On December 14th, tucked away among stories of ethnic rioting in Sydney’s suburbs, the Telegraph featured a story on current national abortion statistics. The story announced that around 84,218 abortions are performed annually in Australia. This figure comes from a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a government agency. The report uses data combined from hospital and non-hospital sources to provide a picture of induced abortion in Australia, as well as providing a basis for regular reporting in the future. Reliable statistics are vital in public policy debates about issues as controversial and emotional as abortion. Hopefully the AIHW can continue to provide them.
The bare figure 84,218 reveals little about abortion in Australia today. Pro-life activists would say even one abortion a year is too many. Others would see the number as reasonable, if you consider the poor quality of sex education in Australian schools and the stigma and financial difficulties facing single, young and economically disadvantaged mothers.
Over the past 18 months, abortion has re-emerged as a topic of conservation at some of the dinner parties I attended. It would hardly surprise readers that the majority of my friends are pro-choice. I have little problem during these discussions talking about the two terminations I had - one when I was 20, the other when I was 25. My confessions are not matched at these dinner parties by any admissions from other guests. But inevitably, I find myself being bailed up privately later on by a female dinner companion, who tells me about her termination or terminations. Despite being happy to call themselves pro-choice, these women, for whatever reason, aren’t comfortable talking about their personal experiences with abortion, even when among friends.
I understand the reluctance: who wants to invite the kinds of harsh judgment often levelled at women who choose to terminate a pregnancy? However, I believe it is vital to the cause of women’s rights that these women speak up. Because if we don’t, pro-life advocates are more than happy to speak for us, to attribute us with the worst motives and character - lack of morality and maternal instinct, stupidity, callousness, avarice, you name it.
When I first got pregnant, I was 20 and found out the hard way that I knew little about reproduction. My parents and my school left it up to me to find out about the mechanics of procreation. I had failed to consult either Cleo or Cosmo (I was more prone to reading novels at the time). In my mind there was no question I would get a termination. All along the line, health professionals asked me, “Have you thought this through? Is this really what you want?” Of course it was.
Thinking back, if I had been forced to attend lengthy counselling sessions or shown photos of a foetus (as some pro-life politicians have suggested), I would have exploded in rage and hurt. No amount of talk or unsolicited advice would have altered the fact I was an unmarried, 20-year-old student with no interest in becoming a mother.
At 25, I found I was pregnant again. You know how is says on contraceptive packets that the contents cannot 100 per cent ensure you won’t fall pregnant? Well, the warnings are right. After a condom broke and the morning after pill failed to work, I still got pregnant. I was in a long-term relationship, but again I wasn’t in a position to have a child. I was still finishing my degree, unmarried and unsettled. I went through with the termination, with the same mind-set as I had at 20.
Looking back at that time and at the relationship I was in, it was the right choice for me. I knew it then and I know it now. I have no shame or regret associated with the decisions I made. That’s not to say they were easy - they weren’t. It was an emotional and difficult time. I was aware, even in my certainty, that I was taking a serious step.
Study after study shows that the majority of Australians support a woman’s right to choose. That may in part be because the majority of Australians have had, or know someone who has had, a personal experience with abortion. They understand that reality is more complex than most pro-lifers recognise. Yet why it is that the voices of the pro-life lobby, a minority, are louder than the majority? It’s time that we all spoke up. Bare statistics can’t reflect the full story.
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