Instead of reacting to alarmist abstraction like other state governments have done before, NSW has an opportunity to consider the real needs of women with regard to abortion legislation and make a more mature and informed decision. Manipulative strategies which include rampant disinformation about abortion are designed to recruit support for a cause that has little do with reality or the lived experiences of women.
The fact is that the majority of people are not even aware that abortion is in the criminal code, because most women have no difficulty accessing abortion when they need it. Women and doctors are not criminalised and according to the experiences in other states, decriminalisation does nothing to increase abortion access. In fact, some abortion advocates suggest that abortion law reform has reduced service in Victoria,
“Since abortion law reform, access to public services has shrunk. It’s not getting better”(Keogh et al, 2017).
Others say that perhaps they actually got it wrong “Indeed, it may be that criminal sanctions on abortion don’t cause abortion shame and stigma” (Cannold, 2012).
Yet the rhetoric is in full swing with motivators toward decriminalisation including ‘bringing NSW into line with other states’, ‘removing the ‘grey area’ that means women and doctors could be prosecuted,’ and ‘keeping up with public opinion’.
Of course keeping in line with other states which reacted to campaigns of fear and retribution without any acknowledgment of the coercive nature of abortion, or the realities rather than the abstraction, hardly seems a goal worthy of attaining. With no actual prosecutions of women and doctors, this too is simply an alarmist statement to incite an unwarranted fear. As for public opinion, there is far less support for abortion than abortion advocates misleadingly have us all believe.
When provided context in surveys, the majority of Australians do not support abortion past the first trimester and certainly there is an absolute minority supporting abortion into the third trimester. This is the case even though the majority of the public are denied access to many of the facts of abortion, and when such facts do make it into the mainstream, they are quickly dismissed while the messenger is discredited.
Such facts include that 95% of terminations are undertaken for psycho-social reasons, that is that women lack the necessary supports or resources necessary to continue a pregnancy and continue their current participation in life, whether that be their relationship, education or professional spheres. They are made to choose. This is not an act of freedom or autonomy.
Half of all post 20wk terminations in Victoria are also for psycho-social reasons. This is a hard fact for many in the public to comprehend. So hard in fact, that many will very willingly believe the abortion advocate who swoops in with a denial and a statement that the proponent of the fact simply hates women. It is easier to believe this than to believe we sit by while women are forced to abort their healthy babies because of their social circumstances and that this is dressed up as ‘healthcare.’
NSW also proposes to legislate conscientious objection laws, effectively cutting off any opportunity for women to be screened and perhaps picked up for risk factors or offered other alternatives, by any concerned doctor who then fears breaking the law by being seen to impede a woman’s access to abortion. Conscientious objection laws effectively place a woman on a conveyor belt that ends at an abortion clinic, where someone who is NOT her doctor, who knows little about her, and whose job it is to do abortions, not to address her real needs, will perform their function and take her money.
My message to NSW legislators may fall on the same deaf ears as it did in QLD, however we cannot stop speaking on behalf of the women who are silenced in their grief or regret and we must continue to work to make space for their experiences to be heard.
Cannold, L. (2012). http://rightnow.org.au/opinion-3/abortion-shaming-what-the-law-does-and-doesn’t-do/#disqus_thread
Keogh, L., Newton, D., Bayly, C., McNamee, K., Hardiman, A., Webster, A. & Bismark, M. (2017). Intended and unintended consequences of abortion law reform: perspectives of abortion experts in Victoria, Australia. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care; 43;18, 18-24.