A vote against decriminalising abortion is a vote against women’s rights


In May, NSW’s Upper House voted 14-25 against decriminalising abortion. The bill, introduced by Dr Mehreen Faruqi, proposed to remove abortion from the Crimes Act (1900) and enact safe access zones around clinics and hospitals performing abortions.

In the year of the Washington Women’s March and a seemingly revived women’s rights movement, it’s still our bodies but their choice.

Voting down the bill reaffirms the criminalisation of women and doctors for a medical procedure. It’s important to remember that an abortion is a medical procedure, and that whilst a lack of safe access raises issues of autonomy and bodily rights, it also deprives women of basic healthcare rights.


Safe access zones

Safe access includes safe access zones. Had Dr Faruqi’s bill been passed, it would have introduced 150 metre safe access zones around clinics providing abortion services.

The zones act to ensure patients can enter and leave a clinic without being confronted by protesters and recorded without their permission. As Dr Philip Goldstone wrote in a recent article, safe access zones “provide a bubble of safety around a clinic so patients can have their privacy upheld and can access sexual and reproductive health services without being intimidated.”

Dr Goldstone emphasises the need for these safe access zones, because access itself isn’t enough. If access isn’t safe, it isn’t true access. If women know they will be harassed and abused for seeking medical advice and/or treatment, they are deterred from accessing it at all.


Other barriers: costs and location

And it’s not just safe physical access that women need. The cost of having an abortion is startlingly high in some situations, with the Sydney Morning Herald telling the story of a Queensland woman who paid $770 for her abortion, despite it being as little as $15 in other states.

Abortion is a criminal act in Queensland as well, and women must engage a private provider to eliminate the risk of prosecution. This means potentially travelling further, waiting longer and paying more.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that at 13 weeks, a surgical termination can cost up to $890 for Medicare card holders in Rockhampton or Townsville. At 15 weeks that figure skyrockets to $1,500. And for those without a Medicare card? They could pay double.

This prohibitive cost endangers women’s health and restricts their right to access a healthcare procedure. This is especially true for women from low socio-economic backgrounds.

For women in rural areas, access to an abortion becomes even harder.

Tasmanian women with a pregnancy after 14 weeks must travel to Victoria. It’s cheaper for Queenslanders to travel to Sydney after 16 weeks in many instances. New South Wales women must travel to Victoria post 20 weeks – terminations there can be accessed up until 24 weeks.

And even where abortion is legal, it’s not necessary close by and accessible. In the Northern Territory, the price is low but only two hospitals offer the procedure.

"Geography is a huge barrier for a lot of pregnant people and it's a huge barrier generally for health services," Sian Tooker, a counsellor at Children by Choice, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Access to a safe abortion is hard enough as it is. With costs often prohibitive, lengthy travel often necessary and waiting times long, women face a number of barriers in accessing this healthcare right.

But when our NSW parliamentarians voted to maintain the criminality of abortion, and reject safe access zones, they made access even harder.

Their decision means that accessing an abortion remains dangerous and frightening for many women. Their decision sends the message that they don’t care about women’s healthcare rights. Their decision means that our “contemporary” parliament is willing to discriminate against women.

Their decision was this: your body, our choice.


The author, Brittney Rigby, is the Human Rights Defender Student Editor for semester one 2017.


Photo used under Fair Use Act.