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Canberra Sets The Example For Autonomy

As of the 20th of April (2023) ACT residents have access to free medical and surgical abortions. This is a momentous celebration and a colossal success for not only autonomy and human rights but also for healthcare.

Human rights are crucial and a fundamental factor of our existence. In Australia, we do not have a formal specific charter or doctrine of rights (a topic to be discussed in detail soon). Considering that we preach a democratic land full of diversity and opportunities it seems pretty ironic that we in fact only have a handful of enshrined human rights within our federal laws.

This makes it hard to protect our rights and prevent them from being revoked or under threat. While we do have many state and federal laws, acts and bills protecting us against discrimination, threat and harm there is still a gap in the protection of our rights.

The human right to life, liberty and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself are revoked when we strip people of the right to bodily autonomy. Autonomy itself is the right to make decisions about one's self. When we discuss abortion and the right of those with a uterus to make the decision for one, many people tend to forget the fundamentals of autonomy and sovereignty.

Too often we see abortion put up for debate as a morally conscious argument rather than seeing what it truly is; a common health intervention and a healthcare procedure. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that around 6 out of 10 unintended pregnancies result in an induced abortion. When you see statistics like this the way forward should be risk and harm prevention not turning it into a crime. Unsafe abortions are a leading yet PREVENTABLE cause of maternal deaths. WHO has published estimates from 2012 that 7 million women in developing countries alone were hospitalised in 1 year due to unsafe abortions, something that only occurred due to inaccessibility to safe healthcare wherein safe abortions were not available nor accessible.

In Australia New South Wales was the final state to decriminalise abortion, this was only achieved in 2019. 119 years after the Federal Crimes Act stated it was a criminal offence.

It is always so compelling and thought-provoking when we see people preach and plead for the right to self-governance and to make their own decisions yet when it comes to abortion they throw away that moral compass in order to support their own opinion about something that may never even be relevant within their personal life.

Many of the "pro-life" supporters/protestors typically come from western religious backgrounds such as catholicism or christianity.

There is no single mention in the bible of the word abortion. The bible states that life BEGINS when a baby draws its first breath. Yet when someone chooses to have an abortion suddenly that definition is no longer relevant.

Pushing this discourse aside it is important to reflect on what this news from the ACT means. While it is an incredible feat that abortion is decriminalised in Australia the next step is accessibility. To help prevent the high rates of maternal deaths, complications, the mental and physical stress, the procedure needs to be accessible. This means not only is it available, but it is affordable and attainable and those requiring an abortion do not have to go interstate or travel to great lengths in order to receive this healthcare.

A famous paper from 2001 by John Donohue and Steven Levitt presented evidence that the legalisation of abortion in the early 1970s helped play an important role in the crime rate drop of the 1990s. When we dive into this statement it almost seems logical and like common sense. If people are not forced to raise a child they were not ready for, mentally, physically, financially and socially then not only is their quality of life vastly different but it prevents possible cases of hardship, abuse, unstable relationships and the list goes on. There have been many studies proving that financial motives are a major cause of crime, imagine the difference in financial strain raising a child is for someone who isn’t ready and prepared versus someone who is. In fact, the legalisation of abortion helps lead to the reduction of unwanted pregnancies and increased the likelihood of greater parental investments in children such as schooling. Its estimated that around half of pregnancies in Australia are unplanned and that half of those unplanned pregnancies are terminated (Riseel et al, 2003). In Australia we do not have a standardised national approach and strategy for this healthcare creating discrepancies in data, legislation, accessibility and outcomes. In fact, the processing and rebates are downright all over the place. Abortion/termination of pregnancy is categorised together with miscarriages and many gynaecological procedures under Medicare. By clumping them together it is harder to create tailored responses and actions.

If the rest of the country were to follow Canberra, we could perhaps in turn create a standardised safe and accessible approach and plans rather than the present situation. Canberra has taken a progressive step forward which would ideally have a domino effect on the rest of the country. For now though this is a momentous achievement.

John J. Donohue, Steven D. Levitt, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades, American Law and Economics Review (2020)

C Rissel, J Richters, AE Grulich, RO de Visser, & A Smith, ‘Sex in Australia: attitudes towards sex in a representative sample of adults’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 27, no. 2, April 2003, pp.118–123.


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