Rachael Wong – Abortion won’t stop violence

The Australian August 2019
Family First Comment: “How does abortion help a woman experiencing domestic violence? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t…
It is deeply disturbing that abortion is being framed as a solution for women who are experiencing domestic violence. When a woman is violently attacked while walking alone at night, those who suggest that women should take more care not to put themselves in dangerous situations are rightly condemned for blaming the victim. In such circumstances, White Ribbon reminds us, “blaming women for the violence of men is victim-blaming”. But is that not what they do by proposing abortion as a protection against the violence of an intimate partner? Abortion does not in any way undo or address domestic violence and, in the case of women suffering domestic violence, heaps further violence and trauma on these women.”

How does abortion help a woman experiencing domestic violence? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

During debate on the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, some NSW MPs have spoken about how greater access to abortion will help women experiencing violence from a partner during pregnancy. Anti-domestic violence organisation White Ribbon, an ardent supporter of the bill, tweeted: “Women are at increased risk of experiencing violence from an intimate partner during pregnancy. Access to reproductive health services can be lifesaving especially for those in abusive relationships.”

Leaving aside the ironic use of the term lifesaving in the context of abortion, it is deeply disturbing that abortion is being framed as a solution for women who are experiencing domestic violence. When a woman is violently attacked while walking alone at night, those who suggest that women should take more care not to put themselves in dangerous situations are rightly condemned for blaming the victim. In such circumstances, White Ribbon reminds us, “blaming women for the violence of men is victim-blaming”.

But is that not what they do by proposing abortion as a protection against the violence of an intimate partner?

Abortion does not in any way undo or address domestic violence and, in the case of women suffering domestic violence, heaps further violence and trauma on these women.

Women typically seek abortions because they feel like they have no other choice — because they have been coerced by a partner or fear some other form of domestic violence; because they are overwhelmed by study, career or family pressures; or because they lack the financial or emotional support necessary to raise a child. Abortion under any of these circumstances is not choice, it is desperation.

Instead of simply providing women with the so-called “choice” of abortion on demand, we need to do far more as a society to address the underlying causes and provide positive alternatives that are not going to expose them to further harm. If women are trapped in a cycle of domestic violence, we need to find better ways to help them break free and break the control their violent partner seeks to exercise over them.

A further tweet from White Ribbon reads: “Addressing reproductive coercion is a key part of our efforts to eliminate violence against women, and we are proud to be part of the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance standing with all those signed.”

But what about women who are coerced into abortion? What efforts are being made to eliminate violence against them?

The bill provides no protection for such women. Recent polls in NSW and Queensland show that one in four people knows at least one woman who has been pressured into having an abortion. In 2017, NSW saw two shocking cases of NRL players who had coerced their girlfriends into having abortions. Last year, during parliamentary hearings on the Queensland abortion bill, an abortion provider admitted to performing abortions on women she knew were being coerced. How’s that for pro-“choice”?

By making abortion lawful for any reason, the bill removes protections for women against abortion coercion. Whereas now abortions can be performed lawfully only on health grounds, under the bill — where abortion is permitted for any reason — women are even more vulnerable to coercion from their partners, family or others.

Allowing abortion for any reason also removes protections for little girls against violence and discrimination before they’re even born. As many as 200 million women and girls are missing worldwide because of practices such as sex-selective abortion. There is evidence that the practice is already occurring in Victoria, a state that reformed its laws to allow abortion on request in 2008. Take for example the high-profile case of doctor Mark Hobart, who in 2013 refused to refer a couple for a sex-selective abortion; or a recent study from La Trobe University that has found fewer girls than boys being born in some ethnic communities. It is widely known that women from cultures that prefer sons face pressure to abort daughters.

We should be seeking to implement more protections for women, not to take away the limited ones that exist.

When NSW elected its first female premier this year, the hope of women in the state was that Gladys Berejiklian would be a leader who would advocate for all women. It is disappointing for Berejiklian to allow this bill to be rushed through by those hellbent on pushing a left-wing agenda.

Women who experience domestic violence in the form of abortion coercion have been overlooked by sponsors of this bill and are ignored by ideologically driven groups such as White Ribbon. If their commitment to women and combating domestic violence is genuine, they will seek to eliminate the real problem: the violence, not the child.

Rachael Wong is a barrister, managing director of Women’s Forum Australia and adjunct lecturer in the school of law at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/abortion-wont-stop-violence/news-story/acf48960b83b865d9578ddf49a15753c

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