Safe, legal, affordable

Queensland Senator Larissa Waters says the majority of Australians support abortion – but too many women can’t access these services.

By Senator Larissa Waters
Monday, February 23, 2015

Even in 2015 in Australia, there are still a few ultra-right-wing, out-dated voices trying to undermine women’s reproductive rights.

Thankfully though, there is a whole host of amazing women – leaders in advocacy, medicine, allied health and law – who are working to ensure women have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion and access to one if they do choose to.

I had the opportunity to hear from many of these women on Friday at the Abortion in Australia conference, held in Brisbane by leading Queensland women’s organisation Children by Choice.

Abortion law was a key focus, and the myriad of differing rules depending on where you live makes it difficult for women to understand their options.

It is possible to get an abortion in any State or Territory in Australia (you can find more info here), but the circumstances and restrictions differ.

It’s shocking and thoroughly unacceptable that in Queensland and New South Wales, abortion is technically considered a crime – it’s listed in our antiquated criminal laws, literally written in the 1800s.

These ridiculously archaic laws can make what is already a difficult decision all the more confusing, stigmatised and disempowering.

When nearly a third of Australian women will seek an abortion over their lifetime, it’s time our laws reflected modern values that trust women and empower them to make decisions about their own bodies. Abortion should be decriminalised. And more than that, it should be safe, legal and affordable.

More than 80 per cent of Australians believe a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion.

While a woman’s right to choose is widely accepted by the community, the reality is that abortion is out of reach for many women because it’s too expensive, services are too far away, or both.

For example in Western Australia, all public and private services are in Perth, leaving extremely limited access outside the capital city of this massive state.

While in Queensland where abortion is technically a crime except for some particular prescribed circumstances, 99% of abortions are carried out through the private health system – where they can cost between $500 and $1000.

Wonderful not-for-profit organisations like Children by Choice, of which I am proud to be a patron, exist to give women free, unbiased counselling and to help women choosing to have an abortion to cover the costs and to get to a clinic.

Despite all the vital work toward decriminalising abortions and improving access which was discussed on Friday, the pro-choice movement has to expend some of its energy protecting existing (and insufficient) reproductive rights.

There’s some threat that laws could be dragged further backward, with conservative, anti-choice politicians, who hold decisive voting power, in the federal, Victorian and New South Wales Upper Houses.

We must guard against a shady deal between conservative governments and anti-choice cross-benchers.  Such a deal was struck between John Howard’s Coalition government and Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine in 1996 which effectively banned the crucial drug RU486 for a decade.  Thanks to the work of women parliamentarians, RU486 is now widely available and subsidised by government.

Last year, we had some scary insights into the views of some of Australia’s most senior ministers, when the World Congress of Families held a conference in Melbourne.

The World Congress of Families campaigns against abortion internationally, even where women’s lives are at risk, yet several Abbott Government ministers saw fit to attend the conference (before backing out due to intense public opposition).

This included Employment Minister Eric Abetz  who even went so far as to repeat the World Congress of Families’ completely discredited myth that abortion causes breast cancer.

Anti-choice protesters use ridiculous falsities like this to try to influence a decision that for many women is already difficult to make.

There are also cases of anti-abortion organisations falsely marketing themselves as objective pregnancy counselling services online.

And if lying isn’t enough, the anti-choice activists still protest outside abortion clinics today in Australia, denying women the dignity, privacy and security they deserve.

A handful of anti-choice protesters even showed up at the conference today.

It’s clear their display was utterly pointless – while they may be noisy, anti-choice stragglers are very few.

And that couldn’t be clearer to the speakers and delegates at the conference, who I’m confident will go away with renewed vigour in their challenging, indispensable work standing up for women’s reproductive rights.

I know I sure have!

Senator Larissa Waters is the Greens Spokesperson for women and a patron of Children by Choice. This article first appeared at Mama Mia.
Image: Senator Larissa Waters and Children by Choice staff. (Via Flickr)