On Sunday, I will be marching for my right to control my own body.
We only have a few weeks left. Next month, the NSW Upper House will vote on the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 (No. 2). It gives a foetus (20 weeks or more) the same legal rights as a person.
For background, in 2009 Justine Hampson was driving under the influence of drugs when she hit Brodie Donegan, who was 32 weeks pregnant. The child (Zoe) was stillborn as a result of Donegan’s injuries. Hampson was convicted for causing grievous bodily harm to Donegan, including the loss of her foetus, and jailed for nine months. At the time, Donegan seemed to accept the result, but grief is a funny thing. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, but I do know what it’s like to lose a baby sibling, and that grief fills up all the spaces in a room.
It is understandable that Donegan and her husband Nick Ball want their loss acknowledged. But this is a bad law. That Fred Nile drafted the first version in Zoe’s name without even speaking to the family makes me pretty damn sure that their loss is being exploited by people who want to remove women’s rights.
The Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Family Planning NSW, Women’s Health NSW, Domestic Violence NSW, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, NSW Bar Association, The Law Society, the National Foundation for Australian Women, Reproductive Choice Australia, and the Women Lawyers Association are all against the bill. They say it’s unnecessary and may harm a woman’s access to an abortion after 24-weeks – usually carried out for quite serious reasons. As Sarah Krasnostein writes, this affects:
Those who are in denial or too traumatised to find out because the pregnancy resulted from rape, from incest. Those too young to know the signs. Those who have a mental illness or an intellectual disability and do not understand that they are pregnant.
But it’s not always a question of not knowing. There are those who know too much. Who must make an excruciating choice after test results diagnosing severe foetal abnormality. For instance, the test for Anencephaly happens at 15-20 weeks. Babies with this neural tube defect are born without a forebrain and the remaining tissue exposed. If not stillborn, they die shortly after.
The proposed law has an exemption for medical procedures, but according to Women’s Legal Services NSW, that will be open to interpretation. Keep in mind that abortion in NSW is a crime for women AND doctors, unless the doctor believes the woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. Faced with this new law, it’s easy to imagine doctors becoming reluctant to perform medical procedures that are legal.
For more info on the legal ramifications, read this excellent piece by law lecturer Hannah Robert:
Once the foetus is defined as a legal person, the law has a direct relationship with it, and the mother’s consent becomes irrelevant. She becomes invisible in the eyes of the law, despite the physical realities of pregnancy meaning that any interaction with the foetus necessarily involves her.
Chilling, isn’t it? As far as the law is concerned, once you get halfway through a pregnancy, you are irrelevant.
This great piece at Hoyden about Town lists some of the potential problems, such as compromising medical care, coercion, and prosecuting pregnant women who don’t follow dietary guidelines.
Make no mistake, this bill is about moving us closer to making it impossible for women to access safe abortion. Women’s Legal Services NSW called the bill “a clear attempt to undermine women’s rights by changing the legal status of a foetus”. Please read that WLS piece, because it deals with the current law, and the emotive and incorrect language of the proposed bill.
In the US, foetal personhood laws are being used to stop women accessing safe abortions and even emergency contraception. Republicans have tried a few times to change the law so that when a man rapes a woman, resulting in pregnancy, that woman is forced to continue the pregnancy and have the baby. They’ve also tried to legalise the murder of doctors who perform abortions. And they are running a war on contraception. Think that won’t happen here? Albury pharmacist Simon Horsfall tells women that if they’re buying the pill so they don’t get pregnant, they should go elsewhere because he doesn’t believe in contraception. He doesn’t sell condoms or the morning-after pill. Melbourne pharmacist Stephen Mulqueeny also refuses to sell the morning-after pill because of his religious beliefs. I have no doubt that there are many more pharmacists who refuse to sell these legal products. (Not that these products are good enough. The majority of abortions in Australia are the result of contraception failure – about sixty per cent of women were using at least one form of contraception at the time.) The Victorian Premier Denis Napthine is willing to remove women’s rights in order to do deals with Geoff Shaw, the MP holding the balance of power. Shaw is an evangelical Christian. The first two things he wants to do are to make late-term abortions illegal, and to remove the legal requirement for a doctor who is a conscientious objector to abortion to refer patients to a doctor without an objection. If he gets those two things, you know he won’t stop there. Having religious/conservative politicians who want to control the bodies of every single woman in Australia is one thing, but it’s disgusting that we have so many other male politicians who are willing to trade away women’s rights to do deals on infrastructure and asset sales. And people like Fred Nile and John Madigan are rubbing their hands with glee.
In November, the bill passed in the Lower House 63 to 26. Here is a list of those MPs who voted for and against it. It goes to the Upper House in March. We don’t have a lot of time.
This is why I’ll be at the protest tomorrow. See you at midday at Martin Place.
Update: Restricting our access to safe abortion is not an unintended consequence of this bill, it is THE intended consequence. Zoe’s Law is not an accident.
Update: You can email your MP here. Debate on the Bill in the Legislative Council starts at 10am on Thursday 6th March. MPs who oppose this Bill said it helps if we’re there. See you then.