In recent weeks, Australian women have been collectively holding their breath while the future of their reproductive rights were debated in New South Wales.
Now that the final vote in the Upper House is delayed until September, it’s a good time to reflect on the fact that New South Wales is the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise abortion – and it’s time to just get on with it.
This process clearly hasn’t been without fuss. We know that the push from the far right has been incredibly painful, particularly for women who have had an abortion – either illegally or by skipping borders to neighbouring states. The assertions from those opposing the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 have been varied – but consistent in being ill-informed and completely anti-women.
The Archbishop also made the assertion that there has been little consultation on the bill. The statement suggests that the community has been caught off-guard, which means it is a true testament to him being one of the few last men standing on the battleground (next to Fred Nile and Barnaby Joyce) to assert this – of all points. It is objectively wrong.
The New South Wales Government has widely consulted on abortion reform for a very, very long time – not only with religious institutions, but with academics, medical peak bodies and advocacy groups on both sides of the argument.
The consultations have taken place in the context of multiple, albeit unsuccessful attempts to get this reform over the line. Moreover, the bill being introduced almost mirrors the existing Victorian legislation which was enacted in 2008, which was also widely consulted on through a public submissions and committee process.
The Australian community – much like the US, is all too familiar with misogyny attempting to govern us. This year we have seen abortion bans in American states; a legislative move threatening to unpick the constitutional ruling of Roe v Wade set by the Supreme Court in 1973, which says that abortion is legal until the foetus reaches viability, usually at 24 to 28 weeks.
And while these bans can be contested, the point remains that we are still fighting with a fundamental hatred of reproductive choice from men who hold deeply misogynistic beliefs. Frankly, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
While we sit and try to grapple with this, it should be noted that in every aspect of western society where the political representation of women is growing these men view equality as their loss. Whether it’s reproductive freedom, equal representation, gender pay equality or economic security – the proportion of the “pie” reserved for these men is perceived as stolen and they are furious.
Our country’s battle for our reproductive rights won’t end in September, even if we win the parliamentary debate in New South Wales. Australia’s legislation on this issue is like a badly-stitched patchwork blanket. It’s messy, it’s expensive, it’s inconsistent and it’s unfair.
Women in Tasmania still frequently fly to Melbourne for terminations – because of some serious under-resourcing and backlog caused by a notoriously unsupportive Hodgman Liberal Government.
South Australian women are only able to access an abortion if they have been examined by two doctors, and if they believe there is a risk to the woman’s life or that the child would be seriously disabled.
And beyond this, women deal with the stigma, the abuse and the endless shaming for having an abortion. The seemingly endless battle for safe, accessible abortions is an attack on our basic freedoms. Right wing shock jocks continue to say ridiculous and offensive things – and we are still shocked every time. And fair enough. But it’s like clockwork.
We need reform – and we need it now, at all levels of government. One of the last things Tanya Plibersek did as Health Minister when Labor was in Government was to ensure that RU486 – commonly known as the abortion pill, was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Her track record on this is consistently brilliant.
Before the 2019 election, she led the charge for Labor’s plan to review national policy – at both a federal level and with the states and territories to reform the systemic undermining of women’s reproductive health. This included reviews to Medicare for the Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) and requesting the Therapeutic Goods Association to review barriers in accessing the contraceptive pill.
While there is no one-step solution to this issue, it is something that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) must prioritise. And while the New South Wales Government has done some incredible work in the last few weeks to ensure the passage of this bill, I urge them to speak to their federal colleagues to take up this challenge.
Last week Barnaby Joyce threatened to quit the Nationals because his colleagues (rightly) criticised him for speaking at an anti-abortion rally outside New South Wales Parliament – and robo-calling constituents over the issue. The criticism is welcome, but it isn’t enough.
For too long, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have stood up at International Women’s Day breakfasts and told the press gallery that women hold up half the sky.
So why won’t they support our reproductive rights and adopt sensible and equitable policies?
It’s not good enough that we must make this case in 2019. If these men truly cared about the safety and support of the women in their lives as much as they claim they do, they will agree that women should have access to health care. And access to abortion is just that.
Throughout history, women in Australia have endured relentless misogyny within our legislative structures. State by state, territory by territory, we have repeatedly clawed our way through parliamentary debates on the status of our very existence – and it’s pretty tiring.
Feminism, in all its waves – and the names of suffragettes and activists which accompany them will forever be etched in the pages of our country’s history. And those pages don’t exist because we as feminists have wanted to have a fight with men for the sake of it. None of this is fun.
We just want equality. We just want choice. Simple.