It is said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
This is especially true in the case of abortion law. Just when you think the battle has been fought, and won, someone puts his head above the parapet.
That someone is a Melbourne doctor who says women who have abortions deserve to die.
‘Doctor K’ wants the Victorian government to repeal a section of the Abortion Law Reform Act, which requires doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients elsewhere.
On facebook, he comments on a scenario where a woman dies from peritonitis after a back alley abortion: “Yep. And that’s exactly what she deserved for trying to kill her own child.”
”Yes, I’m breaking Victoria’s new abortion laws, but I don’t give a stuff – I am not going to soil my conscience by being complicit in the slaughter of children,” he writes.
I don’t think of myself as a child slaughterer, yet that’s what I am in the eyes of this doctor.
I was barely out of my teens; living in an unfamiliar city; in a messy break-up with my boyfriend.
Two bright pink lines appeared on the testing stick. I counted back: six weeks’ pregnant.
Of course, I was on the pill. But I missed one and took two the next day.
Silly young thing. I thought it would be OK. It wasn’t.
Fortunately, I knew where to go.
As a journalist, I’d covered protests, brawls, and bomb threats outside the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne.
Once I was mistaken for a patient; a protester handed me a Bible and promised to pray for my soul.
The first appointment was clinical, but professional. I was given the appropriate counselling. And asked, several times, if I was making the right decision.
I said, “Yes”.
Still, it was a shock turning up on the day to discover another pro-life protest: placards, loud hailers, and mounted police.
As a woman alone, I felt threatened, frightened, and vulnerable.
But nowhere near as vulnerable as the women who risked their lives in back yards with coat hangers or knitting needles.
As Andrea Carson writes in The Conversation, “it was a dangerous time for women. Simple acts like engaging in sex could cost a woman her life. But, out of shame, these deaths were kept out of view”.
I, too, kept out of view.
Ignoring the braying mob, I snuck through the back entrance.
It was over within minutes. I awoke in a room with a handful of other women, quietly drinking tea and stealing glances.
Sometimes, a look would linger: one of understanding, compassion, and solidarity.
No one ‘wants’ to have abortion.
It’s not on anyone’s bucket list.
Reasons range from health complications and lack of sex education to inadequate contraception, little family support, financial constraints, and rape.
According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 42 million pregnancies are terminated voluntarily every year – 20 million of these are unsafe.
As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told a Senate hearing earlier this year, “When I think about the suffering of women I’ve seen around the world, I’ve been in hospitals in Brazil where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies and the other half were fighting for their lives against botched abortions”.
These women deserve sympathy – not judgement. And certainly not punishment.
I’m sure many of them look back and wonder what would have happened if they had given birth to that child.
I do. All the time.
Many years later, at the age of 34, I was stricken with fertility problems.
After two years of natural fertility treatment, and a further year of IVF, I am now the proud mother of two wonderful children.
They light up my life, and if I became pregnant now, I couldn’t imagine having an abortion.
That’s why this debate is not “black and white”, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott once said, nor is it the “easy way out”. Many of the estimated one-in-four women who’ve had abortions could not be neatly categorised as either ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’.
I agree with Hilary Clinton’s contention that abortion should be, “safe, legal and rare”.
In his blog, Daniel Mathews says the efforts of anti-abortion activists and lawmakers in the US has “largely not been to attack the law directly, but rather to chip away at it indirectly”.
Pro-lifers are targeting Victorian law on the fifth anniversary of decriminalisation, which produced the most progressive abortion laws in Australia.
Soon, anti-abortion MP Christine Campbell will table a petition to repeal Section 8 of the act.
But fellow Labor MP Jaala Pulford says the current laws strike a good balance between the rights of the doctor, and a woman’s right to appropriate medical services.
“Any changes to the law will harm women already making a difficult choice without providing any benefit to doctors,” she says, describing the campaign as, “a backdoor effort to recriminalise abortion”.
While abortion is covered by state law, federal parliament has the power to regulate access.
Senator John Madigan has already introduced a private bill, to outlaw Medicare funding in certain cases.
To retain our liberty, we must remain vigilant.