Words by Jemma Perelaer Art by Freya Lauersen
Generations of women have fought tooth and nail for the rights we have today. The first wave of feminism was pioneered by the suffragettes.
They gave women the right to vote, expanded property rights and began the fight for reproductive rights. The second wave came after World War II and focused on taking down the patriarchy. They gave women access to education, targeted institutionalised sexual harassment and highlighted gender discrimination in the workforce. The third wave began in the early ‘90s and embraced intersectionality. They gave us better political representation, an awareness of rape culture and also began the sexual liberation movement. Now in 2019, we are in the fourth wave of feminism, fighting reinforced and reductive stereotypes and male privilege.
We may have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. Just look at the recent abortion ban in Alabama.
In May 2019, the Alabama Senate passed House Bill 314, which would make abortions illegal for women unless their health is at great risk. Victims of rape and incest are not exempt from the law and doctors who perform the procedure risk a 99-year prison sentence. It is the harshest abortion law in the United States.
Every celebrity, friend or family member was quick to share their outrage of this archaic and severe law. And people across the globe took to the streets. Their signs read, ‘Make Abortion Safe and Legal’, ‘What I Do With My Body Does Not Concern You’, ‘Who Are You To Refuse A Woman’s Right To Choose’. This awareness is vital. The new law, passed down by only men of course, totally disregards the experience of the mother and the horrific realities of unwanted pregnancies.
Yet while I scrolled through pages and pages of posts on the Alabama ruling, I embarrassingly realised that I didn’t even know Australia’s abortion laws. Abortion in Australia is not controlled by the Federal Government but instead by each State and Territory Government. Therefore abortion laws across the nation vary. Only in the last two years did New South Wales and Queensland finally remove abortion from their criminal code.
To help educate us all, here is the Australian Abortion Law breakdown:
Victoria: Legal up to 24 weeks but can still be performed after this point with two doctors’ approval.
New South Wales: Legal up to 22 weeks but can still be performed after this point with the approval of two specialist medical practitioners.
Australian Capital Territory: Legal if performed by a medical professional, this can be a doctor or nurse practitioner.
Queensland: Legal up to 22 weeks but can still be performed after this point with two doctors’ approval.
Northern Territory: Legal up to 14 weeks with the approval of one doctor but between 15 and 23 weeks, a patient must have confirmation of two doctors. Abortion will only be performed beyond 24 weeks if a patient’s life is in danger.
Western Australia: Legal up to 20 weeks if a doctor confirms the patient is believed to be in physical or mental danger or at risk of negative social or family reactions. Abortions will only be performed beyond this point if the fetus is in high danger of defects/abnormalities which must be confirmed by two doctors.
South Australia: Legal up to 28 weeks if two doctors agree that the patient’s physical or mental health is at risk or for extreme fetal irregularity. Abortions must be undergone in a hospital or abortion dedicated facility.
Tasmania: Legal up to 16 weeks but can still be performed after this point with two doctors’ approval.
When the NSW parliament officially decriminalised abortion in New South Wales on September 26 this year, abortion became legal in every state and territory across Australia. But unfortunately, the cost and access continue to be a barrier for Australians. The alternatives to legal and safe abortion are dangerous. Which is why, despite its legality, abortion remains a health issue.
Depending on your postcode, there is a huge disparity and inequality regarding abortion. In Victoria, the average cost of a medical abortion is $560 while a surgical abortion is roughly $495. And recent research published in BMC Medical Ethics found that some Victorian doctors continue to deter women from abortion and make them feel guilty. Women in Tasmania are now forced to fly interstate or seek a private gynecologist in order to undergo a surgical abortion.
Women who cannot afford a medical or surgical abortion or cannot deal with the stigma and shame can take drastic actions. Many consume drugs and alcohols or risk dangeous at home measures in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. According to the World Health Organisation, there was an average of 25 million unsafe abortions per year from 2010 to 2014.
True freedom means being able to have a legal, accessible, affordable and safe abortion. Until then, inequalities and barriers remain. The new law in Alabama is not unique, many nations have similar or more oppressive abortion laws. This is our generation’s fight. Every woman should have the right to choose what they do to their body. Choice is not a privilege but a right.