When reproductive rights become political

Uncertainty about the future of abortion laws in the United States is likely to lead to an increase in anti-abortion sentiment around the world, including Australia.

The US Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn the Roe versus Wade legislation which protects a women’s right to have an abortion without government intervention.

The issue will not directly affect Australian women and their right to abortions but will likely cause the anti-abortion issue to increase globally, according to Dr Tania Penovic, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and the research program group leader in gender and sexuality for the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law.

“We’ve already seen increased politicisation of the abortion issue in Australia and that would likely grow in strength due to the success of the anti-abortion movement in the United States,” she says.

“Anyone that can become pregnant is affected by the criminalisation of abortion, but research has found internationally that people who are most affected are the most vulnerable people in society.

“People who cannot afford to travel to a jurisdiction where abortion is available and people who simply don’t have the means of accessing abortion so for these people, they’ll either be required to carry to term a pregnancy that they’re unable to carry due to financial or other reasons.”

She says there can be an issue with health professionals and pharmacists, especially in rural and regional areas, who hold a conscientious objection to abortion, making it difficult for people to access services.

“Even though we have laws in place to deal with those attitudes, many people are not aware of those laws and people trying to access healthcare are sometimes barred from access by health professionals and there’s not much they can or will do about it,” says Dr Penovic.

Dr Penovic says access to reproductive health services for women is a gender equality issue.

Last week saw the annual anti-abortion rally Right to Life, organised by the Coalition for the Defence of Human Life; a non-denominational and non-party political association.

The Coalition for the Defence of Human Life is made up of 40 different WA pro-life organisations including 40 Days for Life, Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Christians, Life Ministries Inc. and more.

Dr E.D. Watt, a member of the Coalition for the Defence of Human Life says the rally happens every year on the anniversary of the law allowing abortions being passed in Australia. 

He says the organisation hopes to communicate with members of parliament about their cause and wants to change the laws affecting women’s reproductive rights.

“It communicates with those members of parliament who agree with us and our cause. Even if it there’s no hope of parliament changing these laws, they still exercise publicity from time to time to remind politicians of this policy,” says Dr Watt.

A Perth woman, who did not want her name to be published, says her experience of getting an abortion was difficult but she believes it is a an important right for protecting the health and welfare of women.

“Making sure people aren’t giving birth in dangerous conditions is so important as well as protecting people working in healthcare.”