It's 2022, but women still cannot take our hard-fought rights for granted. It used to frustrate me that in feminist forums and women's networks someone would always pipe up to remind us that our struggle was never-ending and ongoing. It always seemed somewhat pessimistic and even defeatist. But the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States is a harsh reminder of why we can never let our guard down. We don't have the luxury of complacency because the threat to our rights going backwards is omnipresent.
Feminists and activists know well the long, windy road to abortion rights is full of bumps, dead ends and U-turns. I experienced this first hand when I led the campaign in NSW to decriminalise abortion.
My bill to decriminalise abortion was the first such legislation to be debated in the NSW parliament in 2017. Abortion rights had remained politically moribund for so long because for decades, campaigners had been told to stay quiet. A fear had crept in that any push for the unequivocal right to bodily autonomy might further inadvertently restrict the legal loopholes that created limited access through a series of court decisions in the early 1970s.
The situation was not dissimilar to the United States Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade which had granted Americans a right to abortion since 1973. Many states still have laws on the books that ban abortion, which can be enforced now a conservative Supreme Court majority bolstered by the far-right Trump administration has overturned the five-decade-old decision. Scenes of Americans either celebrating or commiserating in the streets over the weekend reveal a shock at the decision they probably assumed was never going to be made.
Our fight in NSW was about codifying our rights in statute, rather than continuing to rely on a precarious court ruling, and therefore providing legal certainty of our right to abortion. The precarity of a court decision was always on our minds. It's now clear how important that was. Abortion rights cannot be taken for granted - they must be fought for, and defended.
In the United States, the danger of unsafe backyard abortions is rearing its head again. In Australia, after decades of campaigning abortion is now legal across the country but access is still limited. The fight for reproductive rights does not simply end with a change in law.
I have heard countless stories of women not finding services or practitioners, of negative responses when they approach doctors and of having to travel hours for healthcare. Access to abortion is still a lottery depending on where you live, how much money you have or who you are. People of colour, those living in remote and regional areas, and those unable to afford the costs of privatised services are the most affected - not to mention non-binary and trans people, who also need access to these services. Our objective must be for governments to treat abortion services like other healthcare and ensure they are provided through our public hospitals, fee-free and covered by Medicare. This will provide access to all those who need it and also remove the stigma and shame by normalising one of the safest medical procedures. We deserve nothing less.
For too long, abortion has been a battleground for the far-right, conservative, anti-choice brigade. They were disgustingly jubilant both here and overseas at the recent court decision in the US. That alone tells us how much work we have to do. This big win for them will inspire and fuel further attempts at unwinding progress for women, LGBTQI communities and people of colour won over decades by our predecessors.
We must ensure accessibility of abortion, but more broadly we must build a strong feminist movement to dismantle the patriarchy that wants to control women and our bodies. I want this movement to be inclusive and intersectional. It must be led by those that are most harmed by gender inequity, not middle-class white women. Once and for all, let's ensure that "our body our choice" is not just a slogan but an unambiguous universal truth.
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