By Michele A’Court, ALRANZ Member
(originally written for the Christchurch Press, June 2014)

Two weeks ago, the Greens reignited our conversation about abortion, describing our current legislation as “dishonest” and proposing that all terminations be decriminalised.

Ok, “reignited” is a strong word. As a conversation starter, raising the subject of abortion pretty much guarantees most politicians are going to dash away like they’ve just remembered they left the iron on at home.

Anti-abortionists worry a fresh look at our 37-year-old legislation will mean we’ll end up with something more liberal; pro-choice advocates fear new regulations could end up more restrictive. And so we stop talking about it at all.

Here’s the thing: If we really want to change our abortion law, we need to change the way we talk about it amongst ourselves. Ordinary women – the 15,000 of us each year who terminate a pregnancy – need to be more open and honest about our experience of it. I’ll start.

Several years ago, I had an abortion. It took some courage and it made me sad, but it was the right thing to do – for me, and for the child I already had, and the other people I care for.

I felt ashamed at the time for becoming pregnant – I was, I felt, old enough and smart enough to know better. But I am not at all ashamed of terminating the pregnancy. I am endlessly grateful to the medical practitioners who cared for me through the process. Not everyone was kind, but most of them were.

I have imagined what my life would have been like if terminating an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy had not been an option for me, and what I feel more than anything is a tremendous sense of relief that one moment of my own recklessness was not allowed to completely redefine all of our lives.

Several years after my own abortion, I met a woman who works at an Australian clinic which specialises in late-term abortions. Wendy said all kinds of people go there – you will see married couples who simply can’t manage another child; very young girls with their parents; and middle-aged women who have mistaken pregnancy for menopause.

In the state of Victoria, abortion is available up to 24 weeks on request. Women, Wendy said, come from all over Australia and New Zealand – there are few practitioners in either country who will perform terminations after 18 weeks, even though it is legal.

Abortions after 18 weeks are more complicated – a surgical rather than medical procedure – and women arrive at the clinic where Wendy works each Monday and stay – usually with family or friends for support – for the whole week.

I asked Wendy why she chose to work there. She said it was for the remarkable change she saw each week in the women – from arriving on Monday, hunched and sad, and leaving on Friday “looking like they can do anything, like they can take on the world”.

And so I stand firmly with Hillary Clinton on this: abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

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