Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 March 2018) . . Page.. 812 ..
those who need access to reproductive health services can access them on their own terms.
The recent decision to dismiss charges against three men charged with protesting outside Canberra’s abortion clinic was disappointing to many. The key to this decision was that their silent prayers did not constitute a protest. However, we all know that this does not mean that women accessing the clinic were not distressed to be watched and judged by their actions. The government sought to apply exclusionary zoning to protect women who are attending the clinic for medical appointments.
Decisions such as this, to procure an abortion, are no doubt emotional for women to make. None of us could ever expect that they are easy decisions. But ultimately it is a woman’s decision and we have established laws to allow women to make choices about their bodies, which is the way it should be. As I said, the government has made a commitment to review the existing provisions for women to make decisions about their reproductive health, because it has been more than a decade since we decriminalised the act and enacted provisions in the Health Act to allow for safe and legal abortion.
I note that the Women’s Centre for Health Matters is undertaking research into women’s sexual health, including access to abortion services. The government will then draw from the findings of this research to conduct a more focused review of abortion and its accessibility for Canberra women. This review is an action in the ACT women’s action plan. I will be reporting on its progress and a range of other actions contained in the plan in the near future.
I do not think that it is far-fetched to consider that perhaps these services may be at risk under a different government. I hope that with a new generation this might never be the case. Unfortunately, the Tasmanian government has continually blocked access to safe abortion services, following the closure of the only dedicated Hobart clinic, meaning that women now have to travel to the mainland to have the procedure.
Last week a federal National Party MP made the statement that he was filled with shame about the federal money committed to this cause. When I think about things that fill me with shame, I think about women like Ann, who in the early 1960s had a backstreet abortion for a fiver and, after three botched attempts, ended up haemorrhaging and was taken to hospital. Terrified, sick and distressed, and referred to as a “silly girl”, she was then required to face the police, who were led in by the treating doctor. Or I think about Diane, who paid £90 in 1961 for her abortion. Thankfully, it was not a backstreet abortion; she was able to find a doctor who accepted that she was mentally and physically unfit, so as to perform the procedure without the risk of imprisonment. Diane recounted how thankful she was that she did not have to go to “knitting needle Nora” and have a backstreet abortion like her dressmaker, who had died during the procedure.
It was women like Ann and Diane who, after their experiences, started lobbying for safe and legal abortion. They were punished and harassed every step of the way. They were refused service in the village shop. They had phone messages left on their answering machines of crying babies, and red paint poured on their cars.