Posts made in November, 2012

Dangerous Remedy: What life is like without safe abortions

Posted by on Nov 2, 2012 in Daily Life | 0 comments

Two weeks ago I was rushing to a morning meeting in Sydney’s Surry Hills. I was only two steps out of the taxi when I was accosted on the pavement by a man almost twice my size. At first I was confused and I couldn’t understand what he wanted from me. Then I noticed a small stand of religious paraphernalia and three or four plastic foetus shaped dolls behind him. Unwittingly, I had exited the taxi right outside a women’s health clinic. Based on this information alone, the man in front of me concluded that I must be a potential client of the centre. Uninvited, he began his anti-abortion spiel, lecturing me on the rights of my ‘unborn child’. I was upset and disoriented. I crossed the road and sat down to collect myself before my meeting. The man looked self-satisfied: proud in the belief that he had successfully frightened and deterred a young woman from making that decision. Thirty seconds later a group of other anti-choice activists arrived, and together they formed a prayer circle. Holding hands, they chanted a quiet prayer for my non-existent pregnancy as I sat only meters away. Part of me wanted to laugh at the absurdity of their ignorant, misplaced concern. But most of me just felt angry.  I hadn’t even had my morning coffee and somehow my body had already become a political battle ground. Having complete strangers accost you to discuss your uterus is intrusive enough when you’re not pregnant. I can only imagine how much more distressing this would have been for a woman who actually was there to seek a termination. I considered going back to share a piece of my mind. (I’m not even pregnant. But thanks for feeling entitled to button-hole me to discuss my plans for my cervix. Women love it when complete strangers engage them in conversations about their vaginas.) Instead I decided that my breath would be wasted on him, so I hurried off and made a mental note to write about the experience later. As a woman, one thing I have always struggled with is the way in which women’s bodies (pregnant or otherwise), are often treated as public property. Over my life, there have been many occasions when strangers have felt entitled to comment on, or even touch my body, often without any regard for whether or not I want it, or how it might make me feel. When a woman falls pregnant, this situation is exacerbated to the nth degree.  More than once on public transport, I’ve witnessed a stranger walk up to a pregnant woman and touch her belly, as though her right to personal space has been invalidated by the fact that she is pregnant. Instead of being seen as a person, the pregnant woman becomes a publicly owned vessel.  An almightily incubator, which others assume speaking rights over. For those of us who advocate for women’s right to legal abortion (because in NSW, abortion is still a criminialised offence) one of the many challenges to overcome is the persistent cultural belief that women’s bodies are not really their own. Instead they continue to be imagined to be owned by others: the church, the state, the public. And as recent history shows us, as long as women’s health is not put in women’s hands, it is real women who suffer. This Sunday ABC1 will air the tele-movie Dangerous Remedy, the compelling true life story of Dr Bertram Wainer, a medical doctor who advocated for the legalisation of safe abortion in Victoria from the late 1960’s. Putting his own life at risk, Wainer exposed the backyard...

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