Content warning: this piece contains a graphic description of abortion.
In Year 9 my class watched an anti-abortion video […] and I went home utterly bereft. The image that stayed with me was of dead babies being tossed into a bin, left piled on top of each other.
I now know how inaccurate it was, but it took a lot of unlearning. Misinformation persists. When we began this project, I didn’t know the extent of the legal differences across Australia’s states and territories. Even in places where abortion is legal it is sometimes nearly impossible to access, and costs can be prohibitive.
I spoke to an abortion provider who wouldn’t go on record because in her small town people would cross the street if they knew what she does for a living. She mentioned that it can be hard to access training. It’s legal where she is, and she isn’t ashamed, but she doesn’t want to make waves. She spoke in a hushed voice. ‘How did you get my name?’ she asked.
The uniform summer dress that I had to wear to school was thin, see-through cotton. I would never choose to wear a dress like that, now or then. For a week a month we wrapped our jumpers around us for fear of bloody leakages. Many girls still have to wear them today, but now there is period-proof underwear; it should be government subsidised. I would have – we all would have – continued with sport, self-defence and dancing. Girls’ bodies are policed and they aren’t protected and they’re over-protected, and it’s just the start of it.
While we were putting this book together, the law in QLD changed and abortion became legal – Caroline encapsulates the excitement of witnessing the vote. Around the same time, Michelle Obama released a memoir that revealed she had experienced a miscarriage and that her daughters were conceived through IVF. Why can’t all of this be dinner table conversation? It’s an arcane fallacy that these are just women’s issues. Abortion is a human rights issue.
These debates force us to think about when life begins, and many grapple with this through a religious lens. After my 1990s Catholic education that was so anti-abortion and scared of unwanted pregnancies, I grew up in a generation of women who have left babies till later and rely heavily on IVF. Women petrified of getting pregnant became women desperate to do so.
Who has a right to talk about abortion was much debated while putting this book together, and some people who hadn’t had abortions felt as though they couldn’t write about it. One writer wanted to tell his abortion story but when he contacted his former partner she didn’t want the story told. Some women were unable to write about their own abortions because they were still a secret or because the memory of it – going back decades – was too painful.
The stories in these pages are from people who have experienced abortion first-hand, people who are working in the field, and people who have thought long and hard about it. This is not a facile subject and many of the people included here did a lot of soul-searching, for which I am utterly grateful. At least one in four women have abortions – we all know people. We are all affected. These are our stories.
© Louise Swinn 2019. This is an edited extract from Choice Words: Anthology on Abortion edited by Louise Swinn; Allen & Unwin. Available now in print and e-book.