"When uncertainty in the law exists, it opens the way to police corruption", Marg Kirkby from the NSW Women's Abortion Action Campaign told a Pro-Choice Action Collective (PCAC) forum on October 12.
Kirkby's comment followed a screening of Abortion, Corruption and Cops — The Bertram Wainer Story, which details a web of corruption involving abortionists, politicians and police, who all profited from abortion's uncertain legal status.
Police and politicians were involved in a racket involving regular payments to turn a blind eye to abortion clinics. The illegal nature of the clinics allowed shady abortion providers to severely exploit women, use unsafe practices, and in extreme cases rape women, knowing the women involved would never report them.
Doctor Bertram Wainer risked his life exposing the corruption and campaigning for safe, accessible and affordable abortion.
Kirkby has been involved in the pro-choice campaign for three decades. She has witnessed similar events to those in the film, including police raids of abortion clinics with women still on the operating table.
She linked the film to the current case in which a young Cairns couple face charges over an alleged abortion, with potential sentences of up to seven years' jail. "Wainer wasn't jailed because he was a doctor — but if it was 'just' a woman playing the same role, it's likely they would have been jailed."
PCAC advocates speculate that the Cairns couple have been targeted because the alleged abortion was medically induced, without a doctor present, thus isolating the couple. The alleged abortion occurred using an abortion drug readily available and safely used in many countries.
"The Cairns case shows we can't leave the law up to interpretation, because interpretation can go either way", Kirkby said. Despite a liberal interpretation of the laws, if abortion remains on the criminal code then the threat to a woman's right to control her body remains.