Alternative Law Journal
Some time ago while on the verge of submitting herself for a medical examination for urinary incontinence Girlie was asked by her gynaecologist, 'Have you had any pregnancies?' Answer, 'No, but I have had two abortions.' In a matter of fact manner the doctor wrote down, 'Two stops.' How delightfully non judgmental! Compare that with the media frenzy that followed Tony Abbott's opportunistic remarks on abortion following the war and mortgage led election victory of John Howard's conservative government
Tony Abbot (The Rabbit) our federal Health Minister says he abhors the high rate of abortions in Australia and has produced inflated and contradictory figures to back his views. He later conceded his initial figures were inaccurate. Girlie says so what if there are a lot of abortions in Australia? Doesn't this just indicate how important it is for girls and women to be able to access safe health services?
According to the Sydney Morning Herald (13-14 November 2004) about one-third of Cabinet ministers are known to hold 'strong views that the present abortion rate is too high and that measures should be introduced to reduce it'. 'Measures' include compulsory counselling. better sex education and a ban on late term abortions. Brendan Nelson has a more moderate view but as a doctor can't quite allow women to make their own decisions. Abortion is, to him, a matter for a woman and her doctor. Amanda Vanstone sees no reasons to change abortion laws. All this kerfuffle at the federal government level is even more bemusing given that the Feds do not have constitutional power in this area. It is a matter for the states. The Feds can, however, block Medicare payments and Abbott is attempting to reduce the abortion rate by stopping Medicare funding for late terminations.
Mr Abbott also glossed over his 'mistake' when, as a young man, he got his girlfriend pregnant and had the child adopted. Conceding that adoption is not pain free he nonetheless chastises women who choose abortion. One young woman angrily declared to Girlie, 'Why doesn't he put his condom where his dick is!' A sentiment which, Girlie believes, sums up the issue very nicely.
Tony Abbott believes adoption is a better alternative to abortion. In so saying, he and others, underestimate the loneliness that adopted children often feel when they are unable to identify their birth parents. Children born of IVF are in the same situation and can also suffer extreme loneliness from not knowing who they are. The complexities of unwanted pregnancy can be profound, and it is therefore essential that women have a range of choices.
Julie Rowbotham, medical editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, has characterised the current debate as an attempt by the Howard Government at demonising women: 'In Abbott's tidy world of wishful thinking contraception works perfectly. That way those who fail to use it can be written off as feckless, narcissistic or just plain stupid.' The Sydney Morning Herald Editorial (13-14 November 2004) headed 'Abortion Still a Woman's Right' asks 'Why Australia? Why now? Australians might well have thought that the abortion issue was settled decades ago with the community affirming the right of women to decide.'
Andrew Bolt under the provocative heading 'We kill babies' (Herald Sun, 10 November 2004) writes: 'The abortion debate provokes mixed feelings, but leaving babies to die in dishes or bins is wrong. Silence is no longer an option.' 'The horrors now perpetuated in the abortion clinics ... were never contemplated
... and now even trouble feminists.' A classic example of using a false supposition that feminists were never concerned about women and girls having abortions to beat up his 'story'. There are occasional instances of horror stories where aborted foetuses have been left to die but our hospitals and clinics do practise ethically and responsibly and these beat ups are grossly exaggerated.
The Sunday Telegraph must have been thrilled (14 November 2004) to have unearthed a story from London in which Sinead Mclntrye discovered a 'shocking' example of Britain's 'teenage pregnancy crisis'. Two schoolgirls competed with each other to see who could become pregnant first! A 14 year old (named in the article) gave birth to a boy and her 'devastated sister', aged 15 bore a son a few months later. It's unclear from Mclntryre's story whether she is more upset by the fact that the sisters have taken their babies home to a 'cramped three bedroom council house' or that the family are the recipients of $488 a week income support.
Farewell to Janine Haines who died in November 2004. She was an inspirational leader of the Australian Democrats, a champion for environmental protection and a role model for women and girls. She had a strong sense of social justice and brought humour and compassion to her work.
HELEN BRIMFIRE and ANNA BORTION are feminist lawyers.