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Speech: Matter of Public Importance - Abortion rights

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 17 Sep 2018

It is absolutely shameful that in my home state of New South Wales and in the state of Queensland abortion still sits in the Crimes Act. As a woman, as a mother of a young woman, and as someone who has campaigned for years to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales, I cannot and I will not accept this situation. Mr President, the existence of these laws actually exposes the misogyny and the influence of the religious far Right on our politics. Neither my religion nor yours should be allowed to deny women their rights and choices. You cannot impose your beliefs on others. You have no authority over the rights of individuals who make different choices. We have every right to complete bodily autonomy, and no-one can tell us otherwise. Abortion must be decriminalised, provided in public hospitals and covered by Medicare, and safe access zones should be mandated across all of Australia.

We know that a vast majority of Australians support the unambiguous legal right to bodily autonomy. We must be able to make our own health choices without the burden of criminality hanging over our heads, just because some politicians still have their heads buried in the year 1900. This isn't an academic question either. These archaic laws have real effects on real people. Women and all people needing access to abortion in New South Wales and their doctors are doing so under a legal grey area, in the shadow of criminality. They remain vulnerable to the full force of the law, including facing over a decade in jail for attempting to perform or procure an abortion. Many doctors actually do not perform pregnancy termination due to the fear of prosecution and persecution. Abortions are not routinely provided in public hospitals either.

In New South Wales parliament I brought on the first ever bill in the history of New South Wales to decriminalise abortion and create safe access zones. Abortion laws had not been touched in that state for over 100 years. Why? Because politicians are so completely out of touch with the community. Eighty-seven per cent of people in my state support the right to abortion, and this support runs across party lines—LNP, Labor and the Greens. The number is even higher in rural and regional New South Wales, where people are actually on the frontline of your ideological attacks on the right to reproductive health.

How can governments be so out of touch? When my bill was debated there was a concerted campaign similar to the one we are witnessing now in Queensland, riddled with myths and mistruths about abortion and backed by the decidedly patriarchal view that women should not be fully in control of their own bodies. One of the myths constantly peddled by the antichoice lobby is that if abortion were decriminalised all of a sudden women would start having late-term abortions. To suggest that women will carry a pregnancy to term only to then terminate on spurious grounds is offensive in the extreme, and has absolutely no grounding in fact. Just last month, in this very chamber, Senator O'Sullivan peddled the exact same myth. These are nothing but unfounded ideological opinions that are fundamentally disrespectful to women. It is incredible, it is shameful and it is embarrassing that such ideas are still alive and well in federal and state parliaments.

Is even the concept of women having rights alien to those who are so single-mindedly antichoice? Will they believe and perpetuate anything, no matter how damaging it is? We know that the criminality of abortion has led to completely unnecessary shame and stigma. Access is limited mainly to big cities. It is privatised and it is expensive, making it much harder to access for people in rural and regional areas and in Aboriginal and migrant communities. Those who say that decriminalising abortion is not necessary deliberately ignore the stories and lived experiences of women.

What these debates on abortion have often told us is that those who so vehemently oppose legalising abortion do so not on any evidence or merit; they do it on antichoice grounds. They have a sexist view that women cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies—that they should not be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.

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