In late April, a rally was held in Hobart to fight for safe and accessible abortion. While abortion was decriminalised in Tasmania in 2013, it still isn’t funded by Medicare, and one of the few private providers in the state has recently closed down.
To access a surgical abortion requires someone to either pay $2500 to a private provider, or to travel to Melbourne, where abortion is available through public health. Even then, it costs around $300 – a barrier for many people.
The Tasmanian state government provides travel assistance to people going to Melbourne, but it is still a prohibitively expensive undertaking. Flights, accommodation and living expenses all need to be paid for, and often it means travelling unaccompanied and taking time off work.
In addition the travel assistance program is not anonymous, which acts as a deterrent to many women. Despite progress in social attitudes and the decriminalising of the procedure, women’s sexuality and their right to choose is still often shrouded in shame.
It’s a step forward that abortion is now decriminalised in most Australian states and territories. It must be acknowledged that this right was fought for and won by working class women and men over decades.
But unfortunately, the laws do not go far enough. Women still do not have full control over their own bodies. For example, abortion is still a criminal offense in NSW and Queensland, unless a doctor deems there to be a “significant” threat to the life of the mother if the pregnancy goes ahead.
In Western Australia anyone under the age of 16 is required to obtain parental consent for the procedure. Even in the states and territories where abortion is legal, it isn’t free at the point of service, nor is it widely or easily accessible.
It is unacceptable for people to have to travel long distances, take time off work and leave their communities and support networks simply to access what should be a fundamental right. It is a disgrace that in 2018 – in a so-called advanced capitalist country such as Australia – that such a straightforward procedure is still denied to so many.
While the issue at hand is the right of a women to have full control over her own body, the debate is often hidden behind an existential question of ‘when a life becomes a life.’ But this debate is a diversion from the real issues, which centre around the role that women play in society and the fact that they are treated as second-class citizens.
Denying access to abortion is undeniably misogynistic. It is about controlling women’s bodies and their sexuality. It is used to shame women who have sex for pleasure. It is used as a means of repression and it is linked to preserving the traditional role that women play within the nuclear family.
In capitalist society the unpaid labour that women perform in the home is key to maintaining the system. Women are encouraged, and often forced, to play the role of unpaid housekeepers, carers of the elderly and the sick, and emotional nurturers of this, and the next, generation of workers.
Restricting access to abortion and perpetuating a culture of guilt is a highly effective tool for governments and employers alike who want to avoid paying for these costs.
For socialists, this means that while we need to fight for everyone to have access to free and safe abortions within their own communities, we also need to fight for a different kind of system. One that prioritises human need and does not seek to profit from our unpaid labour, our bodies or our emotional investment.
The Socialist Party demands:
• That women exercise full control over their bodies. They should choose if, how, and when they will have children.
• Free and accessible medical and surgical abortion on demand in every state. Fully covered by the public health system, available in all hospitals and accessible to those living in regional and remote areas.
• Comprehensive, evidence based sex education in primary and secondary schools.
• Free contraception available to all regardless of age.
• Free education from early childhood to university. For a woman to truly choose, then the economic burdens of parenthood need to be removed.
Real choice requires women to have full equality in the workplace.
• For the union movement to genuinely take up the fight for women’s liberation.
• Fight for equal pay for equal work, parental leave and decent welfare payments for all.
• Free childcare for all.
• A democratic socialist society that removes the oppression and discrimination that women face.
By Meredith Jacka