Although 80,000 terminations are carried out in Australia every year, the procedure is still considered illegal in most states and can only be carried out very early in pregnancy with the approval of two doctors.
This strange combination of illegality and acceptance has been brought into the spotlight recently, thanks to a case involving a young Queensland woman and her Ukrainian boyfriend. When Tegan Leach became pregnant unexpectedly, her partner Sergie Brennan asked his sister back home to mail them the RU486 abortion pill. This is the method most commonly used for terminations in Australia, but is restricted and can only be prescribed by doctors.
When police, searching their home for another reason, found the empty blister pack, the pair were arrested. Despite the fact that the pair were later found not guilty, it has highlighted to women all over Australia that abortion is still seen as something secret and shameful.
One West Australian MP is even calling for women considering abortion to be forced to look at ultrasound pictures and given a cooling-off period, as in some US states.
“It still leaves women with the choice,” Liberal MP Peter Abetz argues. “But it will be a better informed choice. They will have seen that it’s disingenuous to refer to their unborn child as a ‘blob of tissue’.”
IN the UK, the debate has been forced into the mass media with the screening of TV adverts by the international abortion provider, Marie Stopes. Although the word “abortion” is never actually mentioned and the adverts only feature the line “Are you late?” protesters still argue that the move has trivialised the procedure.
In Australia, guaranteeing access to abortions is considered of more importance by campaigners, who have to battle with the various interpretations of the law throughout the country and many doctors who will actually refuse to carry out the procedures.