Every culture has them. Stories, slogans and words that help to explain the often difficult, complex and challenging aspects of the world we live in. Our language is peppered with imagined explanations—‘jumping the queue’, ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘too clever for her own good’—that are far removed from the messy realities of seeking asylum, violence against women or gender inequality. The complex reality of abortion is one issue that has long been subjected to the type of shorthand thinking underpinning cultural myths.
Today (the 28th of September) is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, and this year’s Call for Action focuses on busting cultural myths. We’ve mentioned before that access to safe and legal abortion in Australia is generally thought about as a ‘third world’ problem, yet feelings of silence, shame, guilt and fear are still very real barriers to accessing abortion services whether you’re an immigrant and refugee woman living in Frankston or a woman living in the Philippines.
In some ways we have good reason to call ourselves the Lucky Country, where abortion is less legally restricted than many other countries around the world (it is, however,still in the Crimes Act in NSW). Yet, safe access to abortion is far more complex than making it legal. In Australia, physical access to the premises of an abortion service has been an ongoing issue because of the constant presence of anti-abortion protestors. In addition to blocking entry and making unwanted comments to women, protestors have been known to hand women anti-abortion information. Immigrant and refugee women already face many barriers when accessing health services and this type of harassment would further prevent them from accessing safe and timely treatment.
The Victorian Government has recently announced its intention to introduce a safe access Bill to ensure women (and clinic staff) can safely and privately access abortion services without fear of being harassed and intimidated. The proposed bill could not be more welcome. It sends a clear message that harassment, intimidation and any other form of violence directed at women will not be tolerated under any circumstance. People shouldn’t be prevented from expressing their opinion but not at the expense of women’s privacy and security.
The proposed bill also conveys an implicit message that the propagation of myths such as ‘the right to life’ can lead to misinformation. Myths spread when access to evidence-based, comprehensive information is limited. Today is the day to help bust a few of those mythical balloons.