Recently, I got asked to speak at an event in support to decriminalising abortion in the state of Queensland. For those of you who might not be aware, abortion in Queensland remains in the criminal code. The only time is it legal to be performed is to prevent serious danger to a woman’s physical or mental health. So, in a nut shell, what happens is that women who are wanting to terminate an unwanted pregnancy up until a certain point must sign a document saying that if they were to continue with the pregnancy, they would be at mental or physical risk. Whilst it’s great we have a loop hole, this makes an already terrible situation even worse. I was also shocked to discover that Queensland doesn’t have safe zones outside of these clinics with women having to be escorted through protestors.
I struggled with what to say in this talk as I am aware that this is a very controversial topic with many having strong opinions that are linked to religious reasons. So, what could a sexologist say to make a difference?
I realised I could not debate if abortion should be right and wrong as what I believed was just that, my beliefs. The correct argument to be presenting on this night was not the morals of abortion but if the individual should have the right to decide if abortion was right or wrong for them.
It was a very interesting night and one that made me proud to have a platform to be able to support causes like this. I don’t normally write speeches and stick to them, but with this topic I felt it was so important to get the words right. So, I wanted to share beyond that night and beyond a post on social media, my thoughts on the decriminalising abortion and I thought it was best to do that by publishing the words I spoke.
Please note and this is a big please, I respect that everyone has a different opinion and this is mine. Many people on social media think that it’s their right to post differing opinion on your posts and pieces of content. Whilst it is public, my intent for this is just to share my thoughts. I’m not opening this up to a debate and I won’t be getting into any debates on this topic as debating if abortion is right or wrong sees no one win and only turns into an ugly banter of words. If you feel strongly on this subject and have a different opinion to mine, I encourage you to please share that in your own space. If you can be respectful and want to make a comment I also encourage that, however I’m clearly stating that my intent for this is to share my opinion and not get into a debate with anyone online as to the moral rights and wrongs of abortion.
My Keynote on Decriminalising Abortion
I wasn’t sure what exactly to say that might make a difference because after talking to people, I soon realised that my beliefs on the subject are just that, my beliefs. And even though I have some fancy letters in front and behind my name, it doesn’t make me right, it’s just an educated opinion. And in my professional life, my aim is to educate, not tell people what is right and wrong. And when it comes to the subject of sex (my profession) what is right and wrong (as long as it’s legal) is up to the individual to decide, not me. I don’t tell people how many times a week they should have sex, I help them work out how many times is best for them. So, I soon realised I can’t stand here and get into the topic of whether abortion is right or wrong because, it’s just my opinion.
We live in an imperfect society. People have sex, they don’t always use condoms, they might get drunk and have a one night stand, miss their pill or even worse, be the victim of sexual assault. If we were a perfect society, unwanted pregnancy wouldn’t be an issue. But we are not, and it’s about time we had the right conversations around unwanted pregnancy instead of not only the moral, spiritual and religious ones.
The reason this can be such a difficult subject to talk about is because we are discussing life, the right to it and the right to stop it. Many of us also are surrounded by children and babies. We might have some of our own or doing things to ensure we will one day. When we talk about the termination of a pregnancy, many think of these children, these babies and what the world would be like without them in it. A termination might be ending a life just like theirs. Others will say when a termination takes place up until a certain point, it’s just a cluster of cells. It might not be the right argument to have tonight, but it needs to be acknowledge as to why this debate is so controversial, because we are talking about the potential of ending some form of life. But who’s decision should that be? The person whose body contains that potential life or someone else?
Everyone will have a different opinion, a different take, a focus on different facts. But at the end of the day, what I decide is right for me should have nothing to do with you and currently there is a law that says otherwise. It should be my choice to decide, and my life should have more weight and more rights than a life that has not been born and that has not existed outside a womb.
I look at this like the debate surrounding same sex marriage. So many people had such a big issue over the idea of a man and a man and a woman and a woman marrying. As though it was against God and it wasn’t normal to do so. But marriage was not something God created, we did. What people got wrong about this debate was that the debate was not about if two men or two women being together was normal, but that all people in this country should have the right to choose if they want to get married or not, no matter who they love. Many gay and lesbian men and women were in support of same sex marriage and did not even want to get married themselves. At the end of the day it wasn’t about marriage, it was about equal rights. It was about being able to have the choice to marry, not have that choice taken away. You might think it’s strange that I’m comparing marriage to abortion, but for those who were feeling discriminated against, to have this right meant everything to them as does with the right to choose anything that greatly impacts our lives. We are a country that is not solely Christian and religion is not supposed to govern state, but it did with marriage and it does with abortion.
This should not be a time to discuss whether abortion is right or wrong in general. What we need to be discussing is why we should give all woman the right to choose that for themselves.
I once accompanied a friend to a termination and I struggled. When you are not in your 20’s anymore, you start to consider the idea of going at it alone. The idea of an accidental pregnancy is very different to what it used to be. There was a part of me that wanted to say to my friend, “maybe you shouldn’t do this”. But she had clearly explained her reasons and I had to hold my tongue because it was not my choice, it was hers. It was not my life, it was hers. It was not my body, it was hers.
I had always just assumed living in Australia, we had access to abortion. I had heard it being spoken about it and never questioned whether it was legal. She researched what clinics were known to have protestors out the front so we could avoid them and off we want. I didn’t even realise that was still done. I thought it was only something you saw on US TV shows. Then came the next blow. Sitting in the room with my friend at the clinic, she was then forced to declare that if she were to go through with the pregnancy she would be at mental or physical risk. Why couldn’t we just say this was not the right time for her to bring another life into the world? I didn’t even realise that abortion was illegal and both my friend and I were complete shocked at the moment to find out that it still was. Going through an abortion is not a pleasant experience at all, so adding this into the mix only makes you feel even worse. That was one of the hardest days of our friendships and her life, but it was made even harder by the fact that technically what she was doing was illegal in the eyes of the law and it does have an impact on an already fragile mind. As a woman, I felt let down. In a world where it is so easy to access Viagra for the sake of a man’s boner, my right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy was seen as a crime?
Some might think, what’s the big deal. We have that loop hole, that secret wink. That statement we have to sign that makes at least abortion accessible. What this loop hole does besides making the experience that much worse is taking away this decision as a choice. This termination then becomes a matter of someone being at risk instead of terminating an unwanted pregnancy because it is their choice. There is so much guilt associated with having to declare a pregnancy would cause you harm because the real reason might be less dramatic than this. Why can’t women declare, “having a baby right now is not right for me” instead of saying they physically and mentally can’t.
Some think that the idea of having an abortion is selfish. That a life does begin at conception. That this cluster of cells is still considered a human being. But isn’t the decision to have children a selfish one in the first place? We decide when we are ready to become parents. But shouldn’t we be able to decide when we are not?
It’s ironic because I have been working with IVF Australia recently and exploring different ways people can create a family. A while ago, we might have looked at women not able to get pregnant and say, it was just not meant to be. God didn’t want them to become parents. But just as a similar reasoning is used in support for keeping all pregnancies, that it was meant to be, that God wanted this child to be born, could we not use a similar reasoning for couples who can’t conceive? That it just wasn’t meant to be? But we have changed laws to allow for technology to give couples and even singles that choice. And not just heterosexual couples, but same sex couples too. We have given them a choice to decide what is best for them and their future family. And the same choice should be given to me if an unwanted pregnancy were to occur in my life.
The differences in the abortion laws from state to state are not the only laws that confuse me. Being a sexologist, I have done much research into laws pertaining to sex shops, brothels and pornography. And nothing make sense. There are differences between states and inconsistencies in legislation. But I was told by a member of parliament that these laws will not be changed any time soon because of the risk to their jobs. Most politicians are concerned about a majority vote first before other causes, with the influences of that majority vote being usually Christian family values. It’s not very Christian to tackle inconsistencies in laws to do with porn and sex shops, now is it?
The irony is these same politicians who refuse to touch these subjects are most likely also consumers of porn, sex toys or even a brothel. And just so I don’t offend, I realise that not all Christians are against porn, sex toys and brothels.
I understand that you need to be in a position of power to make any type of change, but when does this cycle end? How long do we go on assuming the majority vote has conservative values?
I see the issue with abortion very much the same. The difficulty with this debate is that it is very much to do with religion. Once again, being seen to support abortion is not considered in line with Christian family values and in turn risks losing the majority vote. But I do acknowledge that not everyone who is Christian is against abortion but for many, even addressing this topic publically comes with too much risk. So, due to these religious values and fear of putting too many off side, my right to choose an abortion is taken away from me. I’m starting to get this sense that if you want job security don’t go into politics, clearly. But I wish there were more people who were there to take risks, to give us rights instead of looking for the majority vote.
Now when we talk about religious values impacting the right to choose an abortion, why is religion once again impacting state? Not everyone in this country is Christian. I’m Jewish. And, according to the internet, reform and conservative Jews are in support of abortion rights with few or no limits. So why is it that a religion that is not mine and not so many others in this country can take away my right to choose? I respect all religions, but I would never say the way I worship is right for everyone, nor should it dictate other’s rights. So how can someone else’s religious beliefs dictate who I can and cannot marry and if I can or cannot choose to terminate my own pregnancy?
If we are in a country so impacted by conservative religious values than why isn’t divorce illegal? We continue to make promises and vows to each other and to God and yet 50% of us continually break them. Yet no one questions if divorce shouldn’t be allowed, we are still given that choice. Once upon a time, women were forced to stay in marriages that were not right, even abusive, simply because they did not have the right to seek a divorce. They did not have the choice. They did not have the choice to decide how their life should be. Are we still living in the 1950’s, taking away women’s rights? We are now living in a society where we empower women and we empower them to take charge and make choices in their lives. So why do we still have an outdated law that says otherwise?
I know I’m preaching to a crowd that is in support of decriminalising abortion. But what I do encourage you to do is if you choose to have these conversations with others, post it on social media, talk about it in public, have the right conversation. It’s not if abortion is right or wrong, but that the choice to decide if abortion is right or wrong for the individual should be up to them, not anyone else.