The year is 2022. I thought you might need a reminder. Our cars are getting smarter (albeit not yet flying), our climate warmer, and our Artificial Intelligence closer and closer to sentience. You would be forgiven for thinking we were living in some dystopian future—one straight out of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Or maybe the inverse… Maybe you woke up on the morning of June 25 and felt an overwhelming sense that we were all back there, back to when women and gender diverse people were persecuted for simply existing; our rights stripped away like our clothing.
While Australia slept through the night, the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to protect the reproductive rights of women and gender diverse people in the U.S. was scrapped. The U.S Supreme Court made the egregious call to overturn the fifty-year-old decision that granted all people who could become pregnant the right to choose to have an abortion, after a draft of the decision had been leaked earlier this year. And the response has been loud.
As the words of many activists’ herald: you cannot ban abortion, you can only ban safe abortions. To access an abortion, many people in the U.S. will now need to travel interstate, risk legal prosecution, and fork out exorbitant amounts of money to receive basic healthcare and reproductive support. The decision therefore largely targets people from marginalised communities, those on low income, those with disabilities, and those in diverse socio-economic circumstances—as the access to abortion has now become an obstacle course of barriers.
People have taken to the streets in droves since the decision was made, making their distaste for the Supreme Court’s logic known. In Australia, solidarity marches took place across the country last weekend to declare that those present stand with all the people who have had their rights stripped from them by the decision; that we will not stand for the continued sexism, transphobia, and reproductive abuse of the past. Here in Aus, the marches are also a message to our new federal government that we will not be silent: we will make our positions known loud and clear, and we will offer support to those who need it across the pond.
Conversation since the Roe v. Wade decision has also got many people questioning what it might mean for reproductive rights here in Australia. Could a similar decision be made in Australian politics? Will there be any ramifications felt here for us? And, most importantly, where do our own laws stand regarding abortion?
Access to abortion for those in Australia is not as clear-cut as one might think. Similar to the U.S., our right to choose is not universal, nor is it specified in our Constitution. Individual state and territory governments individually decide on their abortion laws. In fact, abortion is still in the process of being decriminalised across the nation. Decriminalisation means that abortion would be regulated by health laws as a medical procedure, rather than as a crime under criminal law, and NSW made this decision only in 2019. Queensland preceded us in 2018, South Australia only followed this year, and while abortion is accessible in Western Australia under the Heath Act, the state is still yet to formally decriminalise the procedure.
While abortion is mostly legal Australia-wide, individual states and territories also disagree on when an abortion can be sought by choice and when the procedure must be first approved by a doctor. As it currently stands NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the NT, and SA all allow the decision for an abortion to be made by the pregnant person up to between sixteen and twenty-four weeks of pregnancy (depending on the state). For abortions after the predefined period, the procedure must be approved by two doctors, except in cases where the pregnant person’s life is at risk. In WA, the pregnant person is also to attend mandatory counselling prior to any abortion, and in the ACT, while there is no legal limit on gestational periods for the procedure, clinics that will provide an abortion after sixteen weeks are limited.
Doctors that are personally opposed to abortion also have a legal obligation in Australia to refer the patient on to another suitable doctor in NSW, Victoria, QLD, and SA; although this doesn’t always happen. As recently as last year, ‘safe access zones’ were also enacted across Australia to protect those seeking an abortion or performing abortion services from anti-social behaviour, including hostile stakeouts, intimidation, or interference with the patient’s privacy.
However, despite progressing abortion laws in Australia, accessing the procedure can still pose some challenges. Largely dependent on factors such as geographic location and financial circumstance, accessing an abortion can be especially difficult for members of minority groups. Abortion can be pricey for those on temporary visas, for example, reaching into the thousands for some. Even for Australian citizens the cost can vary exponentially. For some patients in Victoria, a medical abortion can cost as little as $6.10, while in regional QLD this figure has been seen as high at $770. Keep in mind, this cost does not include the need to travel, income lost from time away from work, additional cost of medical or mental aftercare and support, and other unforeseen charges.
For people living in the regions, especially those in remote Aboriginal communities, access to a clinic close to home can be limited. If these patients also need a doctor’s approval, the challenges begin to stack up. The same can also be said for people living with a disability, as Australia’s outdated guardianship laws can further strip the pregnant person of their bodily autonomy and right to choose.
Research on abortion in Australia is severely lacking, but the estimated number of abortions performed yearly sits at around 90,000. In the U.S., this is around 630,000. That’s 630,000 people who, under the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, will no longer be able to exercise a right over their own bodies. 630,000 people who will now have to risk financial hardship, stigma, unsafe practices, prosecution, and even death to access a procedure that has ensured our reproductive rights for fifty years.
If the overruling of the Roe v. Wade decision has taught us anything, it is that the fight is far from over. I refuse to let the world end with a whimper. If it ends, it will end with a whole legacy of people who kicked, screamed, and fought their way to justice. We will not stand for Atwood’s Gilead.
Hi, I’m Steph and I use she/her pronouns! I’m a current Creative Writing PhD student and contributor here at Opus. My favourite genre to write is fantasy, but I also love stretching my writerly muscles with reviews, think pieces, and horoscopes. When I’m not writing for Opus, you’ll probably find me with my nose in a book, nomming on some vegan banana bread, or farming my crops on Stardew Valley.