Politics

I Had A Late-Term Abortion. Trust Me, It Wasn’t Easy

Greens Senator Janet Rice has revealed the heartbreaking story behind her own late-term abortion.

abortion

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Like so many other women, I have had an abortion. And it was a late-term abortion at that, at 21 weeks.

On Monday afternoon, after the Senate debated an appalling motion from Nationals’ Senator Barry O’Sullivan condemning long-overdue legislation in Queensland to decriminalise abortion, I was understandably quite shaken, despite the motion being defeated.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was a classic case of intimidation, and exercise of power from privileged men. Senator O’Sullivan threw out graphic descriptions of an imagined barbaric death of a foetus, and accusations that women are killing their unborn children. He was backed by Senator Cory Bernardi and, in offensive interjections, by Senator Anning.

People who have had abortions were effectively accused of being murderers.

The thing that makes me the angriest about these rude, patronising, patriarchal, women-hating, old, white, male senators who attacked us is they don’t care about the impact that the offensive expression of their views has on people who have had to navigate the tightrope of considering an abortion.

Nor do they understand the reality of an abortion.

No one has an abortion without thinking about it, and thinking about it hard.

Our Most Difficult Choice

My second pregnancy was of twins. My partner Penny and I didn’t know we were having twins until my first ultrasound at around 18 weeks, where we discovered that one of the foetuses, a girl, wouldn’t make it. She had spina bifida and anencephaly, a condition that results in death a few hours after birth.

We named her Rose.

Penny and I had to make a choice, an impossible choice. Our options were to either continue with the pregnancy where I would give birth to both Rose and her twin, at which point Rose was certain to die soon after. Or to have what is known as a selective termination, and run the risk to myself and the other twin of carrying a baby who has passed away. Or to terminate the whole pregnancy – both foetuses.

What kind of choices are they?

It was an agonising decision, a harrowing decision, Penny and I decided to terminate the whole pregnancy, it seemed the most straightforward and low risk thing to do. Then we changed our minds and decided to proceed with the selective termination, hoping that the remaining twin and I would be OK.

The termination was through an injection of potassium chloride to her heart. She passed away immediately.

Because our agonising decision had taken us a few weeks to make the termination ended up being a late-term abortion — beyond 20 weeks.

So it fell into the category that Senator O’Sullivan was arguing about, bludgeoning us unthinkingly, uncaringly, disrespectfully. Implying that people like me are murderers.

I’m not a murderer. I’m a person who faced a choice I never wanted to make. As is every other person who has an abortion.

No One Has An Abortion Flippantly

Some people aren’t in the mental state to have a child. Some don’t have secure housing or a secure income. Some are in unsafe relationships, or already have children and can’t look after another one. Some people just don’t want kids.

And some, like me, have pregnancies which endanger the life of the mother, the child or their twin.

All of these scenarios involve a decision that is not made without considerable thought and contemplation. But each termination is a choice a person makes because it is the right thing to do for them in their unique, individual circumstances.

I’m lucky that my story had a happy ending. I carried my pregnancy to term and gave birth to a healthy baby, Leon, who is now 23 years old.

I also gave birth to my deceased daughter, Rose. I have tears in my eyes thinking of her now. The pain and sadness of losing her has never left me or Penny.

Enough Is Enough

It’s the complexity and gamut of emotions associated with abortion that people like Senators O’Sullivan, Anning and Bernardi belittle and dismiss in their privileged righteousness.

I was rattled and felt attacked by their attempts to diminish me and my experience for their own twisted agenda. Labelling me and people like me as murderers.

But I’m also lucky. I’m lucky because I come from a place of privilege and the abortion I had was accessed safely, easily and legally, and I know it would be seen by most Australians as an acceptable course of action in the circumstances.

During this hideous debate on Monday, I was thinking of other people who need to access abortions, who don’t have my privilege. People who, on top of choosing to end a pregnancy, have faced other unacceptable barriers to accessing a safe, legal, affordable abortion.

People for whom an abortion is too expensive. People who have to travel far, sometimes interstate. People who aren’t supported by friends and family. People who have to fight their way through zealous protestors who throw plastic foetuses at them.

I’ve lived through the pain of having to make this choice.

People faced with this choice shouldn’t be subjected to the merciless attacks from the likes of Senator O’Sullivan and his ilk.

These attacks have no place in our parliament or our community. Enough is enough.

I’m pleased the Queensland government has introduced legislation to finally decriminalise abortion, something the Queensland Greens have been campaigning on for years.

It’s not only time that abortion is decriminalised in Queensland and New South Wales, but abortions must be made more accessible across the country, including made available in public hospitals. Abortions are essential health care, it’s time that governments around the country treated them as such.

Janet Rice is a federal Senator from Victoria and the Greens’ spokesperson for women. Follow her on Twitter @Janet_Rice