CW: discussion of abortion, and legal grounds for abortion (including brief, in-context references to incest and sexual assault).
A Politician, a Feminist, and a Catholic walk into a bar.
No, really, they do. It’s 5pm in Surry Hills, and it’s an odd-numbered year, so I guess it’s time to play our favourite game – whoooooo wants reproductive rights?
Now, this isn’t I Don’t Get It, but I still feel like I might need to explain myself.
Every few years, a new bill is submitted to NSW State Parliament on the topic of Abortion Law Reform. Why? Because abortion has been a crime in this state since 1900.
And while many people claim that this law is not in practice, I can confirm that a criminal sentence was imposed on a woman from my own suburb as recently as 2017.
Now, a lot of things have changed in the past one hundred and nineteen years, but I’m going to come out like the liberal (ideology, not party) feminist y’all know and love, and argue: the need for safe, legal and accessible abortion was then, and is now, a fundamental reality of a just and equal society.
So, if abortion is illegal in New South Wales, what are our options? What are the terms of this law, the boundaries and the exceptions?
Abortion might be illegal in New South Wales, but if I woke up tomorrow and discovered that I was pregnant, I could and would be granted an exception. Of course, if I discovered that I was pregnant, I could very well claim a medical miracle, given that I haven’t even seen a real-life penis in over eighteen months.
Let’s go ahead and make that leap – I’m not going to stipulate how, because it literally does not matter. Let’s say I wake up tomorrow, and I’m pregnant.
Let’s say I evaluate my circumstances and I come to the conclusion that I cannot raise a child right now. There are a variety of factors that might influence this decision, and many of these factors are legally recognised exceptions to criminal abortion.
Physical Health Risk: proposed risk to the health of the pregnant person and/or the foetus is arguably the strongest exception or defence to abortion. This would include situations in which the foetus is found to be non-viable; that is, the foetus has an extreme birth defect (no brain, no connection from brain to spine).
- Carrying a non-viable foetus to term has significant health implications to the pregnant party.
- The vast majority of “late term” abortions happen for this reason.
- The definition of “late term” is highly dependent on the relevant state/territory; for New South Wales, “late term” means 20 weeks or more.
- After this timestamp, you need two doctors to give their expert opinion about and sign off on the necessity of the abortion.
Mental Health Risk: the general mental strain of pregnancy is magnified exponentially when it comes to those that are unexpected and/or unwanted. It’s not a surprise, then, that proposed risk to mental health is a common exception granted for abortion. I would certainly be able to provide evidence that an unexpected pregnancy would greatly exacerbate my mental health condition, and I know that the current medical system in NSW is broadly happy to recognise a potential risk of depression and anxiety.
Social and/or Economic: in NSW, you can establish social and economic grounds for undertaking an abortion. That is, the law recognises that abortion is an appropriate option for those who cannot afford to carry a foetus to term, and/or cannot afford to raise a child. This would need to be verified by a doctor at the abortion clinic and might involve producing some kind of evidence of your social circumstances.
- Under this policy, age can be considered a factor of socioeconomic non-viability. That is, teenagers and children can receive an abortion through providing evidence of their age.
- Incest and/or sexual assault also technically come under this category.
There are several important, practical things to remember even after these exceptions.
- You do not need a referral from a GP to see an abortion provider in NSW. Rather, you contact the provider directly and make an appointment.
- Most abortions in NSW (and in Australia) occur in the private sector. If you do not have private health insurance, this can carry an out of pocket cost of more than $500. That is after Medicare gives you a rebate for the remaining cost. Like other private health services, many of these abortion providers require you to pay in full, and then you receive the Medicare rebate – this can be incredibly expensive.
- Once you reach the 20-week mark, it is almost impossible to receive an abortion in NSW for any reason other than serious health concerns. Many of the women who have received a criminal sentence for “unlawful abortion” are women who contributed to a miscarriage after finding themselves unable to access a legal abortion due to this time constraint.
TW: This article is primarily consisted of confessions illustrating sexual violence (including sexual harassment, coercion and specific descriptions of people’s experiences). If you or anyone you know needs support around this issue, please contact Student Wellbeing (accessible at the Hearing Hub), or the NSW Sexual Assault Hotline: 1800 424 017.
I remember going out to the city with my best friend when we were 13, and a man called me jail-bait. I didn’t know what it meant. It makes me feel sick to think about this man so shamelessly declaring in so many words that he’d like to rape me.
My first boyfriend was 16 and horny literally all the time and I was barely interested in anything beyond hand-holding. He pulled my hair when we kissed and he ripped my clothes. After I broke up with him, he told everyone I was frigid. Why was it so wrong and weird for a 16 year old to not want to have sex?
My boss at my first job would make gross sexual comments about me and the other 18 year old girls. Male customers at this same place kept joking to us that they’d like to “see whats under that costume”.
I served a husband and wife together during my first retail Christmas. The husband visibly touched my arse throughout the interaction, and I was so frozen with shock that I didn’t even acknowledge it. His wife definitely saw, and she didn’t say anything either. A few months later a man pinched my breast while “looking at my name tag”.
In my first ever driving lesson, I sat in my driveway with the instructor as he explained that your right foot touched the pedal, and your “left stays right here”, as he held the inner thigh of my left leg. I was frozen. I tried to tell myself that it was normal but I knew it wasn’t. He caressed my thigh for the majority of the 1 hour lesson, and when my dad asked me how the drive went, I told him it was fine. It wasn’t until days later that I plucked up the courage to tell my dad that I didn’t want to see the same teacher again.
Last week, an elderly man at work told me that I look like I taste good. And in my sweet little confused customer service voice, my only response was “thank you.” At the time I tried to make excuses for him; maybe he was senile and didn’t understand what he was saying.
These confessions have all been submitted by the same anonymous contributor. In sharing these stories, she added the following take away messages:
“I’m sick to death of making excuses for filthy men who’ve decided that they have a right to my body, and who sure as shit don’t feel an ounce of remorse for how disgusting and violating their actions are.
“I’m sick of kicking and shaming myself for not being stronger, for not telling men to fuck off when they touch me. But I shouldn’t be ashamed of being kind and gentle; it’s not my fault that men take advantage of what they clearly see as an easy target.
“I’m sick of being made to feel unworthy of my own bodily autonomy. I’m sick of feeling dirty.
I deserve to take part in the radical notion that my body belongs to me, and me alone. And all people deserve to feel safe in their own skin.”