‘Trust women, support the bill’, say rally-goers

Pro-choice rally in Sydney, September 14. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

“Any law that places half the population at risk of criminality simply because of their biology is a ridiculous and unsupportable law”, Jane Caro told a pro-choice rally on September 14 in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

She took aim at the few “who are so mistrustful of women and their ability and right to make decisions about their own bodies, they are fighting tooth and nail to prevent this law passing”. Caro was referring to the campaign being waged by the cashed-up conservative right to stop the Reproductive Health Reform Bill 2019 from being passed in its present form.

“Women do not hang around as their fetus grows inside them and then, for no particular reason, decide to have an abortion after 22 weeks”, Caro said.

“Late-term abortions are a tiny percentage of terminations and are almost always the result of a tragic turn in a much-wanted pregnancy – either a threat to the mother’s life or such serious malformation of the foetus as to be incompatible with life.

“To add further hurdles for women in this awful situation is just cruel.”

Cruelty is an apt way to describe the anti-choice campaign to deny women health care rights.

This is because, as the conservatives well know, abortion is already available in NSW through a 1971 common law ruling. But those without the means, the young who don’t want to confide in their parents or who live remotely will face extra obstacles if restrictive amendments being proposed in the Legislative Council are successful.

As of September 17, some 32 amendments have been proposed — new restrictions which, if passed, would defeat the point of decriminalisation.

They include: making it mandatory for a person to consult a specialist, rather than a GP; the need to consult a “termination advisory panel” for abortions at 22 weeks or more; reporting of people’s private details regarding their abortion; redefining the definition of an “independent” counsellor; 7 years' jail for anyone found to be coercing or performing sex-selective abortion; reducing from 22 to 20 weeks the time when two specialists are required to consent to a termination; provisions regarding the “care of a child born live after a termination”; abandoning the bill’s inclusive language; prohibiting the “sale or supply of foetal tissue” with 6 month’s jail; outlawing sex-selection terminations; and no penalty for doctors with a contentious objection who refuse to refer the patient on.

Our Bodies Our Choices slammed the amendment directed at pregnant people with a disability as “insulting”. Clare Pullen, chairperson of Our Bodies Our Choices, condemned its as an attempt to use disability as a “wedge” and said that people with disabilities also have “a fundamental right to bodily autonomy”.

It should be remembered that these amendments are being put up by MPs who do not agree with abortion, full stop. While some have used religious arguments to promote their views, the bottom line is that they want to have control of reproductive rights.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is an eerie reminder of what happens to women when they have no control over something so personal and fundamental as their reproductive choices.

On September 15, Barnaby Joyce joined Tony Abbott and more than 1000 others to rail against the new bill, describing it as “modern day slavery”. Abbott described the bill as “infanticide on demand” and accused the Berejiklian Coalition  government of supporting “the most radical abortion laws in this country”, despite it being modelled on existing Queensland law.

Perhaps that is what prompted Odette Joyce to say her crusading father, Barnaby, doesn’t speak for her “once again”.

Abbott has also just been in Hungary happily supporting reactionary Hungarian PM Victor Orban’s racist Replacement Theory views which urge European women to reproduce more to avoid Europeans being replaced or “swamped” by refugees.

Pro-choice groups in NSW are continuing to ask supporters to email NSW MLCs urging they pass the bill unamended. As those at the pro-choice rally chanted: “Trust women and support the bill”.