Neither abortion nor adoption is an easy way out

Jessia Marais and Mandy McElhinney star in Nine's <i>Love Child</i>.

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.

 

*A pseudonym

 

 

26 comments

  • Unfortunately, despite these eloquent and wise words, I've no doubt that the comments will still feature at least a few of those hateful comments calling you every name under the sun. No doubt, a good proportion of them will be from men who will never have to face the same decision. (How does the saying go; "I bet you one unwanted pregnancy that you're secretly pro-choice".)

    My heart goes out to people struggling with infertility, but an acceptable answer isn't to be found by coercing vulnerable women to act as baby farms. I'm constantly astounded by the facile suggestion that women just adopt the baby out - do these people have no understanding of the intense, frequently long-term physical and emotional traumas attached to carrying and bearing a child you don't wish to raise?

    I can't help but assume that, was the burden placed on men rather than women, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all. But then, as we were amply warned, abortion has once again become the plaything of men in blue ties. Tony, we're still waiting on your response to Chris Pyne's outrageous agenda, outlined in "The Conservative Revolution"... I get the feeling we'l be waiting a while.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 9:06AM
    • "do these people have no understanding of the intense, frequently long-term physical and emotional traumas attached to carrying and bearing a child you don't wish to raise?
      I can't help but assume that, was the burden placed on men rather than women, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all."
      I'm a man. I was forced into parenthood twice. The first time I wasn't even asked if that is what I wanted. The second time I said, not now because we are still too stressed financially from the first. Relationship ended when the first child was 9. I raised them on my on after that.
      What Red Pony raises is exactly how the majority of men that I know of experience fatherhood. With the destruction of formal pairing has come the 'it's my body, it's my choice' attitude. As for the 'long-term physical and emotional traumas', I'm still single as I find it very hard to trust in a relationship. I'm always asking myself, what are my liabilities, what are the risks, what are the benefits and I keep favouring the single life.
      I'm with Clem on this one. No one should be forced to have a child they don't want. Where I think we differ is that I would extend that right to include men.

      Commenter
      BlackDog
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 11:27AM
  • When the pro-life brigade put their money where their mouth is and voluntarily donate sufficient funds make sure that all of the currently-existing children have adequate food, shelter, education and opportunities then I will perhaps take them seriously. But until that time, they should just realize that they are the worst sort of hypocrites.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    February 21, 2014, 9:23AM
    • You are a brave woman Clementine, I am thankful I have never had to have an abortion, but had i needed one i would have done so out of respect for my own life. I have 1 child and even that can seem a radical choice in rural areas like mine. All aspects of womens reproductive rights seem to be up for debate and opinion, but I always come back to a point of common sense that works for my way of thinking.....are we dying out as a species? or are we a 7 billion strong plague of consuming materialists? There are enough humans for everyone, and I like babies and cuteness and all that, but at this point having a baby is like a hobby, you dont need to do it to survive, but its fun and/or challenging. Treating every fetus like its the last human on earth is unnecessary.

      Commenter
      kyzmet
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 9:30AM
      • I think the best way to limit abortions and encourage adoption is for the government to pay an incentive to any mother considering abortion if they have the child....the amount paid will be whatever is required to stop the abortion.....over his or her life time, the child will pay far more in tax back to the government than the government paid the mother to have the child.

        This is a win-win-win solution.

        Commenter
        tbiz
        Date and time
        February 21, 2014, 9:51AM
        • Yeah, then anyone who willingly falls pregnant could casually mention they're thinking of a termination. Cha-ching! The government then pays to raise your child.

          I think we could maybe just give women the benefit of the doubt that they know what's best for themselves in their particular circumstances and accept that sometimes throwing money at a situation may not resolve it to your satisfaction.

          Commenter
          Donna Joy
          Date and time
          February 21, 2014, 11:22AM
        • This is actually the most inane thing I've ever heard.

          Commenter
          nemo
          Location
          sydney
          Date and time
          February 21, 2014, 11:46AM
        • There is nothing that can compensate a Mother for giving away a part of herself. That is often why women don't let that part of themselves be of existence.

          Commenter
          Rachael
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 21, 2014, 11:49AM
        • This may sound obtuse, but why should the government get involved at all in reducing abortion? Wouldn't it be more pragmatic and better use of funding to focus on easy and affordable access to birth control and sex education and leave the rest of the stewardship of a woman's body up to her?

          Your idea makes me incredibly uncomfortable as it has the danger of becoming a tool underprivileged women use to make money to survive (like prostitution).

          I also think before we start guilt tripping women for choosing abortion over adoption that the adoption/foster care system needs dramatic reworking. Honestly, there is no way I would put my kid into the system in this current state.

          Commenter
          Baby Mama
          Location
          28th Floor
          Date and time
          February 21, 2014, 12:04PM
        • tbiz, that is not really true and certainly not efficient. I can't think of anything worse than a perverse incentive not to have an abortion. It's precisely the wrong reason to bring a child into the world. Can you imagine the sort of mother whose only reason for having you is that they paid her? The social stats for single mother families are among the worst family types in society. Why should we be encouraging this, subsidizing this choice when we can just import already skilled taxpayers via migration? No family welfare, no schooling costs, rebates etc etc, just steal the social input costs of other countries by allowing their skilled citizens to migrate?

          I think at a certain point the viability of foetuses will improve to a point where there might be a medical ability to "donate" it to an infertile couple, either by implantation or in an artificial womb and the situation will largely solve itself. At least to a certain level, I'm sure there will probably be surplus embryos, although with more and more infertile couples reproducing more infertile children and male sperm counts declining, who knows. It might balance out. Probably not something we have to worry about for another century though.

          Commenter
          andrewb
          Date and time
          February 21, 2014, 2:46PM

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