Opinion | Failure of abortion bill exposes an ugly truth

FAILURE: "The bill’s result does not reflect community expectations", the author argues.
FAILURE: "The bill’s result does not reflect community expectations", the author argues.

It’s 2017 and a dead NSW citizen has greater bodily autonomy than a living uterus-owning NSW citizen. A bill came before the NSW Legislative Council this month to remove abortion from the Crimes Act, enact safe access zones around abortion clinics, and to require doctors to disclose conscientious objection and refer patients onto those who do not have such an objection. The bill failed, with 64 per cent of our representatives voting against it. Not one Liberal or National party member voted for the bill.

A vote against this bill effectively says our legislators believe from conception the government should have greater rights over the human organ of the uterus than the uterus owner. Yet we live in a society where a dead person has the right not to donate perfectly good organs that could preserve an actual human life. 

Yes, common law has provided an avenue for abortion by allowing termination if the woman concedes she is mentally, physically, or economically unfit. Not that she has bodily autonomy.

The bill’s result does not reflect community expectations. The Medical Journal of Australia says “a majority of Australians support laws that enable women to access abortion services after 24 weeks’ gestation”. The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2003 found “81 per cent of those surveyed believed a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion” with “77 per cent of those who identify as religious also supporting a woman’s right to choose”.

A major objection to the bill was a lack of regulation for late-term abortions, but only 0.7 per cent of abortions that now take place are after 20 weeks, and there is no evidence of more late-term abortions in ACT where a similar practice has been in place since 2002. Failing to find any science to support the objection, a lack of external regulation on other medical procedures, and the fact numerous studies have proven safe and legal abortions reduce late-term pregnancy terminations, one must concluded the lack of regulation issue is grounded in religious morals. Others claim the vote failed due to the gender construct within parliament, but, by gender, the vote was very similar with only 44 per cent of female and 31 per cent of male representatives voting for the bill. I would suggest the disproportional religious representation in our parliament crosses genders.

It was even argued that a doctor being made to disclose conscientious objection and refer patients onto those who do not have such an objection, was a breach of a doctor’s right to religious freedom. On what planet is this rational? If my doctor doesn’t believe in blood transfusions (yes this is a religious belief) can they just bypass telling me I need one? I don’t think so.

Both Labor and Liberal claimed MLC Mehreen Faruqi was using the bill for political purpose. And of this, I’m extremely confident. Faruqi has used the system and backed the parliament into telling the public their truth on female bodily autonomy. The truth that they believe abortion is a criminal matter. Their argument against the bill was grounded in religious belief, which leads one to believe either they’re overly religious or religious organisations have disproportional influence within their parties.

 Either way, they are completely out of step with the people they represent, even the majority of religious ones. However, I understand their anger, no one likes to be made to speak their truth when it’s this ugly.

Disclosure: I’m an atheist and I have a uterus.

Jacqueline Haines is a social entrepreneur who champions sexual and reproductive health and rights