What overturning Roe v Wade means for Australia

The overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States could reignite the debate about abortion access in Australia,and increase the stigma for people who terminate unwanted pregnancies.

The decision by the US Supreme Court brings to an abrupt end the decades-long constitutional right to an abortion in the US,meaning state bans come into effect.

Abortion clinics have begun shutting down across the United States as several States already move to ban the procedure after yesterday's Supreme Court ruling.

Daile Kelleher,chief executive of Children by Choice,said she had no doubt Australian opponents of abortion would be energised by the US decision.

“It is a really stark reminder to us that even rights that we have so-called won,because they are legislated,could be overturned or wound back and that could depend on the government of the day,” Kelleher said.

“Abortion rights and access never seems to be completely embedded within the public health systems,which could make it easier to overturn.”

Kelleher said abortion was yet to be properly decriminalised in Western Australia. While it was decriminalised in all other states,the ability of pregnant people (women,non-binary people and trans men) to access abortion varied.

Jane Caro speaking at one of the 2019 rallies to support decriminalisation of abortion in NSW.

Jane Caro speaking at one of the 2019 rallies to support decriminalisation of abortion in NSW. Steven Siewert

Victoria decriminalised abortion in 2008,and it was largely available in the public health system in city areas,but there were still barriers to access in regional areas. NSW,which decriminalised abortion in 2019,had started embedding access to abortion in the public health system,but it was early days,Kelleher said.

Jane Caro,one of the speakers at a series of pro-choice rallies in the lead-up to NSW decriminalising abortion in 2019,said overturning Roe v Wade was a huge step backwards.

“It reminds women all over the world and also in Australia that,in comparison to men,our rights are always equivocal. They’re up for debate and they can be taken off us,” Caro said.

Caro said the decision would embolden opponents of abortion in Australia – who she described as “forced birthers” rather than “pro-lifers” – but said it would also energise supporters of abortion.

“It will make people here feel even more strongly about the importance of the fact that abortion is now decriminalised in nearly every state in Australia,in the same way that the US’ extraordinary laxness about gun control actually reinforces people’s support for gun laws here,” Caro said.

Protests following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

Protests following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.Jacquelyn Martin

Bonney Corbin,head of policy at MSI Australia (formerly Marie Stopes),said the biggest implication for Australia was that it increased the stigma of abortion.

“We know that in Australia between one and three and one in four women have had an abortion in their lifetimes,” Corbin said.

“Feeling that judgement about a very personal decision about your own body is uncomfortable and can create so much stigma and negativity within communities.”

Corbin said South Australia took the final steps to decriminalise abortion on Thursday,with the new laws to take effect on July 7. All states and territories now had access to medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation where women could have a telehealth consultation and be sent a pill through the mail.

She said abortion was unlikely to be overturned at a federal level because the National Women’s Health Strategy,announced by former health minister Greg Hunt,was bipartisan policy that called for universal,free or low-cost access to abortion by 2030.

Wendy Francis,national director for politics at the Australian Christian Lobby,said the decision in the US gave “a sense of hope to people who are opposed to abortion that there is a global movement” and they can be part of that.

“The Roe v Wade decision does have implications for Australia but also globally because what we are seeing is a new younger generation rising up that is pro-life,” Francis said.

Francis said the federal government should act to ban Medicare-funded abortion for sex selection and ensure babies that survived abortion and were viable were given medical care.

The Anglican and Catholic Archbishops of Sydney,who made a joint statement against abortion in 2019,declined to comment.

NSW Pregnancy Choices Helpline 1800 008 463;Victoria 1800 MY OPTIONS;Sexual assault helpline 1800 RESPECT.

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Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the social affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald.

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