Fired Up

Let’s Not Forget About Australia’s Own Treatment Of Women As We Critique The US’s Roe v. Wade Decision

At least half of all women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or violence. That’s 1 in 2 that has been sexually harassed, 1 in 3 that has been physically abused and 1 in 5 that has been sexually abused. Let that sink in. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue with the goal of dismantling gendered violence in Australia.
This week, news emerged of the leaked Supreme Court draft majority opinion indicating that Roe v. Wadethe 1973 landmark decision that legalised abortion in the US — will likely be overturned.
If this happens, it means that many American women could be left without the option of having an abortion depending on where they live, as states will make their own laws about whether abortion is illegal and up to what point in a pregnancy. 
As women in the US have been rallying on the streets to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many in Australia have watched on, outraged by what is happening overseas and grateful that our country isn't in a similar position.
Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Last year South Australia became the final Australian jurisdiction to partially decriminalise abortion. We say partially because the laws in different states and territories permit abortion on request up to varying points in a pregnancy and access is still an issue.
As this Twitter thread from ANU sociology researcher Simon Copland points out, the abortion legislation crisis in America is different to Australia's stance on abortion and it's unlikely we'd see the current laws overturned. However, it's important to remember that there are Aussie politicians who appear sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause, and that's concerning.
Australia’s Assistant Minister for Women, Amanda Stoker, attended an anti-abortion rally on Saturday, as did LNP Senator Matt Canavan and One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.
Defending her decision to attend the rally, Stoker said it was "entirely consistent with the duties of a minister for women".
"They would take an interest in and provide a compassionate kind of support to people who face vulnerability in our community,” she told Sky News. "Now, that includes women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, but it also includes the 50 per cent of children conceived who are women."
When asked at a media conference about Stoker attending the rally, Morrison said, "it’s a free country".
"I'm aware of the reports that are coming out of the United States, but that’s in a different country. In Australia there are no changes to those laws," he said.
It's reassuring to hear it's unlikely that our country's abortion laws will be overturned, but it's important to remember, especially as we near a federal election, that Australia's political system is not without its own gender issues in terms of allegations of toxic masculinity and the unfair treatment of women, their bodies and rights to safety.
Let's not forget that in February last year, Brittany Higgins alleged she had been raped by a colleague in a Parliament House office. Soon after, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was his wife, Jenny, who clarified his perspective about the allegations.
"She said to me, 'You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?'" Morrison told reporters at the time. "Jenny has a way of clarifying things."
In February this year, Higgins said she found the PM's language had been "at times, admittedly offensive" over the past 12 months, but claimed that "his words wouldn’t matter if his actions had measured up".
"What bothered me most about the whole ‘imagine if it were our daughters’ spiel wasn’t that he necessarily needed his wife’s advice to help contextualise my rape (allegations) in a way that mattered to him personally," claimed Higgins.
"I didn’t want his sympathy as a father, I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister. I wanted him to wield the weight of his office and drive change in the party and our parliament, and out into the country."
Following various allegations of sexual harassment in Australian parliament, an independent inquiry into workplace culture at Parliament House revealed just how rampant bullying, sexual harassment and assault are in that environment.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins launched the report Set The Standard last November, which found that one in three employees currently in CPWs (Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces) reported having experienced sexual harassment while working there.
When the report was released, the PM thanked those who contributed to the review, including Brittany Higgins.
"Her voice has spoken for many, as this report shows," he said, adding he found it "appalling" and "disturbing" to hear of 33% of staffers reporting sexual harassment.
That same month, Morrison dismissed calls for an inquiry into a historical rape allegation denied by the then-Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Fast forward to the past couple of weeks, and the PM has been criticised for his posts on social media seemingly devised to attract election votes, while remaining silent about the country's domestic violence crisis as 18 women have been killed in domestic homicides this year.
While the PM says the state of our abortion laws will remain unchanged, we can't forget that as it stands, women's safety and rights in other areas are still at great risk, and this needs to change.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!     

More from Politics