Abortion law: 'We won't go back to the backyards!'

October 11, 2008

The following article is based on a speech Resistance member Kimberly Yu gave to an October 4 rally in Melbourne.

The act of a doctor performing an abortion in Victoria has been in the Crimes Act since 1958. The Australian Capital Territory is the only state that has fully decriminalised abortion, which means that it has no laws governing this medical procedure.

Abortion is the second most commonly performed surgical procedure for women in Victoria and, according to the World Health Organisation, is one of the safest. However, it's currently the only medical procedure in the Victorian Crimes Act, which makes abortion a criminal offence.

The Abortion Law Reform Bill was tabled in the Upper House on October 7. This is a big leap forward for women's rights but it doesn't go far enough. This is because the proposed bill supports Model B, which takes abortion out of the Crimes Act completely, but places restrictions on abortion procedures after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

According to the bill, a late-term abortion requires the approval of two doctors, who have to assess the mental, physical and socio-economic situation of the woman as well as the medical condition of the foetus. These doctors face the possibility of being liable for professional misconduct if it is decided they do not adequately take these considerations into account.

Studies show that only 1% of women seeking abortions do so after 24 weeks, but they are also the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Many of them are teenagers or victims of incest or sexual assault. They might be suffering from mental illness or intellectual disability, or have experienced a sudden tragic life circumstance or discovered a foetal abnormality.

Difficulties in raising the money for a termination can also push women towards a late-term abortion.

There is already a shortage of doctors and medical facilities in rural areas. How are women in the country going to find two doctors to approve and carry out an abortion?

Restricting late-term abortions is an attack on women's fundamental human rights. It places restrictions on a woman's ability to control her own fertility, as well as when and how many children she has. It limits a woman's right to choose to just 24 weeks gestation.

After that, her life and her future are in the hands of a couple of doctors.

It's shameful that a developed and wealthy society such as Australia still keeps women in the Dark Ages. The state, the Right to Life group and other anti-choice campaigners have imposed ideological and legal restrictions on women's abilities to live their lives independent of the home and family.

Ex-PM John Howard once said that "the family is the greatest welfare system ever devised".

Government policies encourage women to have babies, but they don't provide adequate support in raising children. This leaves the burden of childcare in the hands of women and keeps them within the traditional role of wife and mother.

No government or institutional authority has the right to limit a woman's right to choose when and if to have children. Abortion is a woman's decision to make and no one else's.

We support this reform bill because abortion will be legally decriminalised, but the fight doesn't end here. Passing this abortion bill doesn't mean that ALL women have universal access to safe and free abortions.

Medicare does not always cover the entire cost of having an abortion and there are currently only three medical facilities that perform late-term abortions in the whole of Victoria.

There's also evidence that international students who do not have access to Medicare are forced to have illegal, unsafe backyard abortions because they can't afford to pay the bill, which can be up to $3000.

Legislation won't increase the number of abortions, but it will certainly decrease the number of dangerous backyard abortions that women are forced to have.

We need to continue fighting to achieve an equal and democratic society where women have full control over their bodies and their lives.

We won't go back to the backyards!

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