tintinnabular (tintinnabular) wrote in ontd_political,

Where Women Still Don't Own Their Own Bodies

The recent exhibition about female criminals - Femme Fatale - was spread over two rooms at Sydney's Justice and Police Museum. The first room charted the history of deviant females, starting with that evil biblical temptress Eve. The vain, sexually rapacious queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs got a mention as did female sex workers who patrol Kings Cross each night.

The second room stopped us dead in our tracks. A disclaimer advised its contents might disturb, and explained the room was devoted to abortion because it was the one crime Australian women were most frequently involved in, and it was one of the only crimes always involving a woman.

The exhibition was not simply equating female sexuality with female deviancy; it was exposing the ways in which our current culture and laws do exactly that. My friend and I walked silently through the second room, reflecting soberly on the fact Australian women still do not have complete rights over our own bodies, 50 years after the contraceptive pill became available.

As a young woman it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming female reproductive rights have been secured, and not at risk or being eroded by right-wing, conservative ideologues. Wrong on both counts.

Last year a 19-year-old woman and her boyfriend were charged with procuring an abortion. If they are found guilty under Queensland law they face seven years in jail. The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, has refused to reform abortion laws.

Aside from the fact abortion is still an offence in most Australian states and territories, we need to remember not all women can get the legal contraception they want.

In the Northern Territory doctors can be fined up to $20,000 for failing to report on sexually active teenagers (under 16) who request the morning-after or contraceptive pill.

Similarly, there are many pharmacists who - on moral or religious grounds - refuse to administer the morning-after pill to women. Two years ago, when I was a staff member at the University of Sydney, I was outraged to learn a campus chemist refused to provide the morning-after pill. After all, university is often a time of sexual experimentation (and sexual slip-up). It is absolutely unethical for chemists to deny young women the emergency contraception they need.

Other pharmacists continue to give patronising, moralising sermons to young women who request emergency contraception. On more than one occasion I have had to comfort women who have been lectured by arrogant pharmacists who scolded them when buying the morning-after pill, after having just been raped. And then there are the continuing fights over the contraceptive drug RU486.

But it is not all doom and gloom. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the public availability of the contraceptive pill, a prime opportunity to reflect on the undeniable impact it has had. Initially only prescribed to married women, it is now more readily available. It has enabled women to control their fertility and given them greater control and choice over their lives and bodies.

But while we should acknowledge the milestone, it is important young women continue to fight to expand and consolidate our reproductive rights. While it is hard for women my age and younger to even imagine what it was like to live in the pre-pill, backyard abortion era of the 1950s, we cannot become complacent about our reproductive rights now.

If Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is elected prime minister it could set back the reproductive rights of all Australian women. Aside from having a parochial view of female sexuality (the words "precious gift" come to mind), Abbott has campaigned to deny women access to RU486.

While it is completely unethical for a health minister to prioritise his religious beliefs above the welfare of his constituents, it is also concerning to remember that Abbott was responsible for setting up an anti-choice hotline that systematically denies pregnant women the comprehensive information they need regarding their own bodies and choices.

These issues do not apply to Australian women alone. In many countries, women's reproductive rights are abused as a matter of course. Half a century on, there is still work to do.

Nina Funnell is a researcher in the journalism and media research centre at the University of NSW.


Cross-posted to ontd_feminism
Tags: abortion, australia, reproductive rights, women

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