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Abortion coercion: the NRL still has a long way to go in its treatment of women

By Rachael Wong - posted Monday, 20 March 2017

Furthermore, multiple NRL representatives have remarkably maintained (here, here, here and here), that the Cartwright incident is a "private matter" between two people.

It is curious why the NRL believes that a public figure with an imbalance of power should be able privately to bully a woman into having an abortion that she doesn't want. Not to mention its double standard in relation to its treatment of Mitchell Pearce whom they fined $125,000 for his lewd act with a dog last year.

As for Simona, his incident of abortion coercion has only come to light because of a series of related antics: his illegal gambling on NRL matches, his cocaine addiction and the fact that he ripped off money from charities. The NRL has rightfully reprimanded Simona in relation to such behaviour but has shown little, if any, concern for his treatment of Ms Taki.


Is this really how strong men respect women?

A privileged mindset of superiority and entitlement, where men like Zivanovic are kept around to protect players' interests at all costs, seems rife within the NRL - particularly when it comes to women. However, while it would be easy to dismiss the Cartwright and Simona incidents as symptoms of NRL culture, or as poor and infrequent examples of what happens when men are encouraged to sacrifice decency in the pursuit of fame and money, unfortunately the NRL experience is part of a much broader cultural attitude towards coercion and abortion in our society.

The reality is that women often face some sort of financial or emotional pressure to abort - frequently by their partners. Sadly, many even face violence (the relationship between abortion and intimate partner violence is well established).

However, despite the prevalence of abortion coercion, little importance and attention is given to this issue, except when our celebrity obsession thrusts it into the spotlight. Take for example the Melbourne man who assaulted his pregnant wife after she refused to have an abortion, but was spared conviction last month because it might affect his visa and job. The outcome was grossly inadequate, yet where was the outrage?

At the end of the day, Cartwright and Simona are merely a reflection of a culture that absolves men of responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy. The whole "My Body, My Choice" mantra has given unscrupulous men the excuse they need to force women into making the choice that best suits their own purposes. Then they can exit stage left, perhaps throwing a few dollars behind them, leaving women to bear either the trauma of an abortion on their own or the challenges of single motherhood.

This is not how strong men respect women.


Instead of simply paying lip service to these kinds of slogans,the NRL must hold its players accountable, but we also need to do much more as a society to teach our young men that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. We need to identify and hold up real role models for our boys: men who are active in public life and yet who love and support their partners and their families instead of treating them as though they were disposable.

We need to train our health professionals and pregnancy counsellors to detect when women are seeking an abortion under duress and to act accordingly. We need to have appropriate penalties, not just a warning and a slap on the wrist, for men who have been violent towards their pregnant partners.

We need to provide women with relevant support and information so they don't feel that they have to raise a child on their own. We need to do more to progress alternatives to abortion so that no woman feels she has no other choice.

Perhaps then we would have a strong society that respects women.

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About the Author

Rachael Wong is a Barrister, an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and the Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy at Women's Forum Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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