Culture

Five Mistakes I’m Constantly Correcting About Abortion

According to Julia Gillard, an Abbott government will turn abortion into a "political plaything of men who think they know better". Like it isn't already. Let's learn more about it!

According to Julia Gillard, abortion is set to be the “political plaything of men who think they know better” under an Abbott government. Actually, Madame Prime Minister, it already is. It’s such a controversial topic in this country that many men and women aren’t comfortable talking about it or asking questions; so before we pull out our gender cards and enter the fray, let’s get a few things straight.

1. Abortion Is Legal In Australia

Nope. Abortion remains in the criminal code in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania. Only in the ACT is abortion legal under any circumstance. In NSW and Queensland, women and doctors can be prosecuted for performing or receiving an abortion.

Children By Choice points out that in states where abortion is a crime, it is “generally regarded as lawful if performed to prevent serious danger to the woman’s mental and physical health, which includes economic and social pressures”.

In Tasmania, a bill to remove abortion from the criminal code is currently being debated. Tasmania, I like your trees, salmon and progress.

The excellent Amal Awad wrote an equally excellent break-down of abortion law in each state and territory for TheVine, which I would recommend you print out if you’re planning a road trip.

2. “RU486” Is Another Name For The Morning After Pill 

I explained this to two random dudes on Twitter yesterday. RU486 (sold as Mifepristone or Mifegyne) and the morning after pill (MAP) are totally different drugs, with totally different purposes. As the name suggests, the MAP is a precautionary measure to prevent pregnancy occurring in the first 72 hours after sex. I got it from the chemist; it made me feel a bit nauseous so I got to watch Princess Bride and sit in bed.

RU486 is what’s used in medical or non-surgical abortions up to 7 weeks gestation. It is scheduled to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which will bring the cost down to $70, and $12 for Centrelink card holders (although there can be associated costs as high as $500) [Updated 6/1/2014]. For many women it’s far preferable to a surgical abortion. But as a Sydney-dweller, if I want to take it I either have to demonstrate to my doctor that having a baby would damage my mental or physical health, or catch the bus from Sydney to Canberra.

RU486 is what has caused Tony Abbott so much trouble. When he was Health Minister in 2005, he stepped in to try and maintain a ban on the drug’s importation. A conscience vote was allowed on the issue in parliament, and Abbott was stripped of his power over the drug.

3. Women Who Get Abortions Are Poor, Dumb Sluts

There are an infinite number of reasons why someone might not want to have a child. Regardless, women from all backgrounds and in all kinds of circumstances are equally entitled to make decisions about their health. No state of wealth, poverty or relationship status changes that.

And yes, needing a termination is evidence that you had sex for a reason other than procreation. Yeah, I know — guys never do that.

4. Abortion Is A Difficult Decision For Every Single Woman

For a lot of women, the decision to terminate a pregnancy — at no matter what age, or stage of gestation — is agonising. But for others, it’s just a medical procedure. In her autobiography In My Skin, Kate Holden wrote (I’m paraphrasing here), “All I knew is that I was sick and so I went to the doctor to make myself better.”

Whenever we insert the word “difficulty” into conversations about abortion, we tell women that they owe it to society to feel guilty. We tell them that their bodies aren’t really their bodies, and that the decisions we make about them will somehow affect everyone else. Which brings me to my next point:

5. Men’s Opinions Are Just As Valid

No, no they’re not. Unless you have a uterus, you don’t know what it’s like to have the spectre of unwanted pregnancy looming over you. You also don’t know what it’s like to have the inner workings of your body become the subject of national debate. Therefore, you can make comments and policy decisions far more flippantly. The lived experience of uterus-having counts for something.

But somehow we’ve got a situation where arsehats like the Democratic Labor Party’s John Madigan and Tony Abbott think that their opinion on what women should do with their uteruses is in any way worth listening to. And legislating on.

I get shitty when one social group attempts to deny the rights of another group. Like straight people and same sex marriage. Or male politicians and female citizens. As my very clever, white, middle class male friend put it: “It’s impossible for me to know what it’s like to feel X type of oppression, therefore I should advocate there being no oppression.”

Right on, sister.

For all kinds of useful information about abortion, go to the Brisbane-based Children By Choice.

Eliza Cussen is an emerging creative writer who earns a crust editing websites for Australian non-profits. Her columns have appeared in The Drum, Ramp Up, The Punch and Mamamia. She blogs sometimes at Fix It, Dear Henry.