In South Australia, where abortion is still legally considered a crime under the Criminal Act, women do not have the legal right to make their own reproductive choices. What we have now is tenuous and limited access to abortions through an underfunded healthcare system.
Now, this access is under attack. Family First MP Robert Brokenshire has introduced into the SA upper house the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration (Registration of Still-Births) Amendment Bill (also known as Jayden’s Law), which will be put to a vote on May 16.
Jayden’s Law seeks to reduce the gestation period that miscarriages become classified as stillbirths from 20 weeks to 12.
The law’s proponents claim its only aim is to alleviate the suffering of grieving women who experience a miscarriage before 20 weeks and under current laws are not able to access a birth certificate or burial rights. But the South Australia Feminist Collective (SAFC) sees Jayden’s Law for what it is: a sneaky attempt to introduce a regressive reform that can later be used to roll back women’s right to an abortion under the guise of what might otherwise seem a reasonable attempt to respond to the needs of some women.
In the face of this attack, feminists across South Australia are seeking to protect women’s rights.
Women’s rights are not given to us. They have to be won by us. The South Australian Parliament did not just give women the right to vote in 1895. Parliament was forced to give women the vote after the suffrage movement fought a long, hard struggle for it over many years.
Women were not given the right to equal pay. We have had to fight for decades to achieve every victory and there remains an unjustifiable wage gap between the genders today.
Women will not just be given the right to free, safe, accessible abortion either. Abortion is legal in all states when the life and health of the mother is in danger, but any definition beyond this varies from state to state.
Abortion remains on the criminal code in all but two states in Australia. Under these laws, a woman or a doctor can be prosecuted and face a lengthy prison sentence for transgressing often unclear and anachronistic statutes.
The winning of rights for women is not a one-time deal. It is a process — a process of vigilance and the maintenance of a clear voice stating the position of women who simply want the right to make choices for themselves, to retain bodily integrity and to uphold the right to determine what happens to their body.
The right to legal abortion in South Australia can be won only by a community-based campaign organised by women and men who understand its importance and who are willing to fight for it.
This is something the SAFC is committed to.
On May 10, 50 people attended an SAFC public forum on abortion rights. The speakers — Greens state MP Tammy Franks, Flinders University associate professor in Gender Studies Barbara Baird and myself, representing SAFC — discussed the legal, historical and political context in which Jayden’s Law must be viewed.
Participants at the forum were sympathetic to the needs of women who had experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth — and strongly believe that they should be accorded respect and allowed the dignity to follow the rituals and procedures they feel are needed to grieve.
However, it was unanimously felt that there must be a way to recognise and acknowledge this grief without affecting the rights of all women. There was a call from the forum for an ongoing campaign to decriminalise abortion in South Australia.
The SAFC is not just opposed to Jayden’s Law, which will lay the groundwork for future attacks on the existing access to abortion in South Australia. We are for the decriminalisation of abortion, so that all women can have access to free and safe abortion without fear or limitations.
We are for increased funding and services for women who do choose to have children. We are for increased support for women who lose a wanted pregnancy, at any stage of gestation. We are for free, safe contraception on demand.
We are for granting women the dignity to grieve a lost pregnancy in the way they see fit, and for a wider recognition in general of the respect that deserves to be given to this process.
We understand that we will not achieve these demands simply by asking for them. We have to win them by organising and campaigning.
Moving forward with the campaign against Jayden’s Law, the SAFC is organising a petition, which thus far and after only two weeks has more than 1000 signatures. This will be presented to Parliament before the vote on May 16.
At noon on May 15, a protest will be held on the steps of Parliament House to demonstrate the strong public opposition to Jayden’s Law.
There is a reason these attacks against women’s rights are made quietly, in incremental steps, hidden under an otherwise reasonable guise. Those who seek to undermine the rights of women, and the rights of all people to determine their own bodily experience do so deliberately. For they know that to do so openly would mean immediate failure.
They know that the Australian public will not allow the rights we have gained to be taken away in the light of day. This is our best weapon. We must bring these underhanded attempts out into the public sphere and name them for what they are.
If you believe a woman has the right to make her own reproductive choices and that these choices should be supported, I strongly encourage you to join SAFC and get involved in the ongoing struggle to win full reproductive rights for women in South Australia.
Those who oppose rights for women might be strong, but there is no question that we are stronger. And if we fight, we will win.
[SAFC will protest Jayden’s Law at noon, May 15, Parliament House. The next meeting of the SAFC will take place at 2pm on May 19 at Adelaide University. Email email@example.com for more details.]