An argument often used in support of legalising abortion is that the alternative leads to women taking matters into their own hands with dodgy backyard hacks. However, the reality is, the opposite is more likely the case, especially regarding the current ‘Reproductive Rights Bill’—a truly Orwellian phrase if ever there was one—being proposed by Alex Greenwich. Note how it states:
This means that there is no time limit on when a woman could cause her pregnancy to be terminated. Nor does it contain any legal sanction on “performing” the procedure on themselves. The legislation is so open-ended that all safeguards are effectively removed.
Ms. Julia Finn, a Labor MP from Granville, made an excellent speech yesterday in the NSW Parliament as to why this piece of legislation is so hazardous to women’s health. While still in favour of decriminalising abortion, Ms. Finn is recorded in Hansard as saying:
I have strong reservations about part 3 of the bill relating to self-administration of abortions. It is proposed to remove this from the Crimes Act without replacing it with any penalty or deterrent whatsoever. It is unclear whether the 22-week term limit applies to it, but I imagine it may not. It also conflicts in most cases with it being unlawful for an unqualified person to perform a termination. This is troubling for many reasons. Firstly, at any stage of pregnancy it is dangerous to self-administer an abortion. When medical terminations are available, you would like to imagine that self-administration would never occur. However, unfortunately it does.
Secondly, some women, particularly young women who cannot afford or who cannot access services — and who are too ashamed to tell their parents, families or friends about their situation — often resort to this. The methods used to procure a miscarriage in the early stage of pregnancy are disturbing — from ingesting poisons, inserting coat hangers, applying bleach or having someone punch them repeatedly in the stomach to induce a miscarriage. All this could cause lasting damage and is dangerous; not to mention the enduring psychological impacts. While I do not want to consider this a criminal offence, I do not want to condone it either by removing it from the criminal code without any legal deterrent whatsoever. The bill says that backyard abortions are okay if you do it yourself. Yet, we are being told time and again that this bill will stop abortions being performed by anyone who is not medically-qualified.
What Ms. Finn is saying here is entirely correct. Decriminalising abortion carte blanche — without replacing it with any penalty or deterrent — only means that women will be more likely to take matters into their own hands. It will tragically give women less protections than under the current law. But Ms. Finn also went on to further argue:
This brings me to the more troubling issue of self-administered abortion where the fetus is older than 22 weeks and a termination is not supported by two medical practitioners. This was the situation faced by a young woman in 2015. She lived not far from me in Toongabbie. She self-administered a poison she had obtained from the internet at 28 weeks gestation. It caused her to go into labour and her child to be born prematurely. She was in an awful situation with her partner having decided he no longer wanted to be a father. I understand she was turned away by a number of services as she had passed 20 weeks. She was prosecuted for self-administration and for seeking to procure a miscarriage. While she faced a terrible situation, I do not think it justified her decision—not at 28 weeks when a fetus is viable. Some 90 per cent of babies born at 28 weeks survive. Her child was born prematurely because of the poison she swallowed.
I am deeply concerned that decriminalising self-administration without any alternative legal deterrent will create an extremely dangerous loophole, which I cannot support.
There’s an old saying that says, before taking down a fence you first have to answer the question why it was erected. And that is precisely the case with decriminalising abortion. The law was originally put in place to not only protect unborn children — surely the most vulnerable people in our society now — but also the mothers themselves.
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