Today, the NSW Legislative Council resumed debate on the controversial abortion bill. As a woman, a feminist, a disability advocate, and a health professional, I wholeheartedly disagree with this radical law reform being pushed in NSW, which imitates the extreme reforms adopted in my own state of Victoria in 2008. I am opposed to the reform for the simple reason that it doesn’t protect any woman. In any way.
Put simply, the NSW abortion bill is counter-productive to women’s health, and trivialises abortion as a simple health issue while contradictorily ignoring the health risks and the resulting harms associated with abortion. It does not address the underlying pressures of why women feel they are left with only one choice, and makes no attempt to rectify or provide the support that women really need, including protection against abortion coercion, and safeguards against sex-selection.
When faced with the issue of abortion, we need to return to an authentic feminism.
The historical feminist movement and its roots in securing the right to vote, right to education and right to employment opportunities became side-tracked in the 1970’s, with mainstream feminists and abortion advocates arguing that women must not just have an equal seat at the table with men (hear, hear!), but that they must become exactly like men, and that abortion was the only way forward for women’s health and happiness.
The emotional and physical harms to women caused by abortion were and still are hushed, or worse, denied, in favour of attempts to ‘free’ women from their reproductive capabilities, and women who oppose abortion are side-lined as anti-feminists.
As a result, modern feminism has strayed fractiously away from its life-affirming, women-focused nature, losing its understanding of the genuine nature of women. It has become too often angry, self-serving, with a side of anti-men sentiment, and lacks inclusivity and diversity as women quickly move to distance themselves from its harmful and false premises.
Sadly, despite all the great works of our feminist forbearers, modern day feminism fails women when it comes to abortion.
As was recently published, research shows ‘women typically seek abortions because they feel they have no other choice – because they have been coerced by a partner or face some other form of domestic violence, because they are overwhelmed by study, career or family pressures, or because they lack the financial or emotional support to raise a child’. The proposed reform does nothing to address these real and serious underlying issues facing women in these circumstances, and risks adding tremendous harm to already traumatic situations.
Rather than disregarding the gravity of abortion, masking the underlying reasons women seek abortion and attempting to erase the fact that another human life is inevitably at stake, an authentic feminism would petition for creating environments in which women are supported to continue without disadvantage in their roles. It would lobby for study support, economic support, social support, and workplace support. It would, as a matter of absolute urgency, demand the addressing of issues such as intimate partner violence and abortion coercion. As Debbie Garratt writes, "a true feminism would [demand] social structures conform to the needs of women rather than demand women alter their bodies and their functions to fit the worlds of men." And an authentic feminism would not seek to advance women's rights at the expense of others'.
We should, above all, be building a society that empowers women to know that there truly are other choices than abortion.
Our feminist predecessors boldly and bravely sought change towards a pro-woman society. As women in the 21st century, we can do far better than a misguided and misconstrued feminism.
In fact, we deserve better. Women continue to suffer in our communities, in Australia and worldwide for the simple fact that they are women. Inequalities and injustices still exist on the basis of sex. Infant girls are being aborted in Australia and internationally, simply because they are girls. There is much work to be done, but we need to re-focus.
We must return to an authentic feminism, a return to life-affirming, non-violent roots and a commitment to justice for all. A return to a movement that shows a collective concern, a movement that defends and protects the vulnerable, a movement that surrounds and supports all women, and a movement where women are united by their passion to seek true equality, embrace opportunities and to make right the injustices that women face.
Let’s collaborate, not just with our womankind, but across society towards a movement we can all be part of and proud of. Let’s focus again on unifying, protecting and improving the lives of all women in our society to overcome discrimination, violence and exploitation. And let’s support women across our communities who are left to feel as though abortion is their only option. This is something that we, as a collective feminist movement, must unite together to change.
Carolyn Fiddelaers is a nurse and disability advocate from Melbourne. She holds a Master of Bioethics from Monash University and a Graduate Diploma in Health and Medical Law from the University of Melbourne.