Four things we learned from the Senate's gender abortion debate


Clementine Ford

Senator John Madigan at Parliament House in Canberra.

Senator John Madigan at Parliament House in Canberra.

In the final weeks of her Prime Ministership, Julia Gillard earned yet more derision and ire from the press when she warned that a government made up of ‘men in blue ties’ would turn abortion into a political plaything. Addressing a group of supporters primarily made up of women, Gillard was painted once again as a manipulative shrew who was ‘playing the gender card’ to try and dishonestly misrepresent the good men of Australian politics.

Get over the misogyny talk, Gillard! they yelled. We love women! Almost all of us own several of them!

And yet here we are, only a year later, watching as the Australian Senate debate a Bill which seeks to impose limitations on access to abortion.

Officially, the private member’s bill - introduced by Senator John Madigan - appears to target Medicare funding for abortions sought specifically for sex-selective reasons. Or to put it another way, Senator Madigan wants to stop evil women from stealing taxpayer money so they can murder their girl children.


Anyway, in this new political landscape where abortion is totally not going to become the plaything of men in blue ties, let’s take a look at four of the most completely unsurprising things that we learned from yesterday’s Senate discussion on dirty, pregnant whores.

1. Sex-selective abortion is not actually happening in Australia.

To recap, this is a bill which specifically targets sex-selective abortion. It’s a bill which is taking up valuable Senate time in discussions and further readings, and one would assume that this would mean there is some merit to its content.

But across the board, Senators speaking yesterday (even those who wholeheartedly support Madigan’s assault on women) acknowledged what everyone knew already - that sex-selective abortion isn’t really happening in Australia. Instead, this is being couched as a preventative measure - you know, just in case it starts becoming a problem.

The offence in this is twofold. Firstly, there’s the not so subtle racism involved in suggesting that we don’t really need to worry about Nice, White Australians doing this but those shady brown people who keep sneaking their weird food and morals past border patrol. And secondly, there’s the absolute insult of attempting to place restrictions on hard won abortion rights and packaging it as a theoretical, preventative measure.

Sex-selective abortion is not happening in Australia. Its existence isn’t supported by evidence, and it’s not even supported by the people who want to exploit it in order to attack women’s reproductive freedoms. Stop trying to make fetch happen, Madigan.


2. It is okay to ‘play the gender card’ if you’re a conservative white male politician who wants to control women’s bodies.

In preparation for this piece, I watched the televised Senate Proceedings. And what that really means is that I had to watch Senator Corey ‘Gay People Do It With Dogs’ Bernardi hypocritically exploit the topic of gender inequality for almost 15 minutes with absolutely no acknowledgement of how his views and actions ritually perpetuate it. Sex-selective abortion is, according to the Senator, a matter of grave concern because girls should be treated with respect and dignity.

Senator Bernardi is of course the same man who claimed that non-traditional families would lead to violence in boys and ‘promiscuity’ in girls, so his frame of reference for respect is somewhat questionable. Yet he repeatedly spoke of ‘gender equality’ and rights for girls, reading excerpts from United Nations papers and pulling his bleeding heart directly from his chest, thrusting it to the sky as he implored us to remember that this was not about abortion but about equality.

When women speak the truth about our own oppression, we’re accused of ‘playing the gender card’. But when men do it, that’s politics. Hey Barnardi. Let’s talk about gender equality and abortion when cis-men start getting pregnant. Until then, STFU.


3. This bill isn’t about banning sex-selective abortions. This bill is about banning abortion full stop.

John Madigan and his band of merry middle aged men aren’t interested in protecting female fetuses from gendered oppression. If they truly cared about gender inequality, they’d be defending the rights of women to control their own fertility, not just here but abroad. They’d be urging more foreign aid for programs which provide women with contraceptive options, including the option to access safe terminations. They’d listen to health experts who understand that access to safe fertility control in all its forms is one of the most integral requirements for women’s liberation and economic security.

But they’re not. Because actually, they don’t care about real life actual women, only the unborn cargo they’re too often forced to carry against their wishes.

This bill represents a new approach to the anti-choice agenda in Australia. Specifically, a very right-wing, American kind of approach to targeting abortion legislation. Madigan knows that any overt attempts to criminalise abortion once again will fail, so he’s decided to try the backdoor. This is a test case. And if it passes, it sets a precedent that WILL be exploited to try and further tighten legislation. Even ALP Senator Jim Bullock referred to this bill as a ‘step in the right direction’.

So why should we focus all our energy on opposing this? Because this is what it boils down to.


4. When you limit women’s reproductive health choices, women die.

Greens Senator Richard Di Nitale put it best yesterday when he said, “When you prevent women from having a termination, you don’t reduce the number of terminations - you just put women at risk.”

Unsafe abortion is one of the top five killers of pregnant women worldwide. Seven women die every hour from the consequences of unsafe abortion. And these deaths would be 99% preventable if global access to safe terminations was available.

When conservative, frequently male led agendas deny women the right to control their own fertility and reproduction, women die.

When men force women to seek unsafe methods to terminate pregnancies, women die.

When men legislate in ways that harm women and go against all practical evidence available in regards to their health and well-being, women die.

Women. Die.

But by all means Senator Madigan - keep pretending this is about saving girl-children while ignoring the reality of what it is you’re trying to do. Because we would hate for Australia to stand by while gender inequality was happening.



  • Its beggars belief we are still discusing this in the 21st century. Maybe its because those who are looking to return to teh 1950s are still there in spirit.
    Abortions have gone down. This si a function of education, contraception and women taking responsibility for their own bodies. But it is no 100%
    You have rape, incests and accident.
    many would say that its God's creation but taht assumes belief in this being. It ahs no place in a secular society to use this argument.
    The churches can control as they are able but secular society must cater for all.
    Lets leave the decdiions to the people involved. If the " will imposers" can persuade people not to have abortions then fine, not with coercion but with education and facts. No harridans and ratty old men outside clinics but literature and persuation.
    There are many issues where the "will imposers" claim the right to dictate.Often this is simply people of either low intellect or fanaticism seeking to control others.

    G Sacramento
    Date and time
    September 26, 2014, 11:13AM
    • As a man I support women's rights to reproductive health. Let's draw a line in the sand and say women have the right to make all decisions about their reproductive choices, they have the right to good medical care to support their choice, the right to the information necessary to give informed consent, the right to legal protections for their decisions.

      Men have the responsibility to know and understand women's rights. Enough of male politicians making up legal restrictions on contraception, abortion, and surrogacy. Well supported women will make good decisions and that decision will vary from woman to woman.

      We need more women in parliament, and a parliament that supports women to be there. Only when we get over 30% of women in parliament, and cabinet, will the tone of these debates change.

      As a father with a daughter I intend to tell her outright about that I support her right to choose abortion, and to be well informed about abortion, contraception and all other aspects of her reproductive health.

      These lawmakers can stay out of my daughter's bedroom and medical consultation room, as far as I am concerned.

      For men its sometime difficult to say this sort of stuff to your mates, but if we don't say it, its only these domineering controlling men that will have a voice.

      Date and time
      September 26, 2014, 12:18PM
      • "Only when we get over 30% of women in parliament, and cabinet, will the tone of these debates change"
        Unless not all of those women actually agree with the prospect of every woman having authority over their own bodies. Just like men, there are women who favour laws that would ultimately restrict their own freedoms, but are unphased at the prospect because the laws help enforce their own misconceived biases.

        In the case of abortion, it would be women who don't personally need an abortion, so have no problem with preventing others from accessing one. And even if the unexpected should happen and such a woman does require ready access to an abortion, they would demand the right to one while continuing to deny access to anyone else.

        Date and time
        September 26, 2014, 1:47PM
      • "Let's draw a line in the sand and say women have the right to make all decisions about their reproductive choices, they have the right to good medical care to support their choice, the right to the information necessary to give informed consent, the right to legal protections for their decisions."

        Sounds good to me. Nobody should have authority over the body or actions of another person except in those situations where the actions of their body directly impinge on my own.

        Can we also say that, in those situations where a man and a women disagree about those reproductive choices and the woman's choice has total authority, that this then abrogates all further responsibilities on the part of the male that contributed?

        Or are we saying that the man who contributed has no right to an input, but equal responsibility in the future, depending on the decisions made, in which he is permitted to play no role?

        Date and time
        September 26, 2014, 3:25PM
      • Sounds like you're a good Dad Paul :)

        Date and time
        September 26, 2014, 4:47PM
    • You are right in saying the existence of sex-selective abortion in Australia "isn't supported by evidence". For many years now those in the abortion industry involved in sex selection have successfully stymied the introduction of even the most minimal requirements to enable the gathering of statistics on this appalling practice. Such resistance to transparency on this human rights issue is no longer acceptable, especially in the light of the promises made by our Australian Government at the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) in Beijing. In solidarity with all other members of the United Nations we promised to introduce protective legislation against this inhumane practice. Australia made the solemn commitments:
      • To “enact and enforce legislation protecting girls from all forms of violence, including…pre-natal sex selection…” (Para 283 (d) Beijing Platform).

      • To “enact and enforce legislation against the perpetrators of practices and acts of violence against women, such as…prenatal sex selection…and give vigorous support to the efforts of non-governmental and community organizations to eliminate such practices” (Para 124 (i)).

      It is a regrettable cause for shame that Medicare continues to fund indiscriminately gender selection abortions in Australia.

      Justice is not served here
      • where legislation protecting the unborn child from lethal prejudice is non-existent;
      • where termination of the lives of the unborn for the discriminatory reason that the child at risk is the 'wrong sex' is without legal scrutiny;
      • where the abortion industry is without even the semblance of regulation regarding routine facilitation of lethal prejudice on grounds of sex;
      • where the shameful statistics of discriminatory ‘reasons’ for selective termination of tiny daughters because they are found prenatally to be the “wrong sex” are no longer even recorded or collated and
      • where this omission is being excused on the invalid grounds of “privacy”.

      Rita Joseph
      Date and time
      September 26, 2014, 12:20PM
      • "...where the shameful statistics of discriminatory ‘reasons’ for selective termination of tiny daughters because they are found prenatally to be the “wrong sex” are no longer even recorded or collated..."

        Actually, South Australia keeps detailed data on the frequency of, prevalence of, reasons for and gestational age of the foetus at abortion. In fact, SA keeps the most detailed abortion data in Australia.

        They have concluded that less than 2% of abortions performed in SA between 1994 – 2002 were done at or after 20 weeks’ gestation. The ‘vast majority’ of abortions took place prior to 14 weeks’ gestation. Here's a link to an academic report from Parliament House library:;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fprspub%2FCF7F6%22

        As you are probably aware, Rita, sex determination of a foetus cannot generally take place prior to about 18/20 weeks' gestation.

        So, how can you say sex-selective abortions are occurring when it is clear that most abortions happen before sex determination can take even place?

        How can you say sex selective abortions are occurring when even the government introducing legislation to 'stop it' admits it does not take place?

        Btw - don't forget you're on an Australian feminist website here: not many of us would consider a daughter to be 'the wrong sex'!

        Donna Joy
        Date and time
        September 26, 2014, 3:19PM
    • The face is the government has a agenda to squash women's rights. Their signing the TPP. Was part of the start of it. I have been saying it for months. They have been been slowly adapting women's rights. Work choices. Making it hard to be single, divorced and get work. Yet even if we do work. Hard to survive.

      Date and time
      September 26, 2014, 1:09PM
      • I and many other older women have been fighting for freedom of choice for women for well over 50 years. And we still have to deal with men in suits who have never been pregnant and have no idea how it feels and what effects an unwanted pregnancy can have on one's life. Behind all this male control is religion. All the holy books are written by men and they all want to keep women at home in the kitchen and the bed, and lots of kids are a sign of their virility. How do we get so many of these male throwbacks in Parliament?

        Golden Oldie
        Date and time
        September 26, 2014, 1:21PM
        • I endorse your comments, Golden Oldie.

          At no point in the history of humanity has a man ever wanted or needed an abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy that he himself was carrying.
          And for much of the time from the Iron Age onwards, when monotheism took hold, conservative men have resorted to religious beliefs (cooked up in the minds of zealous theists) to prevent the autonomy of women over their own reproductive health.
          Religious belief has no place in the secular government and governing of a secular country.
          Safe and reliable health care for everyone should have top priority.

          Date and time
          September 26, 2014, 5:52PM

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