The QUO Podcast: Ep 11 - Decriminalised but not destigmatised: The future of abortion care in Australia
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;
Story

The QUO Podcast: Ep 11 - Decriminalised but not destigmatised: The future of abortion care in Australia

Stories/799 , Issues/Policy , Issues/Women
13th May 2021
The QUO Podcast: Ep 11 - Decriminalised but not destigmatised: The future of abortion care in Australia

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Associate Professor Catherine Kevin, a founding member of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition (SAAAC), discusses the decriminalisation of abortion, reproductive coercion and how she sees the future of abortion care services in Australia.

On 3 March, South Australia became the final state to decriminalise abortion when the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2021 was passed. For Associate Professor Catherine Kevin, a founding member of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition (SAAAC) and academic at Flinders University, this was the product of over five years of advocacy work. Since 2015, SAAAC has campaigned to decriminalise abortion in South Australia and to achieve access to affordable abortions for all, regardless of an individual’s location.

“Our campaign was always to make abortion care healthcare, to remove it from the Crimes Consolidation Act completely and allow it to be regulated like every other form of healthcare,” she says.

The decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia meant that patients would finally not be required to justify their reasons for having an abortion before 22 weeks and 6 days, and that they could consent to the procedure without two doctors signing them off.

“It opens the way for more equitable access to abortion care in South Australia. Decriminalisation is a huge step towards removing stigma, but I think there’s more work to be done,” Kevin explains.

Kevin is quick to highlight the gap between law and the reality of what happens on the ground. South Australia may have been the final state to decriminalise, but it also provides a best service model as the only state to offer free abortion services.

“In places like Sydney and Melbourne, you can pay a lot of money to access your abortion and in Tasmania, women have had to travel to the mainland at huge expense to gain access to abortion,” she says.

Kevin specialises in the politics and experiences of the reproductive body and has analysed the two main strategies used by groups who oppose access to abortions. The first is to emphasise the value of a foetus and portray it as a child so that abortion can be understood as a form of murder. The second is to present abortion as having negative psychological and physical consequences for women.

“The elaboration of the foetus through technologies and the intensification of ante-natal care has fed into a discourse around the value of the foetus and has given the anti-abortion movement a great deal of ammunition,” she says.

In 2019, the Christian Democratic Party’s Fred Nile introduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law) Bill 2019. At present, legal personhood begins at birth but this law sought to invest a foetus with legal subjecthood so that the foetus could be treated as a separate subject of the law. The potential danger of this law is that it could be used to restrict access to abortion services and mean that some women who have abortions are potentially treated as criminals.

“The law creates a set of definitions that can be applied in a whole range of circumstances,” says Kevin.

Dr Kevin’s research also focuses on reproductive coercion. This is linked to the idea of coercive control in domestic abuse, a pattern of controlling behaviours that lead to unequal power dynamics which afford perpetrators power over their partner, making it difficult or impossible to leave.

“Reproductive coercion is interfering in a person’s agency about the outcome of their pregnancy or interfering in a sexually active person’s capacity to control their fertility,” says Kevin.

This can take many forms and can include refusing access to contraception, removal of a condom, forcing someone to get an abortion or conversely, preventing them from abortion access. Dr Kevin is specifically interested in state-sanctioned coercive control, especially in the case of refugee women.

In 2014, the case of ‘Abyan’, a Somali woman who had been granted refugee status but was still living in the community in Nauru, captured the public’s imagination. She had allegedly been raped, and after begging authorities was able to come to the mainland for abortion as it remains illegal in Nauru. The Australian Government claimed she changed her mind about her abortion at the last minute, but a letter written by Abyan and given to the media by her lawyer revealed that she requested counselling and a translator before making her final decision.

“The reason why Abyan couldn’t get access to an abortion was because there had been three women who had sought injunctions to stay in Australia when they had their abortions, so the government just cancelled all access. The Australian Government wasn’t prepared to give women reproductive freedom if it risked them seeking an injunction to stay on the mainland,” Kevin explains.

Despite abortion being decriminalised in every Australian state and territory, there are still pressing issues to be addressed regarding reproductive health. These include providing public health provisions of abortion in every jurisdiction, increasing medical professional’s awareness of abortion and the provision of training for medical abortions.

“I don’t see why clinical nurses couldn’t be trained to provide an early medical abortion. Especially for people living in remote Australia, that would make a big difference to their access,” Kevin says.

“We need to create as much free abortion access as possible and also increase the capacity of healthcare services in terms of personnel to provide abortion care.”

 

If you need help or support:

1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Birthline Pregnancy Support (1300 655 156)

Sands - Miscarriage, stillbirth & newborn death support (1300 308 307)

 

Relevant publications:

Dispossession and the Making of Jedda, Hollywood in Ngunnawal Country (London and New York: Anthem) 2020

Kevin, C.E. (2020). ‘Tyrants, Heroes, Sex and Secrets: Foundational Histories of Domestic Violence, Turning Points in Historiography and the Legacy of Judith A. Allen in Australia’, History Australia 51:2, 127-145

Kevin, C.E. (2018). Defining the edge of legal personhood: A history of recent campaigns for recognition of pregnancy loss in two Australian states. Women's Studies International Forum, 69 pp. 135-142.

Kevin, C. and Agutter, K., 2018. Failing ‘Abyan’, ‘Golestan’ and ‘the Estonian Mother’: Refugee Women, Reproductive Coercion and the Australian State. Immigrants & Minorities, 36(2), pp.87-104.

 

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