In September the Victorian Parliament started to debate legislation to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. Currently punishable by up to 10 years jail, the threat of conviction hangs over the heads of doctors, women and their partners should they terminate a pregnancy.
By Kylie McGregor, Socialist Party
Many conservatives, church leaders, and anti-abortion groups such as Right to Life are against the right to legal abortion. However, research shows that the vast majority of Victorians support the right of women to be able to choose if and when they have children.
Many anti-abortionists do not, therefore, feel confident to publicly call for the abolition of all abortion rights. Instead attacks are made on the time limit on abortions as in the case of foetal abnormality, for which there is no time limit. This is an attempt to erode rights and to build up a stigma about terminations. This narrow argument does not take into account the forces driving women to seek an abortion.
Late-term abortions occur primarily because it is often not until after the 20th week of pregnancy that testing is done that reveals the serious problems (with the foetus). The reality is the majority of abortions take place before 20 weeks. No woman wishes to have a late abortion. There are greater health risks associated with late abortions. Women who present late for abortions are generally in the most difficult circumstances. Some have mental health problems or learning disabilities. Some are also victims of incest or domestic violence.
For many women the choice of termination is influenced by their financial and housing situation, access to quality childcare, questions of domestic violence, mental and physical health and other personal issues. Women should not be forced to go through nine months of pregnancy and a lifetime of motherhood if they do not choose to.
If we want to create real choice for women then we need real financial and social support. Only around a quarter of women workers in Australia have access to paid maternity leave, while18 per cent of all complaints accepted under the federal Sex Discrimination Act last financial year related to pregnancy discrimination.
While we support the full decriminalisation of abortion, legal rights alone are insufficient. A genuine choice is only possible where abortion is free, on demand and clinically performed. It is also only a real choice when the resources and support are available to bring up a child. At present these aspects of a woman’s right to choose are not readily available to all women.
While calling for full decriminalisation of abortion, we also need to fight for full social and economic rights for women.