The conversation about abortion we need to have

The 'Our Body Our Choice' march called for safe, legal and free access to abortion for all

Photograph: the front of the march walking through Hyde Park, people holding pro-choice posters, and among the crowd is a police car. In front of the crowd are other journalists photographing the march. Photography by Sylvie Woods

Seventeen-year-old Bella Ziade collects her thoughts before some two-thousand demonstrators in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

“I want to say how grateful I am for everyone turning up. It’s so overwhelming for me. I’m not gonna start crying.”

Ziade is one of the many high-schoolers leading human rights demonstrations around the world, and ‘Our Body, Our Rights’ has materialised during a fortuitous hot spell in Sydney.

“If you’re heartbroken for our friends in the United States facing abortion bans, if you’re angry about abortion healthcare being a crime in New South Wales (NSW) and inaccessible to many, join us,” Ziade published last month on Facebook.

To my left is the ABC’s Ashleigh Raper. SBS have turned up, along with Channel 9. I’m one of the many student journos prowling around.

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who in 2017 introduced a bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW, is being kept busy by her prolific supporters here. Greens MP Jenny Leong is also at the protest with her child and is not engaging in any shop-talk.

Of the megaphone-armed demonstrators, one puts to the impassioned crowd, “Back to the backyard?,” who respond, ‘No way!’

However, the event is a mixed bag of ages and political experience. Many protesters are girls about Ziade’s age, expressing their dissent via pop culture references: “Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers,” and, “Why are you so obsessed with my uterus?”

All the while, more than a few curious onlookers are slow to take in the parkscape. Some applaud, others look at the commotion witheringly. Murmurs that a handful of “pro-lifers” are around could be heard.

One demonstrator, about Ziade’s age, gets up and sings Whitney Houston’s, The Greatest Love of All.

Hersha Kakdol, the National Union of Student’s Ethnocultural Officer, eventually sheds light on the state of business.

“In Australia in the late 1960s, we saw militant working-class activists demanding equal pay, contraception on demand and free, safe and legal abortion,” says Kadkol.

“Trade unionists got behind this campaign. They realised that without the right to choose, women did not have the same access to jobs. They recognised this is an issue that disproportionately affects working-class and poor people.”

“We have these people to thank for the limited access to abortion that we have today.”

Kakdol raises an important point about the injustice of what’s happening in NSW. That, while the precedent set by medical practitioners means it’s realistic to access abortion as a white, middle-class wom*n, it’s not if you’re a low-SES  wom*n.

This is the conversation we have to have, before we golly-gosh about whether more rigid bans will come into effect.

In NSW, it costs anywhere between $200-$800 to safely terminate a pregnancy, even though a medical abortion means simply swallowing six pills over 48 hours, and a surgical abortion generally takes between ten minutes and an hour and a half, depending on whether anesthesia is needed.

 This cost barrier means that backyard abortions are still going on. Instances of self-termination are being reported in regional and disadvantaged areas of NSW, and are frequently linked to domestic violence, and sexual abuse.

In a harrowing incident of 2017, a Sydney woman was convicted for taking pills she bought on the Internet to self-terminate a pregnancy, at her boyfriend’s request.

According to a recent ABC investigation, NSW’s Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions offer no public health services that provide surgical terminations.

The Greens’ move to decriminalise abortion in 2017 was defeated 25 to 14 in the NSW’s Upper House. Not a single vote came from our current State government.

Resounding cries of “Shame!” were heard across the Archibald Fountain, directed at our government’s total betrayal of all people in this state with uteruses.

The criminalisation of abortion effectively only impacts those who struggle to afford abortions. In implicitly allowing the wealthy to access abortions, the state accepts and enforces the worst kind of class-based discrimination.

So, back to the backyard? No way! Well — not if you’re white and middle-class.

This article was updated 12 June 2019 to reflect the details of the abortion process.