The right to choose: the struggle continues

Submitted by Janet on 19 September, 2019 - 12:03 Author: Kate Buckell
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In August the NSW lower house passed legislation to remove abortion from the criminal code, making it the last State to do so in Australia. This is a victory for women’s reproductive rights and it is especially cheering given it comes at a time when we are facing renewed and pernicious attacks elsewhere, most notably the US. In late September the bill goes before the upper house. If it passes it will become law.
The amendments pushed by the upper house, following those in the lower house, are nothing more than attempts to derail the legislation, whatever the movers of these amendments claim. Straw doll after straw doll is held up in an attempt to whittle away as much as possible that is meaningful.
Notable is the attempt to lower the threshold for abortions to 20 weeks. This is based on the spurious argument that without a limit women will be terminating pregnancies right up to the due date. The idea that women have late abortions just because they were too lazy to do it earlier, or simple change their minds late in the day is both highly insulting and plain wrong. Less than 3% off abortions happen after 24 weeks and they are almost all due to severe foetal abnormality.
Equal access
The fact is women have always had abortions. It was just that if you were well connected and rich they’d be relatively easy to procure and safe; and if you were working class then you diced with death, arrest and permanent damage. With every additional limit placed on abortion it is the most vulnerable who pay the price: women in rural areas with limited access to services, who have to wait longer and travel further, and may need to save money or take time off work to do so; those who are victims of abuse, who may take longer to come forward; those who have limited English, who will struggle to access services and may not know their rights; and those who lack education and find it harder to fight for the services they are entitled to and need.
The right to free and safe abortion has long been central to the fight for Women’s liberation. It is a feminist issue, but it is a class one too. If the Upper house passes the legislation, this will be a victory but the road ahead is long.
Health care
The law is one thing, reality on the ground another. Without sufficient, accessible Medicare funded abortion services, the right to end an unwanted pregnancy will still not be a reality for most women.
And it is this that we must fight for, alongside free and accessible obstetric care, improved maternity and paternity rights, and quality funded childcare. Without these too, choice for many women will remain an illusion.

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