It was too much to process at 8:30 am and my head was spinning.
In recent weeks, I had been following internet whispers of the overturning of Roe v Wade but, in blind faith, made a conscious decision to pay it no mind. The very idea that the right to have an abortion could be made illegal, not just anywhere but in the globe’s ‘free world’, the mecca of Western culture, just seemed too ludicrous to be true.
I should have known better. It’s 2022 after all, and in a world where a tech billionaire is likely to take over Mars, nothing surprises me anymore. Apparently, this is the future.
Criminalising the right to an abortion feels medieval; something out of a dystopian novel where women are forced to wear strange bonnets. And in a world where we're not actually socially contracted to wear bonnets (unless we’re really vibing it), this decision does feel like a rather monumental step backwards.
Although I am an Australian-born young woman, and as such, fortunate enough to have access to a legal abortion should I want it, I am aware that for all of us Down Under, things are not as fine as they may appear when it comes to abortion and accessibility. It is an all-too-common cry of politicians, smug headlines and my very own group chat, that ‘America is cooked’. But it should come as no surprise that we’re actually pretty cooked here, too.
Australia does not have an illustrious history when it comes to championing the rights of minorities, and this is particularly obvious when it comes to abortion. New South Wales only decriminalised abortion by removing it from the 122-year-old state Crimes Act in 2019, with South Australia following suit in 2021. And despite being the first state to legalise abortion in 1998 for pregnancies up to 20 weeks, Western Australia still hasn’t fully decriminalised the act, which remains in the Criminal Code today.
Even though Australians have been able to access legal abortions since the 1970s through case law, it’s still dependent on whether or not a doctor thinks the abortion poses a serious mental or physical risk for their patient. It is otherwise considered ‘unlawful’ under the state Crimes Act, with the women in question unable to make that final choice themselves. This came to a head as late as 2017, when a mother of five was prosecuted and convicted for self-administering a drug to cause a miscarriage.
Access to abortion services varies between states, with each observing its own set of rules as to how many weeks constitutes a legal abortion. Northern Territory has a 14-week limit (after that, a person has to have two doctors agreeing to it), while in NSW it’s up to 22 weeks. In the NT, abortions are only available in Darwin and Alice Springs hospitals, while across the rest of the country, abortions are usually performed in private clinics, where prices for a termination average between $400 and $600. If you have health insurance, a termination at 12 weeks will cost you $470.
This is not a small amount of cash, particularly if the person in question is not financially independent, on minimum wage, or underage — and that's if they are an Australian citizen. This system, like so many others in our country, is not crafted to be inclusive, and as a result, leaves society’s most vulnerable people to fend for themselves.
Australia is, despite our seeming 'larrikin' apathy towards politics, not at all apolitical. Religion continues to dictate our lives, and despite the cacophony of political and social voices that protest otherwise, both us in Australia, and our sisters across the sea in the United States, are living in a system designed to uphold the agendas and beliefs of a religious minority. It should go without saying, but any progressive political system should not take religious law into account when it comes to legislation.
True democracy is about upholding the legal rights and freedoms of a people. It is not about limiting the choice to have autonomy over one’s body on the basis of religious dogma.
It’s how the world worked in 1100, and frankly, I think there are more lessons to be learned from the Middle Ages.
Despite much talk about this debate being rooted in secular ‘ethics’, I would argue that those very ethics are products of our culture’s innate saturation in the Judeo-Christian model. With so much of Western culture still so firmly rooted in outdated conceptions of religion, most of us have a hard time seeing, or separating ourselves from it.
With the overturning of Roe v Wade, the flaws within our Western cultural machine are in many ways thrown into sharp focus. It raises questions: are we blindly following America into the abyss? Does turning the clock so far back mean that our longevity as a functioning and progressive civilisation is being irretrievably turned back too?
Of course, this all being said, this issue is not just specific to Western countries. All over the world, women are defined by their relationships and their bodies, while men are defined by their independent conceptions of selfhood. Globally, women are continuously, and en masse, reduced to their roles as daughter, lover, wife and mother. To be seen as ourselves, as individual human beings with hopes and dreams for our own lives, independent of the weighty self-sacrifice of motherhood and all that comes with it, is a fight that we shouldn’t have to fight — but here we are.
When a person becomes pregnant, because their life is drastically and permanently altered. The physical, emotional, and financial toll of pregnancy, birth and child-rearing is a decision that should so obviously rest only with the person who has to bear the brunt of it. When it comes to defining when a foetus becomes a human life, that is an issue that must rest purely with the person who is carrying said foetus.
It feels both terrifying and exhausting to have to fight, to scream, to protest, to beg for our rights to our own bodies. There is no other way to put it — this decision is a tragedy. A gross misuse of power. But there is a lesson here for all of us, no matter who you are or where we come from — we must stay awake. We must keep questioning and continuing to fight to free ourselves from the pink shackles of the patriarchy.
Just like all those who fought before us, now, more than ever, we can not give up.