".

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