abortion law reform

The Tasmanian Liberal government might have hoped that by announcing on July 2 that it had secured an abortion provider whose services are due to open in October, the “abortion issue” might have gone away.

It is a vain hope.

Cricket Australia's decision to sack Angela Williamson on June 29 because of her tweets campaigning for abortion access in Tasmania, and her subsequent decision to go public and appeal to the Fair Work Commission, has reignited the issue.

[The following letter was sent by Dr Kamala Emanuel to the Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman on August 8 in response to his government's decision not to allow public hospitals to provide abortion access from July 1. Emanuel sent it to Green Left Weekly in the wake of the public furore over Cricket Australia's decision to sack Angela Williamson because of her tweets campaigning for abortion access in the state.]

Dear Premier,

I lived for 9 years in Tasmania. My daughter was born at home in Glenorchy.

As women and their allies around the world prepare to strike, rally and march on International Women’s Day, abortion rights are once again on the agenda in many countries.

For years, women have had to endure attempts by a small numbers of religious extremists trying to humiliate and shame them outside abortion clinics.

Two states and both territories have passed laws banning this harassment. Now, New South Wales could be doing the same, as two bills are about to be bought before the state parliament.

Pro-choice activists in Queensland say the campaign for abortion law reform is entering its “final, most important stage”.

This was the assessment of Kate Marchesi and Olivia King from Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose about the campaign to support abortion law reform measures introduced by independent state MP for Cairns, Rob Pyne.

Group of women holding pro-choice placards

Unlike the other states and territories, abortion is a criminal offence in New South Wales and Queensland, except under certain circumstances.

The doctor who provides the termination, anyone assisting and the woman herself could all be prosecuted under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) or the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).

In NSW and Queensland, bills have been developed that, if successful, will lead to the decriminalisation of abortion in both states.

In the same way that women had to organise and struggle to win the vote, equal pay and access to higher education, women have also had to fight for their reproductive rights, including access to contraception and access to safe medical and surgical abortion.

The impact of pregnancy and childbirth on a woman is so great that no matter what other political, social or economic rights women have, if they do not have control over whether or when to have children, it is meaningless to speak about women controlling their own lives.

There's a “huge appetite” for abortion law reform, Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi told a 150-strong meeting at the Glebe Town Hall on June 6. “We've waited far too long already,” she said.

The meeting was organised to launch Faruqi's decriminalisation of abortion bill, which is in its draft stage. The panelists included health professionals Philippa Ramsay and Juliet Richters, health laywer Julie Hamblin and Bethany Sheehan, a founder of My Body My Right, a group campaigning for a safe space outside abortion clinics.

Feminists and their supporters have campaigned for decades to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act and treat the procedure as a health issue. For decades, they have been told “now is not the right time”.

Finally, NSW MLC Mehreen Faruqi has moved a repeal Bill.

Last week US religious figure Troy Newman, who campaigns against abortions, was denied entry into Australia on the grounds that he would be a danger to the community. Some are hailing his banning a victory for women's rights. But was it?

Newman is the president of Operation Rescue, a right-wing misogynist organisation in the US dedicated to stopping women having abortions and doctors from performing them.

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