A new campaign to 'decriminalise' and modernise' abortion laws in NSW was announced last week by an alliance of sixty ‘pro-choice’ groups. The ‘NSW Pro-Choice Alliance’ want abortion to be removed from the Crimes Act and ‘regulated like any other health procedure’.
The bid to ‘decriminalise’ abortion and take it out of the Crimes Act implies that abortion is illegal in NSW, that women who have abortions are criminals, and in the words of Family Planning NSW’s medical director Deborah Bateson, cannot ‘access services without fear of prosecution’. But this is not the case.
Abortion is already legal in NSW to preserve a woman’s life, physical or mental health. As one of the most common medical procedures in Australia, with 1 in 3 women experiencing an abortion, and 20,000-30,000 performed in NSW each year, it is also readily accessible.
Like law reform in Victoria and Queensland, the laws being campaigned for in NSW would effectively legalise abortion without gestational restriction and allow abortions for social, non-health related reasons. Such laws expose women to the increased risks inherent in later term abortions and remove any regard whatsoever for their unborn children.
While decriminalisation advocates purport to make abortion a ‘health issue’ in NSW, they are in reality treating it as a non-health issue, by campaigning to make it available without the need for any medical grounds at all.
The campaign to decriminalise abortion also assumes that abortion is an inherently good health option for women, despite the many stories of women who have suffered greatly as a result of abortion. It gives no recognition to the physical, psychological and emotional risks abortion poses to women’s health.
Abortion is not ‘like any other health procedure’ and to suggest otherwise is incredibly insensitive to all women who have made what is widely accepted to be a profoundly difficult decision.
The question we need to ask is why and whether we want abortion to be available for social, non-health related reasons? Do we really want to legitimise abortions at any stage for any reason, including discriminatory reasons such as disability or the child’s sex (legitimising, in particular, discrimination against little girls through sex-selective abortion, which research shows is occurring in some migrant communities in Australia)?
Such a legal regime seems far too nonchalant for a practice that ends the life of a developing human being, carries significant risks for women, and detracts from the underlying pressures that so many women seeking abortion face. When abortion is effectively unrestricted and available based on one’s social circumstances, where is the incentive to solve any of the societal issues that lead many women to seek abortion in the first place?
We know that many women seek abortions because they feel like 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 necessary to raise a child.
Instead of ardent efforts to 'decriminalise' abortion in NSW, imagine if the same passion was directed towards addressing some of these issues in order to ensure real choice and support for women?
Perhaps then, we would have a truly modern, progressive and pro-woman society.