Reproductive freedom is one of the most controversial human rights in the globe. The right of parents to decide freely and responsibly if, when and how they give birth respects individual choice about whether to bring a child into the world, one of most important decisions human beings make across their lifetime.
Reproductive freedom means supporting birth control, contraception, access to abortion services and adequate health-care services for IVF and other assisted birth technologies. Opposition to reproductive freedom by conservative forces, in particular the provision of condoms, has contributed to the scourge of AIDS in Africa and caused permanent damage to women forced to use unscrupulous doctors to terminate unwanted pregnancies worldwide.
In Australia, it is not often we see a stark example of a human rights abuse. But the trial of two young people taking place in Cairns this week for procuring a miscarriage, a charge under archaic and seldom used provisions of the Queensland Criminal Code, is an example of a fundamental challenge to the right to reproductive freedom in Australia.
For too long, the Queensland Parliament has relied on the exercise of discretion by police to not prosecute abortion crimes under the code as a means of avoiding broader public debate about the importance of decriminalisation. This case exposes how important, and urgent, legislative reform is, as well as how crucial it is to have progressive men and women in our parliaments.
EMILY’s List Australia has long been a champion of reproductive freedom. Being pro-choice is one of five principles progressive women must adhere to receive political, financial and personal support from the organisation. Several women in the Queensland parliament enjoy our support and we have no reason to question their loyalty to change. But blaming Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, or anyone of our supporters, for failing to reform a piece of legislation that pre-dates even the right of women to vote is counter-productive to affecting change in the best interests of women, and the partners who support them.
Progressive women represent less than a third of the Parliament and have only recently started occupying positions of real power. People who seek to blame progressive women for the continued prosecution of this case, fail to appreciate the stranglehold conservative, mostly male, leaders have over law and order. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Shifting blame on women, after centuries of male control over women’s bodies, including 100 years by the Queensland government, is disingenuous.
We have confidence in the judgement of Premier Bligh and others that a Bill before the current group of MPs in the Queensland Parliament would hijack the debate and take women’s rights further backwards. In politics, everything is about timing.
Incremental change is not popular — calling for revolution when it can’t be delivered makes for more interesting television. But incremental change — law reform inquiries, private members Bills requiring conscience votes, consensus building and other boring, but essential steps needed to take people with you on a journey for change — is what makes for lasting behavioural and social transformation.
This is why progressive women, such as Premier Bligh, need two things — first, the people of Queensland to elect more progressive MPs into their parliament and, secondly, the support of women’s movement and the community sector and the press to take a greater interest in the institutional structures that work to limit women’s control over their own bodies. Hopefully then we can eliminate the need for any other woman or couple to face the same human rights abuse being faced by Tegan Leach and her partner, Sergie Brennan. But, let’s be clear on who the enemies of reproductive freedom are and direct our energies accordingly.
Tanja Kovac is the national co-ordinator and Hutch Hussein is the national co-convenor of EMILY’s List Australia.