Since 15 May, a ban on abortion in Alabama has raised a protest in the U.S, which has gone viral on Instagram and Twitter. A number of female celebrities led by Lady GaGa, Rihanna, and Emma Watson have shared their outrage over the strictest abortion ban in the U.S, which disregards rape and incest as grounds for a pregnancy termination.
Several American states have signed similar abortion laws, commonly called “heartbeat legislation”. Heartbeat legislation bans abortion after fetal heartbeat can be detected, even before females are aware their pregnancy.
People around the world were astonished by the abortion ban and it drew great attention in Australian society. Ironically, when United States started to ban abortion, New South Wales(NSW) had not decriminalised it yet.
During the 2019 New South Wales election campaign, the Labour Party promised to decriminalise abortion and provide free termination public services once they won.
Although the labour Party lost that election, their commitment pushed the legalisation of abortion to the centre of a public opinion storm. More and more people believe that it is time to decriminalise pregnancy termination in NSW, as according to an overwhelming support for legal abortion in an NSW research.
Abortion is legal in many other countries including developing ones
In China, my home country, it is the pregnant woman’s choice to request a pregnancy termination rather than the doctor’s or any other interveners.
As international female students who study in Australia, me and my friends were shocked at the moment when we knew that women cannot even make their own choices for their body in some parts of this developed country. After a series of further statistical and quantitative research about abortion issues in Australia, I realized that liberalising access to termination of pregnancy by legislation is necessary in NSW.
Abortion is still on NSW Criminal Codes
In the New South Wales Crimes Act, people who assist ‘unlawful’ abortion including the pregnant, doctor or anyone else could be sentenced up to 10 years.
It seems like that lawful abortion is legally available in NSW, but only when two doctors honestly share the idea that “the operation was necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger to her life or physical or mental health which the continuance of pregnancy would entail” (R v Wald ). Since 1971, the concept of mental health was expanded to incorporate the impacts of financial or social pressure that may relate either amid pregnancy or after birth.
Nevertheless, it is hard to clearly define that to what extent can social stress be counted as endangering a pregnancy’s mental health. The law codes of NSW have not explained it. From the perspective of social science and humanity, the ambiguity of such terms is understandable. But this should not be the obstacle to decriminalize abortions.
Legal abortion is a step to eliminate gender discrimination
Women’s Office of the University of Sydney has been focusing on women’s issues for more than 90 years. Crystal Xu, the first international officer of Women’ Office of Sydney Uni, considered the legal abortion as the improvement of gender equality.
“I think legalization of abortion is such a great move in terms of promoting gender equality. Because that women can have entire control of their bodies”, said Crystal.
On top of that, the medical practitioner should not be the only one who make the decision whether a pregnant woman’s mental health is at risk. Women themselves deserve to possess the right to have a say on their own mental health rather than just let other people decide for them.
Abortion is decriminalised in some other states in Australia
In Western Australia, abortion is allowed out of any reason within 20 weeks if performed by one qualified medical practitioner. If more than 20 weeks, the termination must be approved by one of the appointed medical panels.
South Australia is the first state to decriminalise abortion. There abortion is legal through 28 weeks if any physically or mentally life-threatening risk to gravida is confirmed by two medical practitioners, as according to sections 81 and 82 of Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935(amended 1906).
Queensland removed abortion from criminal codes since last year.
Since abortion is accessible in these states in the Commonwealth of Australia, there should not be a disparity in New South Wales.
Will abortion rate upsurge after legalising abortion?
To people who are against abortions, there are some concerns that abortion may be used as another form of contraception. To illustrate, they are worried about that some people might pay less attention to contraception due to the free access of pregnancy termination.
However, the truth is that as the first state to legalize abortion in Australia, the termination of pregnancy rate in South Australia dropped to 13.5 per 1000 women from 2003 to 2015 according to a statistical investigation by ABC. It is the only state where publicly offered terminations make up the majority of abortions. 97% of medical and surgical terminations there are performed in public hospitals. The legal access to abortion in South Australia has not raise the abortion rate.
Similarly in West Australia, the termination rate reduced from 18.6% in 2003 to 16.4% in 2012. These data suggest that legalization of abortion will not have much impact on abortion rate. Besides, with the development of contraceptive measures, the abortion rates in Australia are going down following the world trend.
A human right issue for whom? Women or babies?
Other protesters claimed that abortion is a human rights issue.
Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, has strongly denounced all abortion acts and pointed out that there is no difference between abortion acts and hiring a hitman.
Many people think of abortion as depriving the right of a life. However, pregnant women also need the right to make decisions for their own body. If people cannot protect the human rights of a person who already lives in the world, how can we ensure that an unborn baby could live in a fair world in the near future?
Women are not killing babies
The Pope said that abortion should not be an option even when a fetus was diagnosed gravely sick. “Is it licit to throw away a life to resolve a problem? he asked. “Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?”
But according to the official records, more than 95% of all terminations of pregnancy in South Australia were performed owe to maternal mental health issues. Fetal disability and medical reasons just account for a small number of abortions. In West Australia, fetal abnormality takes up 2.6% of abortion reasons in 2017. That is, women are not killing disabled children, they just need to make the choice out of social and economic pressure.
Criminalising abortion is not the way to protect a life
From the perspective of children’s growth, sometimes termination is a decision that responsible for the future of babies. If women do not have financial and emotional ability to raise up a child, no one can assure the child will ever be well-educated or grow up with mentally health.
“It is good for children as well. Because people need to be ready and to be responsible enough to have children. So if they are not ready or not financially responsible for, they probably wouldn’t provide a happy life and environment for children to grow up”, said Crystal.
In this situation, if people who want to criticise fetal disability abortion, and politics who wish to reduce the termination rate out of that reason, they are supposed to focus on improving social and economic support for pregnant women rather than completely prohibit abortion in New South Wales.