Jane Caro will be delivering this speech for the pro-choice rally on Saturday 14/9 in Hyde Park at 11am.
Around 40 years ago, as the result of contraception failure (still a relatively common occurrence), I had an abortion. I have never felt ashamed about the choice I made, and I have never had any regrets. In fact, about 15 years ago, I talked about my abortion on a radio panel that included Archbishop Peter Jensen (he did not approve) and ex-NSW LNP leader John Brogden (he didn’t either).
However, if I was in a similar circumstance now (and I was 40 years younger), I would not need an abortion because I would just take the morning after pill, but it didn’t exist when I faced an unintended pregnancy. Regardless, there are many who would still demonise me for my choice including believing that I am a murderer.
Throughout history, women have faced the very real possibility of having their lives derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. Until relatively recently, such an every-day occurrence was the source of much desperation, terror and risk. Women were horribly damaged and some even died as the result of illegal abortion. Unintended pregnancy was also the cause of may suicides. And the suffering of women who went on to have their unplanned babies and then had them removed for adoption was so profound it resulted in a public apology by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Even if a woman (or anyone with a womb) has been lucky enough never to face the decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy, every single one of us, if we have ever had penetrative sex, have worried that we might also be unlucky and a stray sperm could turn our lives upside down. This is true whether we are married or single, a mother already, young or peri-menopausal and everywhere in-between.
That is why the absurd, inhumane and patronising 119 year old statute that make abortion a crime in NSW must be repealed and the abortion law reform bill passed without any amendments. Any law that places half the population at risk of criminality simply because of their biology is a ridiculous and unsupportable law.
Yet, there are a few in the community (less than 30%, if recent polls are any guide) who are so mistrustful of women and their ability and right to make decisions about their own bodies, they are fighting tooth and nail to prevent this law passing. The tactics they are using are despicable – political bullying of those in our parliament who support the bill and hysterical misinformation including down-right lies to try and sway public opinion. It seems they have realised they cannot prevent the bill passing so are attempting to impose unnecessary amendments, particularly about so-called later-term abortions and gender-selective abortions. If these pass they may actually make abortion harder to access than it was when it was officially a crime!
Let me be absolutely clear, women do not hang around as their fetus grows inside them and then for no particular reason decide to have an abortion after 22 weeks. Late-term abortions are a tiny percentage of terminations and are almost always the result of a tragic turn in a much-wanted pregnancy – either a threat to the mother’s life or such serious malformation of the fetus as to be incompatible with life.
To add further hurdles for women in this awful situation is just cruel. Quite apart from the appalling view of women you must hold to believe such actions are ever undertaken lightly, anyone with any knowledge of the unpleasantness and risks of late-term terminations would realise that it makes absolutely no sense to wait around until a quick and simple procedure becomes a long and complex one out of sheer irresponsibility. And the idea that there are doctors who would collude in this is equally insulting to them.
As for gender selective abortions, there is precisely no evidence that such procedures are occurring in NSW and it is wrong to stymie every woman’s right to bodily autonomy for something which is so rare as to be undetectable. There is also no reason why we should restrict everyone’s access to abortion to guard against this. A much simpler solution, if this really is the problem some are noisily claiming, would be to make it illegal to reveal the gender of a fetus before birth.
I know this would be politically hard to sell but delaying a nice surprise is hardly as draconian as forcing women to gestate and birth against their will. If those fulminating against this practice are sincere, surely they should make that case? Particularly as this solution would also be a lot more effective and prevent the tiny number who might want to do such a thing from accessing such services elsewhere. (Yes, you guessed it, I don’t think they really care about this at all, it’s just a rationalisation of their deep – and disturbing – desire to regulate and control women and their bodies.)
As we approach the final vote on the abortion law bill, I want to give a shout out to all the pro-choice parliamentarians (yes – pro-choice, if you would never have an abortion under any circumstances, you will still have that choice) who are standing firm in the face of all this cynical hysteria, bullying and misinformation. Indeed, some have told me that the level of abuse they have been subject to has been even worse than that around the same sex marriage debate.
May I also, as a constituent of NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, particularly commend her on her calm courage in the face of some really nasty abuse, including accusing her – a woman of Armenian descent – of supporting genocide.
The sooner we pass this law, make abortion the medical procedure it is and legislate it as we would any other such procedure, the sooner we can all get back to normal.