The right to choose

In the 1970’s, 80 women declared themselves criminals due to having had abortions. 

Courageously, they took an ad out in a national newspaper, denouncing themselves and calling for abortion to be made legal. Now 50 years on, it’s still classified as illegal to have an abortion in NSW and women (and men) continue to campaign for this right. 

Recently, taking inspiration from these brave women from the 1970’s, a coalition of more than 50 women have spoken out about their abortion plight through the campaign #ArrestUs. Representing various generations, #ArrestUS is made up of some women having obtained an abortion six weeks ago, some others a few years back and others dating back a few decades.

I have also added my voice to the #ArrestUs campaign. It was 2008 when I was faced with this difficult situation and although I had the luxury of being able to afford the procedure, I definitely felt unsupported by the legal system. I was made to feel like a criminal for exerting the right to choose what happens to my body. In an already emotionally charged and chaotic situation, making abortion hard to obtain and unlawful only adds insult to injury. 

Abortion is finally back on the agenda in the NSW parliament. A Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill co-sponsored by 15 MP’s from across all sides of politics, was introduced in parliament in August to decriminalise abortion from the state’s criminal code. The final vote on the legislation was delayed until mid-September after major pushback from conservative MP’s and anti-abortionists. Watch this space! 

NSW is the only State or Territory in Australia who hasn’t legalised abortion. A group of medical professionals, lawyers and community service workers have called the abortion law in NSW as ‘archaic, cruel and degrading’. Abortion is not necessarily easily accessible or affordable. Women can be forced to travel to other states to access services that they can’t easily access in NSW. In some regional and rural areas, there are no services available and travel is the only way. For some, the cost of having an abortion is outright inaccessible. 

Penny Sharpe, a labour MP commented that if the bill passed, it would finally ‘trust and respect women in this state’ and argued that ‘criminialising abortion does not stop abortion.’ 

Wendy Bacon a journalist and activist, recalls the context in which women navigated unwanted pregnancies in the 1970’s. Abortions were performed underground, often in backyards or on kitchen tables, leading to potential fatality and leaving many women in very vulnerable situations. It was a risky operation for both the woman and the doctor willing to undertake the procedure. 

The Women’s Electoral Lobby along with 60 community organisations has launched a campaign called the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance in support of the bill. It’s made up of a broad range of organisations including Domestic Violence NSW, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW. 

The Alliance is organising a rally on September 14th to show the level of public support for the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill, right before the NSW Parliament will be asked to vote on this bill, on September 17th. If you support this issue and can make the time, join the rally from 11am-1pm in Hyde Park. More info here

It’s been 119 years since abortion has been part of the criminal code here in NSW. It’s time for women to be able to have an abortion in a safe, affordable and judgment-free environment. It’s time to choose for the right to choose

Written by guest blogger Celine Massa, photo by ann harkness

 

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