Could Abortion Rights Be Overturned In Australia?

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Abortion rights in Australia are suddenly in the spotlight after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade which has effectively eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.

Head of Policy at MSI Bonney Corbin told Junkee that “for us in Australia we woke up on Saturday morning to read that news and [we] feel shocked. We’d been tracking globally towards abortion rights and this is definitely a step backwards.”

But what are the potential flow on effects we could see here in Australia?

Could Abortion Be Overturned Here?

The good news is that this couldn’t happen in Australia.

Corbin noted that “we have a federal government that has committed to the Australian National Women’s Health Strategy. And in that strategy, it directly lists abortion equity as a key measure of success that was launched under the previous government.”

This strategy was launched by previous Health Minister Greg Hunt and it’s a bipartisan agreement, meaning it’s been agreed upon by both major parties to work towards abortion equity by 2030. The aim for this should result in every person in Australia having abortion access services at either a low cost or no cost, no matter where they live and no matter their circumstance over the next 8 years.

How Was Roe V. Wade Overturned?

In the US all three of former President Trump’s appointees to the Supreme Court were in the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling and four of the five Supreme Court justices were men.

“In many ways when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died previously we thought that this could be on the agenda. It’s part of how the Supreme Court is structured… so we had imagined that this could be on the card somewhere,” Corbin explained.

For nearly 50 years the landmark court ruling determined the right to an abortion for women by protecting it under the US constitution but Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued the case wasn’t strong enough for establishing nation-wide abortion rights, because it focused on the right to privacy instead of gender equality. She believed the decision gave “opponents a target to aim at relentlessly” which ultimately she was right about.

Last Friday the court found there should be no constitutional right to an abortion meaning it will now be regulated state by state. The ricochet effect of the decision has been scarily swift with thirteen states having abortion trigger laws and some banning the procedure immediately. It is expected that another 11 states will ban the procedure meaning Americans will be unable to access an abortion in almost half of the country.

Things To Know About Abortion Access In Australia

While abortion is decriminalised in all jurisdictions in Australia (note that South Australia only coming on board last year and Western Australia is still yet to be fully decriminalised) we still have a long way to go in ensuring accessible and affordable abortions and removing tight cut-off dates for the procedure.

Corbin told Junkee that your location can impact not only your access to abortion but also the quality of care you receive.

“Some areas you can be totally lost and not have anywhere to go and in other areas you might have one fantastic GP or one brilliant nurse in a local practice who will be by your side and advocating for your needs the whole way.”

Where you live is a bit of a lottery ticket when it comes to abortion access because it’s up to states and territories to set their health policies e.g. what is on the ground in health and hospital systems. For people living in rural and remote areas there is often already limited access to doctors. Only approximately 10 percent of GPs in Australia are registered to prescribe mifepristone which is the drug needed for medical abortion. But if you thought this figure was low it drops down to less than one percent in certain regional, remote and rural areas across the country.

But in saying that we are moving in the right direction if not very slowly.

“It’s about us all increasing our own health literacy and understanding of what it means to have control over our own bodies and lives,” Corbin said.

Understanding what abortion and what unplanned pregnancy are, are two really important components of health literacy Corbin pointed out. And the fact that abortion is relatively common. Roughly between one and three women and pregnant people in Australia will have an abortion in their lifetime.

“It’s an essential health procedure and as we move forward it will be something that’s more and more accessible in GP clinics [and] in your everyday health service, particularly with Telehealth abortion and online care, we’ll see access within our own homes and in our own sort of personalised care plans like we never have before,” said Corbin.