At the age of 18 Alisha* made the decision to abort her early term pregnancy.
She was 8 or 9 weeks pregnant, and was “too young, not ready financially or mentally, and at the time I thought I never wanted children,” she said.
Her decision to abort was supported under NSW common law, which allows medical professionals to legally administer abortions if it is in the best interests of the mother’s physical, mental and financial health.
Doctor of Environmental Engineering, Mahreen Faruqi, sought a parliamentary conscience vote on May 11, to decriminalise abortions in NSW and instead have them treated as medical procedures.
During the vote The Hon Adam Searle remarked, “Abortion is a crime, but there is a medical exemption based on a ruling by Judge Levine in the District Court (1971).”
He lamented that Dr Faruqi’s bill would remove that exemption from the Crimes Act and therefore, the case that has developed which provides lawful access for women would also be removed by the bill.
Alisha (now 21) describes the experience of locating a clinic and going ahead with the procedure as “traumatic” and “nerve wrecking.”
“I didn’t know what to expect and was the only one of my friends (that I knew of) who had done it,” she said.
Whilst she still feels there is a stigma surrounding abortion, Alisha discovered that it was less of an issue in Australia than she was made to believe.
Julie Hamblin’s opinion piece, Nicole Economos’ reporting, and Ben Winsor’s coverage, just like articles from Matilda Dixon-Smith, Anna Livsey, Christopher Knaus, and Bridie Jabour all report only one prevailing attitude to abortion reform.
It is little wonder that young women such as Alisha believed that the procedure was highly stigmatised and would be hard to access.
Alisha’s experience also tells a different story when it comes to the one professed by Mahreen Faruqi over the last two years.
The emotionally charged, social activism campaign for Abortion Law Reform put forward many claims about misogyny, sexism, accessibility, harassment, prosecution, and cost, that Dr Faruqi has rarely been able to substantiate.
“The uncertainty surrounding abortion law means it has become a confusing, grey area, placing women and medical practitioners in difficult territory and at risk of prosecution and persecution,” Dr Faruqi said.
However, when asked on ABC Radio to identify one occasion of charge, conviction or prosecution relating to abortion under the crimes act, Dr Faruqi was unable to point to a single such instance.
It should be noted here that only one recorded instance of prosecution has occurred in NSW in the last 25 years, and it was associated with ‘horrendous’ medical malpractice.
The media portrayed the Abortion Reform vote as a climactic decider of good vs. evil.
Would NSW ‘finally, finally’ legalise abortion?
The answer was a resounding No, 25 votes to 14.
And, as can be expected with any highly reported social issue, the bursting of the bubble was not without repercussion.
The bill aimed to repeal sections 82-84 of the Crimes Act, relating to abortion offences.
However, it did not have any replacement provisions outlining “the conditions under which abortions would be legal in this State” said the Hon Trevor Khan.
The University of Sydney Women’s Collective, who protested at the Day of the Unborn Child procession on March 26, hung 25 coat hangers with the faces of the MP’s who had voted down the Bill.
The Collective is known for their outspoken and offensive protests at multiple abortion events across Sydney.
“No back alleys in the night, for safe choices we will fight” – Protest chant
Ironically, it was the negative vote of these ‘shamed’ MP’s who prevented ‘coat hanger abortion’ becoming perfectly legal due to Dr Faruqi’s inadequate legal framing.
Had the parliament voted to legalise abortion, they would have voted to legalise ALL abortions.
Rachael Wong, Women’s Forum Australia Director of Research told ABC online, “By removing all prohibitions against unlawful abortion and not suggesting any regulations to fill the void that that creates, puts women at risk of various things such as backyard abortionists, coerced abortions, unscrupulous and incompetent medical practioners”
This was a serious and mortal flaw in Dr Faruqi’s drafting that had “the scope of introducing unintended consequences” said The Hon. Walt Second.
Since there is no recognition of foetal personhood, Dr Faruqi’s bill could have unwittingly legalised forced abortions with no consequence to their enforcer.
The Hon. Ernest Wong surmised, “The bill is sufficiently vague and silent on how abortion would be legally monitored in terms of protecting the health and safety of women, as well as the ethical duty of doctors. It is rushed; it is unclear; and that is not acceptable for such a significant health issue.”
Understandably, for those unfamiliar with political process, to hear that parliamentary members rejected legalising abortion in a vote of conscience seemed callous.
ICYMI: This is the 21 men and 4 women who voted down a bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW. Feel free to give them some voter feedback. https://t.co/FVg6XzPV8e
— Jenny Noyes (@jennynoise) May 11, 2017
But the truth of the rejection lay in the unclear drafting and lack of legal structure put forward in Dr Faruqi’s ‘immature’ bill, rather than the ideological premise or due to misogyny as, she purveys.
When asked how the current NSW law impacted Alisha’s ability to access her abortion she replied, “It didn’t really impact me.”
Dr Faruqi further insisted, “access is scarce, it’s privatized and it’s really expensive”
But again, Alisha’s experience was not inline with this sentiment.
“It was fairly easy to find a clinic recommended by my GP, and Medicare halved the cost of the procedure”
Overall, Alisha said, “[I] felt cared for at every stage of the way. My experience was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. Three years later and I still don’t regret my decision as it was what was best for me at the time.”