Unfinished business: the struggle for abortion rights

By Kamala Emanuel

January, 2000 -- Why abortion rights? What is the importance of this issue? For us, it may be obvious, but it's necessary to reiterate the importance of the right to abortion because of the attacks it continues to face, and because in Australia and elsewhere a generation of women have now grown up with relatively straightforward access to abortion, who may not appreciate the significance of this right.

In any society, women's reproductive rights are a vital measure of their relative oppression or liberation. This is because of the impact of child-bearing on all aspects of women's lives. In class-divided society, there are three fundamental institutions that maintain and perpetuate the status quo: to use the title of Engels' book, they are the family, private property, and the state. It is the family system that is the basis of women's oppression as women. Through the family system, women are assigned the social role of unpaid carers of children, the old, the sick and the young conscripted into the domestic service of the men on whom they are economically dependent.

From this follows the rest the ideology of women's inferiority, the lower pay in the workplace, the physical, emotional and sexual violence against women and so forth all interwoven with the expectation that first of all, women are mothers that this is natural, good and inevitable; that good mothers put their children first, good wives put their husbands first, good daughters look after their parents in their old age, and for a woman to do anything else is to commit that worst of all sins: to be selfish.

In this way, child-bearing can change just about everything for women: their identity, both their self-concept and how others view them; their relationships with lovers, friends and family and, if they already have them, with their other children; their health, their participation in the paid work force, their careers and opportunities for promotion, for involvement in their trade unions, their rights to long service leave and superannuation; and their participation in public life, in political activism, in the struggle for liberation.

As a result of the impact of child-bearing on women's lives, the ability to control their fertility is a prerequisite to being able to exercise meaningful control over the course of their own lives.

This is why women's real reproductive rights are a measure of their relative liberation or oppression, and why many of the fights for women's liberation have been, and will continue to be, over sex education, contraception, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, good quality pregnancy care, and safe abortion. Abortion is of particular importance, because even though most women would probably prefer to avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place, abortion for most women who use it is a backup, a certain method of last resort if contraception lets them down or their circumstances change.

For the reasons that we defend women's right to choose abortion under any circumstances, the reactionary, anti-women forces are opposed to it. Their priority is on the so-called traditional role of women as bearers and rearers of children, dependent on their husbands. For these forces, motherhood is the norm, the ideal, and is essentially compulsory.

Long struggle

The struggle between pro-choice and anti-choice forces has a long history. For thousands of years, women have been controlling their fertility by abortion and other means. Usually the knowledge and practice of abortion have been the private domain of women, part of women's special knowledge, with greater or lesser social prohibition or acceptance, depending on the period and the status of women in society at the time.

In medieval Europe, midwives played an important role in helping women control their fertility. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, were killed in the witch-hunts that accompanied the Inquisition and the rise of male-dominated medicine.

By the nineteenth century, health and healing were entrenched as the male domain of medicine, and with them, the Hippocratic practice of refusing to perform abortion.

Abortion was condemned by the church and was outlawed throughout the world by the end of the century. In Britain in 1869, abortion was criminalised, with provisions for up to 10 years' imprisonment for the woman who had an abortion or someone who helps her.

That 1869 law forms the basis of the criminal laws governing abortion in Australia today even though it was repealed in Britain in the 1960s.

Current situation

Before going into the specifics of the Australian situation, I want to give a brief description of the current legal and practical situation of abortion around the world, and to look at some experiences that point the way to how to improve women's reproductive rights. Here I will rely very much on the Abortion in Focus conference held in Queensland November 12-15. The conference was organised by the Abortion Providers' Federation of Australasia in conjunction with the International Society of Abortion Doctors and Planned Parenthood of Australia.

It is estimated that there are 46 million abortions performed annually, of which 20 million are illegal. All classes of women use abortion, and it is used regardless of the law. But because of the law and poverty, about two-fifths of all abortions worldwide are performed unsafely, by people who are untrained and/or in unclean conditions. Consequently, about 78,000 women die each year from complications of abortion.

The enormity of this is clear when you compare the overall mortality rates. Where there is no access to safe legal abortion, the death rate is up to 330 per 100,00, compared to 0.4 per 100,000 where safe services are accessible. This is not to mention the injury and infertility, which are considerable for unsafe procedures, compared to one to three per cent, mostly minor complications, when safe abortion is available. When safe procedures aren't available, women resort to a range of methods: massage, carrying heavy burdens, taking poisonous herbs or the insertion of sharp objects into the uterus. Because of the importance fertility control plays in women's lives, these are some of the lengths to which women will go when safe services aren't available.

After the criminalisation of abortion across the world in the 19th century, there was a brief period of decriminalisation in the Soviet Union at the outset of the Russian Revolution. That was reversed under Stalinism, with the revival of the cult of the family and the retreat from women's liberation. Following World War II, decriminalisation again took place, again starting with the workers' states and spreading with the second wave of feminism, across western Europe and North America.

In 1999, according to the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy, there were fifty countries, containing 40.8 per cent of the world's population, where abortion is permitted by law without restriction as to reason. Most of these are in the North. In only four of those Canada, China, North Korea and Vietnam is there no restriction according to the length of pregnancy. In the majority of those remaining nations, the cut-off is 12 weeks, with some restrictions thereafter and usually a ban after 20, 24 or 28 weeks, sometimes except in the case of a threat to the woman's life, or foetal abnormalities incompatible with life.

In another fourteen countries, with 20.7 per cent of the world's population, abortion is permitted for a broad range of reasons, not only to save the woman's life and for foetal abnormalities, but also to protect the woman's physical or mental health and for socioeconomic reasons. These laws are frequently interpreted liberally, so that, practically speaking, there is no legal impediment to women seeking abortion. The important distinction is the gatekeeping role this frequently gives doctors: the laws are a protection to them, and they must satisfy themselves that women meet the criteria. This is also the case in the remaining categories.

The next less restrictive legal category comprises the twenty states with 2.6 per cent of the world's population that allow abortion if the woman's mental health is at risk, as well as her physical health or life; and thirty-three states (with 9.9 per cent or the world's population) that allow abortion only to preserve the woman's life or physical health.

Finally, 26 per cent of the world's population are governed by the most restrictive legislation, which permits abortion only to save the woman's life, or prohibits it altogether. Most of these are in the Third World. Some of the reasons for this include anti-women religious fundamentalism (especially in Latin America and the Philippines as well as Poland and Ireland, exceptions in the North). Another reason is the combination of economic underdevelopment and political repression that has meant that women's reproductive rights haven't featured as highly on the agendas of the progressive movements, and coercive use of sterilisation and contraception for populationist reasons, which means that abortion isn't the top of the list of reproductive rights being fought for.

In each of the categories where some legal restrictions exist, there are some states that allow exceptions for some combination of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.

Among the seventy-four states with the strictest prohibition, about half are explicit about an exception to save the woman's life. Of the remainder, in some it is assumed that the exception exists, with the legal defence of necessity. In some, for example, Bangladesh and Indonesia, although "abortion" is illegal, "menstrual regulation" is not. It's a medico-legal fiction that enables abortion to be available to up to 10 weeks of pregnancy even in government clinics.

In Chile and El Salvador, recent legislation eliminates all exceptions to the prohibition on abortion. In Chile, it is mandatory for hospital staff to report women who present with complications thought to be due to induced abortion.

The same is true of Nepal, where there are no exceptions to the prohibition, and where two-thirds of women in jail are there for the so-called crime of abortion. The law makes no distinction between abortion and infanticide, and women are charged and prosecuted as if they had committed murder. It is rare for there to be prosecutions of doctors. By contrast, if women are prosecuted, they are usually convicted. Most of the women are young: forty-four per cent are under twenty-six years old, and thirty-three per cent twenty-six to thirty-four years old. Seventy per cent are illiterate, but even "high-caste" women are imprisoned for this "crime".

It is a reflection of the status of women more broadly, in a society where socially, economically and legally women are systematically dominated and not allowed to make decisions regarding reproduction. Marriage takes place early and is universal. Women have a duty to produce offspring especially male offspring.

There is a bill to liberalise access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is due to be discussed by the parliament this year. Abortion advocates in Nepal are anticipating it will be passed. We should await the outcome with interest.

The Romanian experience helps to illustrate why legalisation is necessary. In 1967, abortion was criminalised. Initially, the birthrate doubled, then dropped again, as illegal methods began to become available. In the twenty-three years until it was legalised again, 11,000 women died from the complications of unsafe clandestine abortion. The annual economic consequences had been as severe as the impact of the 1977 earthquake. There were an immense number of abandoned unwanted children. By the time of legalisation, an estimated forty per cent of Romanian women of reproductive age suffered from damage to the reproductive tract as a consequence of unsafe abortion.

Romanian Dr Rasvan Socolov, who presented a paper on this at the Abortion in Focus conference in November seemed surprised by the anti-choice demonstrators there. She said there was no such movement in her country, because everyone knew of the dire consequences of the lack of legal abortion. She suggested we invite anti-choice protesters to go to Romania and talk to the people there to be convinced!

The reality is, as this demonstrates, that making abortion illegal doesn't "save babies" it just kills and maims women.


Of course, making it legal isn't sufficient, either, since it must be accessible in practical terms too. Canada and the US are good examples. While there is implicit constitutional protection for women's right to abortion in these two countries, in reality there are impediments to access. In Canada, this is less pronounced than in the US, and is most manifest in anti-clinic violence from the anti-choice movement.

In the US, practical restrictions take many forms, and can be seen as an indication of the trend against women's right to abortion, as part of the broader backlash against the gains of the women's liberation movement.

Clinic violence is real, with shootings, threats, arson attacks, acid injections, stalking, advertising of clinic workers' home addresses and the issuing of "wanted" posters for abortion providers having a real impact. Numerous providers have stopped working because of the threat to themselves and their families.

Real estate agents refusing to lease premises for abortion services, banks refusing loans for the establishment of clinics, contractors refusing to work on buildings for abortion services are all a part of the obstruction that has been reported under the impact of a well-organised anti-choice campaign.

Local council regulations have at times gone to great extremes, for example, by imposing requirements for door sizes and floor space that make it impossible to find and adapt premises for use as clinics. Some local authorities have even gone to the extent of requiring the presence of blood for transfusion on the premises (an unnecessary and expensive logistical nightmare) and, more bizarre yet, neonatal resuscitation equipment.

Eighty-three per cent of US counties have no abortion providers, and this includes half of all metropolitan centres. Women who rely on state or federal funding for medical care can't get their abortions paid for in thirty-eight states. In thirty of these, this is the case even if the pregnancy results from incest or rape.

So although there are numerous countries where, encouragingly, abortion is legal, the legal status of abortion is only one factor to look at; practical access is another.

Clearly we must continue to fight for decriminalisation. Without this, women remain criminalised for exercising a fundamental right; teaching of medical and nursing staff remains minimal; technical advances are difficult to develop and generalise; and women have no legal recourse in the event of medical negligence. And we can't stop at decriminalisation, but must continue the struggle to ensure that women have access to good quality services.


I wanted to turn now to two countries that enable us to make some comparisons and draw some lessons for how to achieve abortion reform South Africa and the Philippines.

The 1986 People's Power uprising in the Philippines swept away the Marcos dictatorship and opened up a democratic space. A new, broadly liberal-democratic constitution was adopted. But a lot of Corazon Aquino's support came from the Roman Catholic Church, and the constitution enshrined the prohibition of abortion, with the mandate that the state protect the "unborn child", from conception. Lately there have been attempts by a so-called "pro-life" parliamentarian to introduce legislation making abortion a heinous crime, in order to get around the constitutional ban on the death penalty, and make abortion punishable by death. Very pro-life!

All abortion in the Philippines is clandestine. No-one knows exactly how many are performed or what suffering women undergo as a consequence. Women's reproductive rights activists tried for a while to get the health ministry to open access as an issue of health protection, but to no avail. They have recently formed a coalition to fight for abortion access as a human right. They are employing a dual strategy of political campaigning and clandestine service delivery, to try to make safe abortion available. The clandestine abortion provision is an adaptation of the method of meeting the people's needs during the period of anti-dictatorship struggle.

The coalition has approached some elements of the revolutionary movement, but without encountering a lot of enthusiasm. According to one of the participants, this is in part due to the low priority placed on abortion as a fundamental right and as essential to the struggle for women's liberation and socialism.

As far as the political struggle goes, a process of alliance-building and education is currently under way. International solidarity is seen as vital in this regard, as it was in the anti-dictatorship struggle.

One lesson here is the importance of an independent women's liberation movement in pursuing women's rights. Although clearly women can't be liberated when a whole country is suffering under a dictatorship whether a military dictatorship, or some other form of the dictatorship of capital by the same token, it is imperative that in the struggle for social emancipation, women organise and mobilise independently, and for their own needs and interests, so that those needs and interests don't fall off the agenda. It's clearly not enough for women to expect liberation "after the revolution" without independent propaganda, agitation and organisation around demands, such as legal abortion access, that concretely meet their needs.

South Africa in some ways provides a similar story of a democratic revolution. In this case the broad alliances of the progressive movement included pro-choice demands in their program, and the right to reproductive choice is explicit in the constitution.

The old anti-abortion laws were up for rewriting. In the words of Dr Helen de Pinho, a participant, the anti-apartheid struggle had given them "a blank page" to work with.

A coordinated strategic approach was adopted at a women's health conference that drew together the nucleus of an alliance for abortion reform. This conference established a project that held meetings with women (individuals and organisations) to canvass their opinions and wishes. It was all drawn together in a conference that finalised the demands.

Then a united campaign was launched, using media and a range of spokespersons from supportive medical, legal and religious groups, and involving a range of others. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act that came out of the process allows for abortion on request up to 12 weeks, and for more specific reasons thereafter. As has been the case elsewhere, the shift has now been to implementation, and ensuring that the ANC government allocates funds to ensure the establishment and expansion of services.

Despite this, and the restriction still present in the South African law, it must be seen as a victory and a model of grassroots community mobilisation, education and participation; of alliance-building; and even of the positive contribution academics can make to progressive struggle when they are linked to the movements and direct their research at answering socially useful questions. The dramatic decrease in deaths and serious complications from abortion since the law was introduced also makes it another illustration of the need for safe legal abortion services.

Taken together, these give an illustration of the openings available to women in the context of a victory for the broader progressive forces, provided that the pro-choice forces are organising independently for women's reproductive rights.

In Australia

In Australia abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures, with an estimated 80,000 surgical terminations of pregnancy performed annually, at a rate of about 19.6 per 1000 women of reproductive age. About two-thirds of pregnancies are unplanned, and about one-third of women in Australia have had an abortion by the end of their reproductive years. Ninety-five per cent are performed in the first trimester, the first 12 weeks. Most abortion providers in Australia don't do abortions after that gestational age.

Most abortions are carried out in dedicated clinics, fewer in public and private hospitals, and a minority in doctors' private rooms. It is free in public hospitals. The Medicare rebate seldom covers the whole thing. Women are charged an additional A$150 to A$400 [US$90-240] or even more.

Practically speaking, women with money can readily access safe trimester abortion if they live in areas serviced by clinics. It is more difficult for women outside urban centres.

There is limited use of medical abortion, that is, taking medication to induce a miscarriage. Most of it is for second trimester abortion, typically for foetal abnormalities. There is some use of methotrexate and misoprostol in the first trimester, but it's not widely known, and may be illegal, since these drugs are not licensed for this use in Australia, and there is a prohibition on the import or manufacture of abortifacients unless they get federal parliamentary approval.

Such access to safe services as we do have is the result of the legal liberalisation won by the women's liberation movement since the 1960s. The criminal code is a state matter, and abortion is on the criminal code of most states, based on the 1869 English law. Liberalisation has taken place on a state-by-state basis, frequently as a result of lenient common law interpretations by judges when doctors were being prosecuted for performing abortion or, in one case, for failing to enable abortion to be performed.

The first law reform took place in South Australia in 1969. It was a reform, but with restrictions as to the length of pregnancy, the length of time the woman had to have been a resident of South Australia, the number of doctors needed to give approval and the kind of facility it could be performed in that is, a public hospital, meaning that for a long time, South Australian women continued to travel interstate, where the laws were harsher but the practice more lenient.

Also in 1969, the Menhennit ruling in Victoria allowed for a more lenient interpretation of the criminal code. The ruling was that abortion was lawful if it was necessary to preserve the woman's life or mental or physical health, and if it was proportionate to the risk she was facing.

In 1971 in NSW, Levine reiterated the Menhennit exceptions to abortion being illegal, and added that economic and social factors could be considered. In 1994, Newman ruled against a woman seeking damages for medical negligence when her doctors had obstructed her attempt to obtain an abortion, stating it would have been illegal for her to have had it anyway. The case went to the court of appeal, and in 1995, Kirby made a more lenient ruling than the original Levine ruling, reiterating that social and economic factors could be taken into account and that consideration could be made not only of the woman's current circumstances, but how they might foreseeably change.

In 1974, the Northern Territory adopted similar legislation to that in South Australia. The Queensland situation was liberalised in 1986, when it was ruled that the Victorian ruling of 1969 applied in Queensland too. In Tasmania, the law is unclear. It's similar to Queensland, but there has never been a legal test to clarify the situation.

Changes were made in Western Australia in 1998, to be reviewed in 2001, after the director of public prosecutions initiated prosecution of two doctors for performing an abortion. The result was that most abortion was removed from the criminal code, and inserted into the health act. The effects have been mixed. There is now explicit approval for abortion between fifteen and twenty weeks of pregnancy, which hadn't previously been available, and legality for the majority of terminations, that is, up to twelve weeks of pregnancy.

But there are now more hurdles for women to go through. There are regulations regarding what is informed consent for the purpose of abortion, and a prohibition of the medical practitioner who counsels the woman being the one who performs the abortion or who assists. Women under sixteen years of age must notify their parent or legal guardian, unless they get an exemption through the children's court. Anecdotally, this hasn't been difficult to access, but there is no way of really knowing what sort of barrier it is. Even if it's not a barrier, it does constitute unnecessary interference: women should be able to decide for themselves who they want to tell. After twenty weeks of pregnancy, a woman wanting an abortion must seek a review by a six-member panel, to determine that she is suffering from a severe medical condition or that the foetus is seriously abnormal. It can then be performed only in a hospital.

The law and accompanying campaign were accompanied by a step backwards by the WA-based Association for the Legal Right to Abortion (ALRA), which changed its constitution to remove the demand that all abortion laws be repealed. In its place is the call for the removal of abortion from the criminal code. It represents a capitulation to the notion that abortion needs regulation, lest it be too easy to access.

At the same time, ALRA made the change of characterising abortion as a "moral and ethical" issue, instead of demanding that the state make it available to women, who can use their own moral, ethical and any other framework to determine, according to their own circumstances, what is right for themselves. Debates about the relative benefits and failings of the law have emerged in the pro-choice movement.

By contrast, there's no real debate within the movement about the ACT's [Australian Capital Territory] new laws they are clearly a step backwards.

ACT law had the same wording as New South Wales, and was assumed to have the same common law rulings apply to it as NSW. In 1978, abortion was restricted to public hospitals. This was repealed in 1992, allowing for the establishment of a free-standing clinic.

In 1998, the amended Osborne bill was passed with the support of supposedly pro-choice parliamentarians Kate Carnell and Michael Moore. The new restrictions include:

  • It may be carried out only in facilities approved by the health minister. At present this is the nominally pro-choice Michael Moore, but the way is open for approvals to be withdrawn by a more anti-choice government.
  • Facility management must report to parliament on a quarterly basis.
  • There are prescriptions regarding counselling information and particularly materials that must be provided to the woman seeking abortion.
  • The woman and doctor must sign a dated declaration to the effect that the information has been received, and then a further 72 hour "cooling off" period must elapse before she can actually have the procedure done.

The bill nominated the composition of a panel to decide on the content of the information package women were to be presented with. The one that was developed was based on the information used in WA. That is in use now. In a further attack in 1999, legislation was introduced to ensure that pictures of foetal development would be included in the package, as a form of emotional blackmail to coerce women out of valid decision-making. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and others have said they'll refuse to implement this.

The ACT and WA legislation form part of a range of restrictive laws, or attempts at restrictions, including:

  • Senator Brian Harradine's federal ban on RU486 (mifepristone), the so-called abortion drug. It and other abortion-inducing drugs are not allowed to be imported without explicit approval from the health minister; such approval would have to be tabled in parliament.
  • Queensland MP Liz Cunningham's inclusion in the criminal code of the definition that "life begins at conception".
  • attempts to remove Medicare funding for abortion.

The latest of these is the push in Queensland for a review of abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fiona Simpson, the state opposition spokesperson on health and women's policy, and a member of the Sunshine Coast Christian Outreach Centre, announced in November her plan to introduce a private member's bill to outlaw "late-term" abortion.

The timing of this attack was during the Abortion in Focus conference. A group calling itself "Doctors who respect human life" had appealed to immigration minister Philip Ruddock to ban visas for doctors from the US who perform post-viability pregnancy terminations. Two of them, Poppema and Tilling, were coerced into signing a restrictive statement before being granted their visas. A third, Warren Hern, was held by immigration officials at Sydney airport for some hours and told he had to sign the same statement. He refused and was eventually let go, but not without threats of having his visa withdrawn if he was found to be "inciting discord" in Australian society!

Anti-choice protests were held outside the conference, and speaking for the movement, Simpson has called for abortion after 20 weeks to be restricted to specialists in public hospitals, and for a ban on a particular technique, cranial decompression. (In effect, this would vastly diminish access to such services. Although few are performed each year, most or perhaps all are performed by one provider, outside the public hospital system which at times is a source of referrals.)

Premier Beattie has stated publicly that he is "personally not in favour" of the latter procedures, and has sought a report from his department into the practice in Queensland.

This is occurring in a state with a Labor government. Legal reform is in Labor's formal platform, but its undemocratic "conscience vote" means that individual ALP politicians are completely unaccountable, to either the party or their electors. Wayne Goss when premier excluded abortion from a review of the criminal code, as did Rob Borbidge in 1996. And before these events in November, the current attorney-general had stated that abortion law reform was an issue "which has no priority with this government".

These legal changes and threats have been accompanied by a shift in funding at state and federal levels from pro-choice to anti-choice organisations. For example, the Queensland state government funds a group called Pregnancy Help, which is explicit about not referring women for abortion. The federal Coalition government has funded the national office of the anti-choice Australian Federation of Pregnancy Support Services in Canberra. The amount of funding was equivalent to the amount withdrawn from Family Planning over the past two years.

Ideological preparation

It's an ominous indicator of the future direction of the attacks. Groups like these can be used to soften the resistance, as ideological preparation for the wider community to accept further assaults on the right to choose abortion. Such ideological preparation is not new. It exists on a wider scale around all progressive and feminist issues. Regarding abortion, it has already had an impact on the pro-choice movement, for example in the concessions made by ALRA previously mentioned.

Another example is those sections of the movement represented by Leslie Cannold, author of The Abortion Myth. In what has been lauded as a "fresh look" at abortion, Cannold raises questions about the foetus that the movement answered years ago. She argues that pro-choice feminists must attempt to win support from the "middle ground" by concessions that abortion is an ethical and moral issue, that more needs to be made of women's responsibilities with regard to the decision to abort. Her argument entails an explicit rejection of "rights talk" as a Western obsession that alienates the "mushy middle".

The argument flies in the face of reality. There is no such "mushy middle": the majority still support women's right to choose. A Morgan Gallup poll in February 1998 showed sixty-five per cent approval for surgical abortion, up from fifty-five per cent in 1995, with twenty-five per cent opposed and ten per cent unsure (thirty-two and thirteen per cent respectively in 1995).

Other polls have shown higher support for women's right to abortion, but a decline during the 1990s. The Morgan Gallup poll did reveal some worrying trends, including a lower level of "approval" among the young: fifty-six per cent among fourteen to twenty-four year-olds, compared to sixty-seven per cent between twenty-five and thirty-four, seventy per cent of those thirty-five to forty-nine and sixty-four per cent of those fifty or over. Similarly, consciousness was low on the need to change the law to make abortion more accessible.

These worrying trends accompany the decline in organised campaigns over the past couple of decades. When there have been clear attacks, or public campaigns, the amount of support has been higher. (For example, a newspaper poll in WA in 1998 indicated eighty-two per cent support, with sixty-five per cent supporting availability of abortion without restrictions.)

So it's simply not true to say that rights talk is out of reach of most people. In fact it is indispensable.

What we do need is to go on the offensive for repeal of abortion laws, and for improved access. We need to be equipped to answer the myths, but have confidence in the support that exists in the community, and the potential to mobilise it. Certainly, we need to make preparations for defence against further attacks. We can expect such attacks to come about state by state. While fighting on this basis, we should also attempt to broaden this out across the states and internationally.

International solidarity in this context will mean both supporting struggles around the world (around not only abortion rights but also maternal health and consent to contraception, abortion and sterilisation) and to win abortion rights here, as a source of inspiration, of shifting the international balance of forces for women's rights, of lessons about how to win the struggle, and even as a source of training and personnel for service provision internationally.

When we've won legal and practical right to abortion, we'll know we're further on in the struggle for women's liberation.

Kamala Emanuel is a member of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia. This article was originally a talk to the party's Marxism 2000 conference held in Sydney in January.

It is interesting to read the case study on the Philippines presented in this article. In countries like the Philippines where the Roman Catholic Church’s influence has such a negative effect on women’s health, abortion rights are currently far from even being considered. Step one has to be giving women a choice in contraception methods and access to sex education. Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines is up for debate again. The House and Senate are both proposing bills that would give women in the Philippines unprecedented health rights. The Catholic Church is trying to wield its power against the legislation, but perhaps the Filipino people are finally ready for a change concerning women’s rights. If the legislation succeeds, we can keep our eyes focused on the other largely Catholic countries mentioned in this article (Latin America, Poland, and parts of Ireland) to see if they eventually follow suit.


Abortion rights don't liberate women, they are yet another way for delinquent males to avoid responsibility for their (sexual) actions - if they give you the money for the abortion they think they've 'taken care' of it...and you. Abortion is damaging to women & children, emotionally & physically, and an easy-out for men. Actively supporting abortion is not as helpful to women as people think.