Abortion: the termination of a pregnancy.
As befits the seriousness of such a decision, the abortion process is carefully enshrined in legislation. In Australia, this is determined by individual states and territories, instead of a common nationwide decree. To date, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is most liberal, with abortion no longer considered under the Crimes Act since 2002. In all other states, different laws apply as to the requirements for medical judgement and approval. The health condition and socioeconomic status of the woman, and the stage of pregnancy are taken into account. Here in Victoria, the tipping point is 24 weeks. A pregnancy shorter than this grants a woman free choice. Beyond that, and the approval of two physicians is required. However, Medicare does cover the cost of the procedure in public healthcare facilities.
The problem is that many remain unaware that abortion, in certain circumstances, can actually be illegal. Being such a liberal nation, Australia needs to be cautious not to take this freedom for granted. Just this year, both Queensland and New South Wales recently dismissed bills (introduced by Rob Pyne in QLD, and Mehreen Faruqi in NSW) to decriminalise abortion. Pyne himself did not expect such strong opposition, eventually withdrawing the bill for lack of support.
But why would abortion be considered so objectionable to some? The anti-abortion camp, or ‘Pro-Life’, focuses on the morality of abortion itself. If life itself is sacrosanct, and every individual has an inherent right to it, it follows that abortion can be akin to murder. Obviously, few fully grown adults would declare that they would have rather not been born. Throw religious views into the mix, particularly the Christian belief that life is a God-given gift and the situation becomes emotionally charged. Such controversy is unavoidable, for it forces us to come face to face with existential questions about the value of life itself.
This explains why legislation on safe access zones around abortion facilities is necessary. In Victoria, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill passed in 2015, establishing a 150m zone around GP clinics, hospitals and other facilities offering abortion services. Within this exclusion zone, it is illegal to engage in harassment or intimidation. Examples of unacceptable behaviour would be filming videos or taking photographs of women entering these facilities.
On the other hand, those fighting for abortion rights are known as the “Pro-Choice” camp. Their focus is on the reproductive rights of the woman. To force a woman to go through with a pregnancy – involving immense physical, emotional, mental stress – sounds like an unethical practice of old. It would also be undesirable for the long term care of the unwanted child, after birth. Beyond the political agenda, pregnancy is also a personal, private medical condition for the woman involved. In her shoes, many would rather be given a choice than not.
A potential father has a relative lack of legal authority in deciding an abortion, doing little justice to the tangible impact abortion has on men. A fifth of callers to Abortion Grief Australia are male. They are also emotionally affected by their own, or their partner’s loss, and can fall back on self-destructive, risky behaviour to cope. Perhaps more could be done to bring them into the conversation, rather than assuming it is not their problem or place to speak.
Although categorisation of different cases is important for legalistic clarity – for example, based on varying socioeconomic status of the women, or the duration and viability of pregnancies – it must be remembered that each individual is unique. The woman, the unborn child, and the man. Context matters, and emotions run high. We each would do well to examine our own selfish motivations, before leaping to lay blame and condemnation on others.
Family Planning Victoria’s Action Centre (for people aged under 25):
(03) 9660 4700 or free call 1800 013 952
Pregnancy Birth and Baby Helpline:
1800 882 436 (7 days a week, with video call option)