Tag Archives: pro-choice

March for the Babies and Reproductive Rights

Last Saturday I spoke at the Pro-choice rally which was gathered in opposition to the March for the Babies (an anti-choice rally organised by Bernie Finn) outside the Victorian Parliament. It was a very surreal day, I really felt I had travelled to a parallel universe. Sadly, the anti-choicers severely out-numbers the pro-choicers, though they had bussed people from all over the place (including Albury, in NSW…) to attend. It was a call back to the 70s, it felt like (though I wasn’t around for such protests back then, so I don’t know).

This is the text of the speech I gave:

I am here today as a woman, and as a student. Let me start by emphasising that education is centrally important to achieving equality, addressing poverty, preventing unemployment, homelessness and a host of other issues which impact individuals and the whole of society. Access to education is therefore pivotal. In my primary and high school days, I sat in classrooms with boys, being told that I was the same as them, being told that I could do anything. That as a girl and as a woman, there was nothing that was impossible. As I grew older, what a surprise it was to find that equality is still being fought for. How amazed I was that it wasn’t until 2008 that Victoria removed abortion from it’s criminal statutes – after I had graduated from high school and had begun my tertiary education. All this while some women of my generation question the need for feminism and believe that full equality was achieved some time ago.

Reproductive rights are about more than just abortion. They include access to all forms of contraception, adoption, IVF, excellent pre- and post-natal care for those who give birth, as well as sterilisation. Abortion is part of reproductive rights as a whole and I would like to emphasise that each of these are important for men, women and trans identified people – all people should have access to reproductive justice. Later this afternoon, the March for the Babies protesters will try to separate abortion from all of these things. Abortion must stay within a reproductive rights context and every element of reproductive justice is as important as the next. Last year at this protest I was shocked to hear one anti-choice protester say that she would rather be raped than have an abortion. A strong feeling that I personally disagree with, however she illustrates my point perfectly – this is about choice and personal freedom – if you do not want an abortion, then please, do not have one.

Speaking of personal freedoms, I would also like to talk about sexual freedom. It all sounds very 1970s and free-love, but sexual freedoms are the ones which governments target first. They are hard to defend because the moralising parts of our society attack them as being debaucherous, immoral or unwanted in the first place. They have been described as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ or the barometer which tells us when freedoms in our society are beginning to be eroded. Reproductive rights are inherently linked to sexual freedom, as we cannot achieve sexual freedom without proper access to reproductive rights.

This brings me to my next point. We must trust women, trust them to make decisions which are best and right for them. Women must be able to decide when, if and how they have children. Women, including women students, are more than incubators and we must treat them as such. Women deserve equality before the law and the respect which comes with trusting women to make reproductive decisions. We must say to women ‘you are responsible and have your own moral integrity’ and allow women to exercise that responsibility and integrity. In Victoria, we are lucky that the law largely allows women to do that. In other states, we must fight so that women are afforded the rights they are entitled to. The prosecution of a young woman and her partner in Cairns should serve as a wake up call to all of us – this issue is centrally important and although these laws very old, they are still being enforced, and we must not assume any differently. Victoria can never go back.

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The Other Side of Abortion

Pro-choice activists have long argued that abortion should be available on demand, and without apology. I am one of them, and I agree with that. But sometimes, things happen to those close to you that make you realise how complex and at times, awful, this can be when it’s translated into a specific set of circumstances in reality.

Someone close to me is currently pregnant and has found that there is likely (to be confirmed soon) complications with the brain development which mean that the baby would have very very serious disability* when born. Depending on the degree of this damage, the doctors are likely going to recommend termination. She is more than 30 weeks pregnant, and her and her partner want this baby very very much.

Of course, abortion isn’t the problem here – it didn’t create the developmental issues that are the cause of her anguish. But the fact that her and her partner have a choice to make is absolutely heartbreaking. What a choice to try to make.

Disability rights activists have long argued that all the screening and tests conducted in pregnancy are reinforcing the idea of a ‘perfect’ and ‘normal’ human and I completely agree. However, the kind of disability that they are talking about would bring quality of life into question, and neither of them are financially set up to be able to adequately care for a child who requires constant attention and care. But they desperately want a child, and she is over 40 years old. She had been thinking for the whole pregnancy that she was lucky to be pregnant and that she probably wouldn’t be able to have another child.

Sitting and talking with two pro-choice women this afternoon, the sentiment was that, while we completely support everyone’s right to choose, sometimes you just don’t want to have to choose. This kind of abortion story, heartbreaking and messy, has been almost completely left out of the pro-choice movement, because it’s difficult. Because it’s borderline for many people and because at 9 weeks we can call something a collection of cells but after 26 weeks, those cells can, if things work out that way, be sustained by medial support and intervention. But a machine cannot bring up a child. I don’t want to have a debate about when life begins, because as far as I’m concerned, a baby needs more than itself to survive and women have to be able to have these choices. We have to trust women. But in marginalising women who make choices in these grey areas which are so open to attack by anti-choicers, we really are silencing women who desperately need support and to be included in the pro-choice movement. Pro-choice activists need to accept that these women and their stories are just as valid as an unplanned pregnancy terminated at 7 weeks.

Of course, I don’t know that this is the way my friend’s story will end, and I hope that something wonderful happens and the next test tells a different story. But the way she is feeling now, she could use the support and the stories from other women to feel that she is not alone.

*for the record, I absolutely hate this term/word but am yet to find one which adequately replaces it without being equally able-ist or inadequate. Suggestions welcome!


Stigma and speaking out

I have posted my personal unplanned pregnancy story on abortiongang.org. Since I had an abortion last year I have been working hard to contribute to the erosion of stigma around abortion so that it can be discussed and so that women who are faced with unplanned pregnancy don’t feel more overwhelmed than the situation causes in itself.

Abortion is a last resort decision and I am a loud advocate of contraception and comprehensive age-appropriate sex and relationship education. But if women are faced with a situation where abortion is the best choice out of all the hard options, then they should not feel that they have a dirty, horrible secret they need to carry for the rest of their lives. Of course, if women don’t want to talk about it, that is their personal decision, however women should not be made to feel that they can’t talk about it if they want to.

Abortion stigma marginalises people’s experiences – 1 in 3 pregnancies will end in abortion – this is a large number, however often when women are experiencing abortion and the decision-making process they feel alone and as though no-one else makes the decision to abort a pregnancy. My experiences of working with people actively trying to advance the cause of women’s rights is that even their actions can cause the perpetuation of stigma surrounding abortion. It is so ingrained and difficult to breakdown. The continuation of the polarisation of discourse around abortion – either pro-choice and denying the difficulty that can come with decision-making, or anti-choice and painting the decision as always difficult and damaging for the woman – is not helping to allow women the space in the middle to speak about their lived experiences.

I am happy I can speak about mine, however I know some pro-choice activists may not like the admission that the decision to terminate a pregnancy can be an emotionally difficult time. But it is so necessary and important that we have these hard discussions that give life to the real story of abortion. It makes the pro-choice movement truly feminist – naming that which we live as women, breaking the silence, and allowing all experiences to be validated and included in feminism. This is how feminism has tried to include women of colour, queer women, women with disabilities and so many other identities which were once marginalised from the second wave of feminism. It is the driving force behind the movement to include trans* identities in feminism. There is still a long way to go, however moving to include difficult abortion stories is part of the expansion of feminism to be a more inclusive project.