pissed off feminist fights back: why I support RU486
I’m excited about RU486. I felt like a bit of a fool, jumping up and down on the night of Friday 26 April because the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee advised the Government to add the abortion pill to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Do you know what that means? Medical abortions for as little as $12.
A friend humoured me by giving me a hug. ‘Although neither of us is pregnant…’, I didn’t care. I was too busy being relieved because the number of my friends having pregnancy scares is only rising as we get older. The point of the matter is that if we were pregnant, we would have options. Options that didn’t involve expensive and invasive surgery. Options that didn’t involve getting up in the morning and heading to a clinic, with pro-life lobbyists waving their placards from across the road and protesting against my right to choose.
The reality of a medical abortion is that you take Mifepristone and Misoprostol in order to induce a miscarriage. It will occur up to three days after taking the medication. And there are side effects: dizziness, nausea, cramps, bleeding, headache, diarrhoea and chills. It’s something that we deserve access to; it’s on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines and has already been available in 50 countries, in some places for as long as 25 years.
But then, how likely is it that we will actually have access to this medical miracle — one that enables women to end their pregnancy in the comfort of their own homes? Not as likely as you might think, thanks to the current political landscape and the legal status of abortion.
Let’s start with health minister, Tanya Plibersek. What she’s currently saying is that this is the first step, but before adding the drug to the scheme, the government first needs to assess whether it is safe for women to take. She has previously been vocal in her advocacy of the drug — that the drug ‘should go through the same rigorous processes as any drug allowed to be used in Australia’, but of course, that it should not be blocked. And what about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, the former Health Minister during the Howard administration? He did block the use of RU486 in Australia. Now he says he will not stand in the way if it was introduced to the PBS (thank God).
And in terms of legality, it’s a bit sketchy. You’d have to look it up on a state-by-state basis. In most states and territories, unlawful abortion can be prosecuted under criminal law. In the ACT, it’s a health law thing. In New South Wales, you first need to prove that your pregnancy and, eventually having a baby, will cause you financial or psychological distress before your doctor will grant you the right to an abortion. Oh and you have to have a mandatory counselling session first. In Victoria, any woman can visit a clinic up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy. After that, two doctors must agree that having a baby will cause you financial or psychological distress.
And with RU486? Even if it’s on the PBS, it may not actually be accessible — not if the pro-life lobby get their way. It was only imported by Marie Spokes International, a private provider, in August last year. And, off course, there are already rules to taking it: you must be less than 9 weeks pregnant. It can only be prescribed in certain (few) clinics by certain doctors, so some women will have trouble finding the time and money to travel.
And the people opposed to the procedure in any form, of course, are not necessarily concerned for women’s safety. They’re more concerned about the social dissemination of their ideologues, of their moral code being spread and enshrined into law. They may say that abortion will make you miserable, although that’s untrue — 80% of women surveyed in a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry were not depressed after having an abortion. And easy access to abortion does not make the abortion rate climb. On the contrary, it ensures women are given quality care, and that their health and safety is put first.
It seems like an obvious decision.