Junk Explained: How Roe V Wade Being Overruled Could Impact Australia’s Abortion Rights

Australia's system already has plenty of flaws.

roe v wade

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A United States Supreme Court draft opinion was leaked last week, revealing a plan to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe V Wade decision that legalised abortion.

The leak has sparked global outrage and thrust the conversation regarding womens’ rights to bodily autonomy back into the political discourse. So what exactly is Roe V Wade and what does this mean for Australia’s abortion rights?

What Is Roe V Wade?

Roe V Wade is a 1973 court ruling that formed the basis of abortion rights in the US as we know them today. The ruling determined that the right to an abortion is protected under the US constitution.

Basically, the right to abortion isn’t specifically a constitutional right, but it is protected under the other rights to privacy and liberty, which prohibit the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Noting that denial of abortion caused physical, psychological, financial and social harms to the woman, Justice Harry Blackmun ruled in favour of abortions being protected under the constitution.

“We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation,” he wrote.

Thanks to this ruling, states cannot ban abortions in the first trimester, while restrictions are allowed in the second trimester at a state level.

What Does Roe V Wade Mean For Australian Abortion Rights?

If Roe V Wade is overturned in the US, it is unlikely that Australia will follow suit.

While we mirror the US in many ways, our laws regarding abortion are pretty different, and the general consensus among the public is strongly pro-choice. Not to mention, abortion is a conscience vote topic, which means that even if it were up for political debate, politicians would be free to vote on their personal beliefs — rather than as a partisan issue.

It’s also worth noting that Scott Morrison — a conservative and religious Prime Minister — stressed last week that the laws aren’t going to change in Australia. “I’m aware of the reports that are coming out of the United States, but that’s in a different country. In Australia there are no changes to those laws,” he said.

“The politicisation of abortion in the US has not left Australia untouched.”

So while it’s perhaps unlikely that we’ll be debating the right to an abortion in the political space any time soon, that doesn’t mean we’re safe from the problem — and experts have warned us not to be complacent.

“This is a very real concern,” Dr Tania Penovic, a Senior Lecturer research program group leader in gender and sexuality for the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University told Insight Plus. “Our situation is very different from the US but we must not be numbed into complacency.

“Although abortion has been largely decriminalised in Australia, the politicisation of abortion in the US has not left Australia untouched.

“We see this process in the US where the politicisation of abortion by the Christian right started in the 1970s, and it’s reaching a peak now. And who pays the price? Pregnant people and the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community, those who experience intersectional discrimination and disadvantage.”

Abortions Are Legal In Australia, But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Accessible

Currently, abortions are legal in every Australian state and territory, but the conditions and cut-off dates vary state-to-state. But 15 months after South Australia decriminalised abortions — finally joining the rest of the country — the problem is yet to be solved.

The bill was passed in South Australia in March last year, but women are still facing barriers to accessing medical care due to issues with actually implementing the law — which now means a pregnant person only needs to contact one doctor, instead of two, provided she is not more than 22 weeks and six days gestation.

“The service is trying to rise to the occasion, but people have been moved from eight to 11 weeks (gestation) because they’ve had to wait, a lot of bad things are happening that are not ideal,” Australian Medical Association (AMA) councillor and obstetrician Brian Peat told the ABC. “Waiting lists are blowing out, everything is now more complicated, everyone needs 20 questions before they get seen, they’ve got to get PPE, they’re trying to minimise face-to-face contact.”

Not to mention, the process is much more traumatic and difficult for those living outside of metropolitan areas, where public abortion services are virtually non-existent and telehealth options are limited.

“We still have to make women travel for 2.5 hours and then to tell them they have to see a second doctor, then we have to mess around at the hospital to administer the medication,” Wallaroo GP Anna Kearney told the ABC. “It really is making women jump through hoops unnecessarily.

“It can be so distressing for women, knowing they could’ve accessed the medical abortion pill prior to nine weeks — that’s when it’s TGA approved — and then, from a limited availability of appointment times, they’re unable to have that medical termination and are forced to proceed with a surgical termination.”

While it’s good that abortion is regulated as a health issue, rather than a criminal one, over-regulation of gestational limits and requirements to provide counselling services still pose an accessibility issue.

Politicians And Abortions

Thankfully, there’s no immediate threat to our abortion rights in Australia, but that hasn’t stopped multiple politicians from making their thoughts on the matter known.

Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker was forced to defend her participation in an anti-abortion rally, claiming that her role as assistant women’s minister means she should support unborn female babies — as opposed to supporting the rights of women wanting abortions.

“They would take an interest in and provide a compassionate kind of support to people who face vulnerability in our community,” she told Sky News, asserting that the move was “entirely consistent with the duties of a minister for women”.

“Now, that includes women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, but it also includes the 50 per cent of children conceived who are women.”

Scott Morrison refused to answer the question of whether or not he agreed with her anti-abortion stance, but defended her right to attend the rally because “it’s a free country”.

LNP Senator Matt Canavan and One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts also attended the event.

Meanwhile, controversial Victorian MP Bernie Finn resigned on Monday after he made social media posts “praying” for abortion to be banned in Australia — even in the instance of sexual assault.