Jessia Marais and Mandy McElhinney star in Nine's Love Child.
One of the prevailing falsehoods pedalled by anti-choicers is that abortion is easy. Indeed, our own Prime Minister (and self appointed Minister for Women) once said, “Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.”
As someone who’s had two abortions (and, for political reasons, been very open in discussing them), I can say that an unwanted pregnancy is more than merely ‘awkward’, and abortion is anything but convenient. While I don’t subscribe to the self-flagellating explanation that abortion is the hardest choice anyone will ever have to make, I do think the process of waiting for it to be over is anything but easy. Writer Kathrine Ley* perhaps summed it up best when she explained earlier this week, “I don’t want to be pregnant, but I don’t want to have an abortion either. I crave an easy out, for the decision to be out of my hands.”
These are the thoughts of anyone who’s found themselves looking to terminate a pregnancy: that they will wake up to find that the shadow of fear cast across them will have disappeared in the sunlight of a new day.
The honesty with which I’ve always talked about my choices has naturally been met with hostility. People who call themselves ‘pro-life’ and yet have little to no respect for the lives of women (and only marginally more for the lives of unwanted born children from poor families) have accused me of lacking in humanity. There’s a delicious irony in watching as people denigrate your character as less than human while in the same breath demanding you be charged with the responsibility of caring for a child.
I am by turns a murderer, a broken woman, a slut and a whore. I should have learned to keep my legs shut. My selfishness knows no bounds. Don’t I know how many infertile couples out there would love to have a child? How could I have killed my ‘precious children’ when there are people who would have happily taken them on?
This last one has always perplexed me. I’ve watched numerous friends of mine struggle with IVF and infertility, and it’s heartbreaking. I would love nothing more than for them to be able to have the child they’ve desired so desperately, and for it to be done without the traumatic cycle of disappointment and hurt. But unfortunately, the fact of my fertility (or anyone’s) has nothing to do with them. It may seem like a cruel joke that some people can become pregnant when they don’t want to be while others will struggle for years with no success - but this isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s certainly not the job of women to act as baby farms for the benefit of other people.
And then there is a more serious point, one which carries a legacy of shame that cannot be washed away with inventive retelling. I’ve often been told that the ‘horrendous’ abortion rate (for which there are actually no solid national figures, and even where the ones we do have are skewed by the inclusion of miscarriages and stillbirths) is responsible for the lack of adoption opportunities in Australia. I find this a gross and deeply offensive misreading of history.
While abortion has undoubtedly given women more choice in regards to when and how they give birth, the lowered opportunities for adoption are due in large part to the fact that our society no longer forces single, Indigenous and teenage women to give up their children.
From the early 1950s to the 1970s, at least 150,000 young and unmarried mothers had their newborn babies stolen from them and placed with adoptive families. Many of these women never saw their children again, with both mother and child experiencing irreversible psychological trauma. In 2013, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a government apology to the victims of our shameful forced adoption practices.
Prior to this (and continuing through this period), Indigenous families faced the same government abuse and oppression. In among the already horrific practice of dehumanisation and discrimination forced on Australia’s original inhabitants, a policy was borne that saw generations of Aboriginal children stolen from their families. The effects of this are still felt today, with many Aboriginal women carrying a legacy of fear that their kids will be taken from them against their will.
Watching Channel Nine’s traumatising but well executed Love Child with my sister the other night, I mused that I could ‘never let anyone take my child from me’ - as if it’s as easy as simply deciding that. Of course, this is a thoughtless throwaway line from someone who wants to believe these kinds of policies are ‘in the past’. But the women forced to give birth with pillows on their bellies to stop them from seeing babies they weren’t allowed to hold were given no support to fight for their rights. Likewise, the women whose children were taken from them and their communities had no recourse to get them back. It’s easy to say you’ll never let someone overpower you when your rights seem inviolable. When alternative policies become enshrined in law, you might as well be screaming at a hurricane.
The fact is, government legislation in this country has, at various times, held the autonomy of women and our bodies in utter contempt. And frighteningly, there are people sitting in Australia’s Federal and State Parliaments now who would like to gain more control over us once again.
We are almost certainly facing a fight in Australia’s state legislatures, with greater numbers of anti-choice zealots using US style subterfuge to mount attacks on our reproductive rights. Whether we choose to continue a pregnancy or not is nobody’s else’s business but our own. The decisions made regarding our bodies and our reproduction are for us to make alone, and we must maintain constant vigilance in the face of attempts to undermine this irrefutable fact.
It’s too easy to become complacent about our rights. Unfortunately, history shows that where women’s bodies are concerned, everyone wants to have a say - but the only people denied a seat at the discussion table are the ones carrying the extra baggage.