The current `debate’
Conservative religious and political leaders are at it again, trying to restrict women’s access to abortion in this country.
Since its re-election in October 2004, the Coalition federal government, with right-wing Christian support, has steadily campaigned to make abortion a contentious issue. Health minister Tony Abbott is publicly campaigning for an end to Medicare rebates for terminations, and Christopher Pyne, federal parliamentary secretary for health, is organising opposition to all abortions after 12 weeks’ pregnancy.
Subsequently, a statement of opposition to later abortions has been issued by a coalition of religious groups; National Party senator Ron Boswell has put “questions on notice” to Tony Abbott – to dig up any information he might be able to use to undermine abortion access; and Family First senator Andrew Evans is trying to assert that abortion is harmful to some women’s mental health.
On the legal front, one doctor is being prosecuted for Medicare “fraud” for charging an “out-of pocket” fee on top of bulk-billing Medicare for abortions - something the peak body of abortion providers says is a legitimate, usual fee-structure, without which many abortion providers would not be able to operate.
The conservatives’ longer-term goal is to stop women’s access to abortion altogether, and they have two immediate aims as steps towards achieving that goal - to eliminate Medicare funding for abortion, and to have the laws changed to restrict when a woman can have an abortion - seldom after 12 weeks of pregnancy and never after 20 or 21 weeks. These attacks come straight from the example of the United States, where the federal health insurance scheme doesn’t fund abortion and a ban on “late-term” abortions was enacted in 2003.
The anti-choice campaigners know that an all-out ban on abortion would provoke massive public opposition, so they are hoping to wind back whatever they can now and lay the basis to remove more later.
This is particularly the case with so-called “late term” abortions (however that is defined). If restrictions on
abortion access based on pregnancy duration become acceptable, the issue is shifted away from all women’s
right to control their own reproduction to “getting the timing right”.
Women’s right to choose
Women’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy must remain non-negotiable. The impact of pregnancy and childbirth on a woman is so great that no matter what other political, social or economic rights women have, if they do not have control over whether or when to have children, it will be meaningless to speak about women controlling their own lives.
Opposition to later abortions is often couched in terms of the “need” to “re-examine” abortion in the light of technological developments – as though the fact that a foetus is potentially able to survive birth cancels out the pregnant woman’s right to make the decisions about her body and her foetus.
First-trimester abortions (up to 12 weeks’ pregnancy) account for over 95% of terminations. Most later abortions are performed for health reasons (medical conditions of the woman or the foetus). While those who want restrictions on later abortions are sometimes willing to accept medical reasons for later terminations, there are also groups of women more likely to need later abortions for other reasons. These women would be harshly disadvantaged if access were restricted.
They include women with irregular periods due to menopause or the commencement of menstruation, and the use of recreational or prescribed drugs, including hormonal contraceptives like Depo-Provera. As well, younger women are often more reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of pregnancy, and can find it daunting to approach family, friends or health services for help. Getting the money together for the out-of-pocket expenses of a termination may exacerbate this.
Rural women, too, sometimes require later procedures. Lack of confidentiality in a small town where there may be only one doctor, the need to travel long distances to access abortion and the associated costs put already vulnerable women at an added disadvantage and delay their attendance for a needed abortion.
Whatever the circumstances, restricting or banning abortion based on pregnancy length takes the control of her own body out of the hands of the pregnant woman and places it in the hands of others - doctors, politicians, priests or conservative crusaders. Removing access to later abortions is part of a push to remove all access to abortion – it must be resisted.
What is particularly odious about the proposal to remove Medicare payments for abortion is that, as with any issue of public funding, the most vulnerable would be most badly affected. While rich women would still be able to access abortion, many poorer women would not. The result would be either a significant increase in unwanted children or more cheap and unsafe “backyard” abortions, and certainly greater economic hardship for many women.
The majority of abortions are carried out in private clinics, with out-of-pocket expenses on top of Medicare. To be really equitable, abortion should be made freely available through publicly funded, dedicated units (whether in hospitals or as free-standing units, depending on local needs), where confidentiality and respect for the woman’s decision is assured.
Repeal all abortion laws
The anti-choice lobby is trying to whittle away by stealth women’s right to access abortion. If they succeed, the outcomes will be horrendous. Historical experience
shows that when safe, legal, affordable abortion is not available, women still have abortions, but many suffer enormously - physically and mentally - in the process.
Some die as a result.
Some die as a result.
The current attempts to restrict women’s access to
abortion is helped by the existence of anti-abortion
provisions in the criminal codes of every state and the Northern Territory. Even the ACT, where abortion has recently been decriminalised, restricts access after 12 weeks’ pregnancy.
Women’s access to abortion is legally possible at the moment only as a consequence of either particular court rulings (in Victoria, NSW and Qld) or amendments to the criminal code (SA, NT, Tasmania and WA). But the very existence of abortion in the state and territory criminal codes has always left the door open for the right-wing to try to further limit access to this service. In WA in 1998 and Tasmania in 2001, doctors stopped providing abortion as a result of police investigations sparked by anti-choice complaints.
In a more ongoing way, legal restrictions on when and under what circumstances women can access abortion - such as the obligation to undergo counselling or the requirement that two doctors certify that an abortion is necessary for the woman’s mental or physical health, etc - place extra hurdles in the way of women who already have to deal with having an unwanted pregnancy and finding services that can help. Such restrictions also give credence to the view that it is not the pregnant woman, but the state, that should decide whether or when a woman can terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
The only way to resolve this is to repeal all legislation specific to abortion - there are already many laws governing medical and surgical procedures under which abortion can be adequately covered. Then the decision about whether or when to have an abortion can be where it belongs - in the hands of the woman concerned. It is her body and her life, and must be her choice.
If the anti-abortion movement took a tenth of the energy they put into noisy theatrics and devoted it to improving the lives of children who have been born into lives of poverty, violence, and neglect, they could make a world shine. ~Michael Jay Tucker
Against abortion? Don't have one. ~Author Unknown
Republicans are against abortion until their daughters need one, Democrats are for abortion until their daughter wants one. ~Grace McGarvie
I've noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born. ~Ronald Reagan, quoted in New York Times, 22 September 1980
No woman wants an abortion. Either she wants a child or she wishes to avoid pregnancy. ~Author Unknown
Society does not need more children; but it does need more loved children. Quite literally, we cannot afford unloved children - but we pay heavily for them every day. There should not be the slightest communal concern when a woman elects to destroy the life of her thousandth-of-an-ounce embryo. But all society should rise up in alarm when it hears that a baby that is not wanted is about to be born. ~Garrett Hardin
Only half the patients who go into an abortion clinic come out alive. ~Author Unknown
Of course abortion isn't right. But it is even less right to bring unwanted children into lifelong suffering and to strip women of their choice. Making abortion illegal is not the way to prevent it. There is a much larger picture that starts with much deeper roots. ~Anonymous
If it isn't a baby, then you aren't pregnant, so what are you aborting? ~Author Unknown
If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. ~Florynce R. Kennedy, 1973
With humans it's abortion, but with chickens it's an omelet. ~Attributed to George Carlin
Abolition of a woman's right to abortion, when and if she wants it, amounts to compulsory maternity: a form of rape by the State. ~Edward Abbey
Seventy-seven percent of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will never be pregnant. ~Planned Parenthood advertisement
Abortion... was probably regarded by the average Roman of the later days of Paganism much as Englishmen in the last century regarded convivial excesses, as certainly wrong, but so venial as scarcely to deserve censure. ~W.E.H. Lecky
No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. ~Frederica Mathewes-Green
George W. Bush will protect your unborn fetus, then send your grown child to die in war. ~Rick Claro
The states are not free, under the guise of protecting maternal health or potential life, to intimidate women into continuing pregnancies. ~Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Roe v. Wade, 22 January 1973
Many people have pondered about the issue of abortion. The
arguments presented for pro-life are that every child born
should be wanted, and every child conceived should be born
(Sass vii). The opposing argument is that a woman should
have the right to decide whether or not to bear a child.
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized
abortion, however, the arguments between the two groups
still continues. Pro-life activists carry a strong
argument, and continue to push their beliefs. They feel so
strongly about these beliefs that violence has broken out
in some known instances. Pro-choice activists, on the other
hand, also maintain very strong views. They believe that
the fetus inside the woman is her property and life doesn't
begin until birth. Many countries have followed the United
States decision on the abortion issue and some of these
include Canada, England, and France. Other countries that
still believe abortion should be illegal, are Germany,
Ireland, and New Zealand.
Under the 14th Amendment's "personal liberty", women are
given the right to receive an abortion. The 14th
Amendment's concept of "personal liberty" and restrictions
on state action, allows a woman to decide whether or not to
terminate her pregnancy. The right to choose to have an
abortion is so personal and essential to women's lives that
without this right, women cannot exercise other fundamental
rights and liberties guaranteed to them by the Constitution
(Paltrow 72). The state can't interfere in the private
lives of a citizen. Without the right to choose an abortion
the 14th Amendment's guarantee of liberty has little
meaning for women. With the right to choose an abortion,
women are able to enjoy, like men, the rights to fully use
the powers of their minds and bodies (Paltrow 73).
A man can withdraw from a relationship as soon as he finds
out about a pregnancy. There is no question of his
involvement after that; he has made his choice. It is only
fair to say that women should be given the same choice. If
a woman doesn't want to hold the responsibilities of a
child, then she should be able to have the choice of
abortion as one option." Because contraceptives fail, and
because they are not always available or possible to use,
abortion is necessary if people are to be able to determine
whether and when to "bear or beget a child"(Paltrow 72).
Couples choose the alternative of abortion so they can
start or expand their families when they feel most ready
and able to care for them. Women choose to have an abortion
because pregnancy and childbirth can prevent them from
keeping their jobs, from feeding their families, and from
serving others in ways they consider necessary and
appropriate. Pregnancy and child birth may determine
whether a woman ever gets to start or complete her
education, which will significantly influence her ability
to support herself and her family. The availability of
abortion makes it possible for people not only to choose
the number of children they want, but also to create the
kind of family life they have always wanted for themselves
and to meet their responsibilities.
If a woman cannot choose to terminate an unwanted
pregnancy, she is denied the right to the "possession and
control" of her own body. One of the most sacred rights of
common law is to choose and if a woman can't do this, then
her most important possession is taken away. Abortion isn't
only a woman's right, it's a woman's choice.