Our Common Cause: Beat Abbott back

Issue 

Health minister Tony Abbott thinks women are having too many abortions. On February 16 he said, "Every abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation's legacy of unutterable shame".
The morning after parliament removed

Health minister Tony Abbott thinks women are having too many abortions. On February 16 he said, "Every abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation's legacy of unutterable shame".

The morning after parliament removed his veto over the availability of abortifacient RU486, Abbott announced his latest plan to restrict the number of terminations. It includes federal funding for organisations including church-affiliated groups to run a 24-hour counselling hotline for pregnant women, and three Medicare-funded counselling sessions for pregnant women.

The removal of the effective 10-year ban on RU486 reflected the decades of gains made by the women's movement. The vast majority of Australians continue to support free, safe abortion access for women and, despite the anti-choice forces' scare campaign, overwhelmingly supported making RU486 available under medical supervision.

The adoption of the private members' bill (sponsored by women Mps from four parties) to return the decision on RU486's availability to the Therapeutic Goods Administration will especially improve the reproductive choices for women in rural and remote areas, who may be able to access medical supervision for the drug but not an abortion clinic.

This win followed a considerable mobilisation of conservative forces to further restrict access to abortion in Australia, which backfired. Feminists mobilised too, and the decades of support for women's reproductive choices — combined with some hesitancy by conservative politicians under pressure from a reaction to other attacks on civil liberties — resulted in a win.

Health-care providers and other supporters of women's rights believe we need to maintain the offensive.

Abbott's latest plan may gain some support because of its veneer of providing pregnant women with "more choice". Yet the government has been restricting real reproductive choices for some time by refusing to deal with the problems created by pregnancy counselling services that do not advertise their anti-choice stance. This can cause considerable distress to pregnant women seeking unbiased information about their options and/or those who have already decided to pursue a termination.

Furthermore, pro-choice counselling groups and medical services are more qualified to provide unbiased, scientific and non-judgmental advice and options to women, not church groups.

We do not need a patronising enforcement of compulsory counselling that suggests women are incapable of making an unaided decision. Any Medicare-funded counselling sessions must be optional.

Restrictions on women's reproductive freedoms make it easier for the big business-driven conservative parties. It is no accident that, since 1996, Howard has advocated the family as the best "welfare unit". This is aimed at softening up the working class and mustering the right-wing for a reduction in the state's provision of non-profit and secular social services.

To get society to endorse this notion, "the family" needs to be mythologised, reproduction viewed as a sacred duty and early, non-conscious life (such as the foetus) seen religiously rather than scientifically. This reinforces bourgeois familial roles and obligations, making working people more likely to cooperate with capitalism's profit-first agenda.

Howard's capitalist masters want to shift a greater proportion of GDP away from people-focused services towards a profit-driven, user-pays system. The anti-choice, anti-scientific campaigns of the last decade — some effective, although mostly not — have been a necessary part of this broader conservative agenda.

The Socialist Alliance is active in campaigns that strengthen choices and rights for women, including:

  • Removing the multiple burden of waged work, household chores, and care of children and sick, disabled or elderly relatives.

  • Equal pay for women, not the current average rate of 66%.

  • For accessible, good quality, free child care.

  • Campaigns against sexual assault and for better contraception provision.

  • Removing abortion from the criminal code and funding more abortion clinics.

The Socialist Alliance does not think that women's rights should be left to MPs' consciences. We will continue to campaign for greater choice for women. Why not join us? Visit

<http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.

Virginia Brown

From Green Left Weekly, March 8, 2006.

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