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“Maintain The Rage”

We’ve been shaken out of complacency this week. It’s time to refocus on fundamental rights.

By Nikki Gemmell

I never thought I’d see the day that Roe vs Wade would be overturned. The world had moved on, surely. Women had, men had, the medical profession had. Surely? Apparently not.

I admit it, I was complacent about Roe, which was locked into place 50 years ago. I’d assumed there was, generally, an upward trajectory into the light in terms of women’s rights, and that this situation was irreversible. But last week’s decision has shaken me – and presumably countless others – out of that complacency, and I am still reeling.

Because the abortion debate is ultimately about control. About a woman having the power to choose what’s best for her own body. This debate is about a group of people who want to enforce obedience upon a pregnant woman who does not want to be pregnant.


A woman at the Sydney rally to defend abortion rights on July 2 PHOTO: Hellene Algie

Abortions are always needed. Wanted. And it enrages me that strangers feel it appropriate to make decisions over an individual woman’s pregnancy. It’s such a deeply personal issue that goes to the heart of her intimacy and privacy, and it has profound repercussions for that woman’s future. Her earning capacity. Career. Living arrangements. Her sense of freedom and autonomy. Her mental and physical health. Surely, it’s for her to decide – to grant her control over her own future.

And if women don’t have control over their own bodies, then they’re never going to have other kinds of control – economic control, equal wages, equality, all those things we’ve fought so long for.

And sometimes, of course, an abortion is also about a woman’s safety.

Last Monday the Australian model Robyn Lawley blazed an Instagram photo of her bare belly with “My body my choice” painted on it.

She wrote: “After the birth of my daughter I was extremely sick – I had 2 strokes due to Lupus and APS (a disorder of the immune system that causes an increased risk of blood clots.) I continued living with lupus for years – I always planned being a mother with many children, however I knew my body would not be able to carry another. I was also told by doctors that I could have another stroke and I was having seizures. I became pregnant and had to make the decision of abortion – it was a horrible hard decision to make, however I knew my body was unable to carry another.”

The Sydney rally to defend abortion rights on July 2 PHOTO: Hellene Algie

Many celebrities have come out over the past week with their own abortion stories. On Wednesday, there was Laura Prepon from Orange is the New Black: “One of the worst days of my life was when I made the choice to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester,” she wrote on social media. “The devastating truth is that we found out the foetus would not survive to full term, and that my life was at risk as well. At the time – I had the choice.”

And now, with Roe’s overturning, some vulnerable American woman will be forced to return to the dark old days of backyard abortions. Shocking, yes, and poor and disadvantaged women will be impacted the most. Those unable to travel to a state that does carry out abortions, those who can’t afford the luxury of time off work.

Whoopi Goldberg wrote in the 1991 book The Choices We Made about her own traumatic attempt to induce an abortion: “I found out I was pregnant when I was 14,” the actor explained. “I didn’t get a period. I talked to nobody. I panicked. I sat in hot baths. I drank these strange concoctions girls told me about – something like Johnny Walker Red with a little bit of Clorox, alcohol, baking soda – which probably saved my stomach – and some sort of cream. You mixed it all up. I got violently ill. At that moment I was more afraid of having to explain to anybody what was wrong than of going to the park with a hanger, which is what I did.”

The Sydney rally to defend abortion rights on July 2 PHOTO: Hellene Algie

In all the highly emotional debates round abortion there’s scarcely any mention of male responsibility. Little heat is put upon the men who may have just needed to put a condom on it, actually, or could have withdrawn at the crucial moment. But for their partners the consequences are life changing.

To force women to go through the pain, cost and inconvenience of a pregnancy against their will feels like a denial of them as a fully human entity; that they’re considered not nearly as important as the foetus they carry inside them but as mere receptacles for it.

The events of the past week have proved that we can’t count on men to defend our rights for us, even though that feels like a given if we want to change the world, for the better, as a collective. But the reality is that this battle feels like it’s up to us. Again. Forever more.

Feminists of old fought this battle and won it. They did the hard yakka for us, and we’ve reaped the gains for decades. Yet it feels like my generation and younger ones have somehow dropped the ball on this one, with our complacency, and now history is catching up on us.

Women at the Sydney rally to defend abortion rights PHOTO: Hellene Algie

It’s been shown in the domestic violence sphere that men never fight harder and dirtier than when women are pulling away from them as they gain power, independence and autonomy. And in the wake of #MeToo, this feels like a dangerous time for women. We’re calling certain men out, loudly, and they’re fighting hard to regain their dominance and control; some just don’t like to cede any of their power. The world has been conditioned since time immemorial to believe that a woman talking back –  her rage – is an embarrassing, shameful thing, yet it can be a positive. Magnificently so. Because it brings about change.

Abortion is the mark of a civilized, compassionate society which recognizes the rights of women as equal within that society. Declaring the procedure a criminal act is anachronistic for a modern society. To me, America has lost its lustre with this cruel decision. The land of the free and the home of the brave is not quite so free, nor brave, anymore. America is broken, and we must all be vigilant over the ripple effects from its current Supreme Court.

There are positives. The repeal of Woe has been a shot in the arm for a fractured women’s movement. It’s stoked the rage, women are mobilising and younger generations are realising how important it is to actually get out there and vote. Biden says the November mid term elections will now be fought on a repeal of the Supreme Court’s decision and women’s groups in the U.S. are working out how to distribute medicine that enables a safe abortion before 12 weeks. But if something goes wrong, well, who wants to risk helping in a medical sense? The situation is fraught with danger and complexity.

And can women in America now trust the apps that are tracking their menstrual cycles? Who’s behind them, what’s the data being used for, how secure are they? As the satirical news organisation The Onion tweeted this week, “Supreme Courts votes 5-4 to Reclassify Women as Service Animals.” But is this actually satire? It feels uncomfortably close to reality. To Atwood’s Gilead.

I was too complacent over this one; as were so many women from younger generations who thought this battle was won decades ago. It was always a given that my generation had it better than our mothers, and that our daughters would have it better again. Yet the depressing truth from this depressing week: female autonomy is a continual battleground, and we women must always, always be vigilant. Maintain the rage.

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BY Nikki Gemmell

Nikki is an author and columnist for The Australian

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