Are you a young woman? Do you have sex with men? Do you use contraception? If you fell pregnant tomorrow, would you deem yourself too young to be a parent? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you are Tegan Leach.
Are you a young man? Do you have sex with women? Do you use contraception? If your partner fell pregnant tomorrow, would you deem yourself too young to be a parent? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you are Sergie Brennan.
Are you ready to face a jury for your decision not to have a child? Young Queensland couple, Tegan Leach, 19, and Sergie Brennan, 20, certainly were not. In 2009, after discovering they were pregnant and judging themselves too young to be parents, the couple used the drug RU486 to induce a miscarriage. They were tried in front of a jury for the charges that Sergie gave Tegan RU486, and that she used it to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Tegan faced seven years in jail for the abortion while Sergie faced three for obtaining the drugs.
A guilty charge seemed certain. The intimate details of Tegan’s body were on display for the court, the public gallery and the media. From the results of her last pelvic exam to the details of her menstrual cycle, every ounce of bleeding and pain was exposed to the world. Thankfully, after a lengthy process, the couple was found not guilty.
Today, Australians living in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory still stand to endure the same humiliation that Tegan and Sergie did in 2009. Across Australia, women are criminalised for making decisions about their own bodies, while men are criminalised for supporting their partner’s right to be treated as more than a human incubator.
After hearing Leslie Cannold, the founder of Reproductive Choice Australia, speak at the Network of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) conference in July, I can’t understand why people aren’t talking about the legal implications of abortion. Even my radical feminist friends remain uncharacteristically quiet on the issue. Nor do I understand the acerbity with which Gillard was dismissed for ‘playing the gender card’ after raising the issue of abortion legislation.
It might surprise you to know that abortion is still technically illegal in the criminal codes of six Australian states and territories. These laws prohibit abortion except in the case of risk to mental and/or physical health – an expansive definition in the modern world which enables most abortions to be lawful. But it’s a scary technicality that leaves the door wide open to the possibility of prosecution.
One in three Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime (Better Health, Victorian Government).
60 per cent of these women will never talk about their abortions.
Two thirds of Australian women who have abortions fear being ostracised by friends, family or partners, which I think says something important about why the issue is so rarely spoken about. Despite being one of the safest and most common medical procedures women access, abortion is still stigmatised. This stigma – both caused by the silence of these women and causing the silencing of these women – creates a vicious cycle of shame. Silent women cannot access support for themselves. Silent women cannot extend support to others. Silent women cannot fight for changes to abortion legislation.
The aim of this article is not to overwhelm you with the abysmal state of abortion law in Australia, but rather to get the conversation started. Start talking openly about abortion. Start thinking about how you would support your girlfriend, partner, wife, cousin, best friend, sister or mother if she were to have an abortion.
Imagine you were Tegan Leach.