Overthrowing Roe v Wade opened the door to abortion bans and restrictions in the United States. Could it happen here too?


Thousands of people across Australia took to the streets over the weekend to protest the US Roe v Wade ruling, with some fearing Australian laws protecting a person’s right to an abortion are “fragile”.

At a rally in Melbourne, Ilsa Evans, a scholar and best-selling author, held a sign with the words “my two daughters wouldn’t exist if not for my 1986 abortion”.

“When I wrote the sign, I have to admit I had some apprehensions. And I think it was because of those apprehensions that I thought the sign was even more important,” Ilsa told the podcast. ABC News Daily.

In 1986, Ilsa was a single mother with a five-year-old son and was in a difficult relationship. She made the heartbreaking decision to abort a pregnancy.

“It was a really, really tough decision.

“It wasn’t a situation I expected, but had I been through this pregnancy it would have changed the trajectory of what happened personally after that and the relationship that gave birth to the two daughters n wouldn’t have existed.”

Roe v Wade is a landmark decision that has protected Americans’ constitutional right to abortion for nearly 50 years.

It was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court late last month.

Demonstrations have been staged in cities across Australia. Ilsa Evans attended the Melbourne rally with one of her daughters feeling like she was “passing the baton”.

“There was frustration that I walked for this kind of thing before and thought it was all done, and now we’re doing it again and I’m passing it on to the next generation.”

She said she attended the rally not only in solidarity with women in the United States, but also because she thinks Australia’s abortion rights are “fragile”.

“If we look at the Australian landscape, we have in WA abortion still regulated by the Penal Code, South Australia only decriminalized abortion recently, I think that was the Northern Territory the year last only and New South Wales in 2019,” she said.

“So these advances are relatively new and there is a fragility around that.

Roe v Wade sparks debate in Australia

The United States and Australia treat abortion in very different ways, and it would be “highly unlikely” that Australia’s abortion laws would be reconfigured.

But experts like Dr Prudence Flowers believe Australians have every right to be concerned.

“I think it’s very easy to overlook the fact that until very recently there were states and territories in Australia where abortion was still in the criminal code,” said Dr Flowers, master lecturer in United States history at Flinders University who studied reproductive laws in depth. in America and Australia.

She notes that Western Australia is the only remaining state where abortion remains under the criminal code.

“Over the past five years, we’ve seen several states and territories decriminalize abortion and it’s really, really recent.”

Dr Flowers said while surveys show around 80 per cent of Australians support abortion, there is intense debate around decriminalisation.

“In every state where decriminalization has taken place, you’ve seen state and federal politicians say, you know, frankly untrue and often really stigmatizing things about abortion care, a lot of them kind of copying the language of someone like Donald Trump.”

New abortion laws are set to come into effect this week in South Australia.

Liberal Leader David Speirs, along with three other members of the Shadow Ministry, helped organize a pro-life ‘training’ event over the weekend aimed at encouraging young people to ‘fight for the human rights of the unborn child”.

Mr Speirs later pulled out due to protests.

Dr Flowers said the Roe v Wade decision in the US had led anti-abortion campaigners to voice their concerns.

She pointed to comments by national MP Matt Canavan, who says Australia is just one of six countries that allow “late-term abortions”.


“Matt Canavan has been tweeting over the past few days about how Queensland’s upper gestation limit puts it out of step with most countries in the world and that this law needs to be reviewed,” Dr Flowers said.

The upper limit of gestation refers to the time in pregnancy when women can legally abort.

This limit differs by state and territory and ranges from 22 weeks and six days in South Australia to 24 weeks in Victoria, 22 weeks in New South Wales and Queensland.

Western Australia and Tasmania have the lowest upper limits of 20 and 16 weeks respectively, while ACT has no limit.

“In many states we see situations where prominent anti-choice politicians are saying we should revisit these decriminalization bills, we should shut down access, we should reduce abortion access “, said Dr. Flowers.

“And these are all strategies that have emerged in the United States.”

Two placards protesting against anti-abortion laws are held up against a blue sky.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Australia to protest the Roe v Wade decision over the weekend.(Ilsa Evans)

Hard-to-access and expensive abortions

Dr Flowers talks about other periods in Australian political history where reproductive health has been used as a political bargaining tool.

“Probably the most famous example of this was in the 1990s when John Howard was keen to privatize Telstra and to achieve that he struck a deal with Senator Brian Harradine, who was from Tasmania, to essentially ban RU486, which is an early medical abortion.”

RU486, or the abortion pill, was only registered for use in Australia in 2012, compared to the early 90s in Britain and the year 2000 in America.

She notes that RU486 is even more regulated here than in other Western countries because not all doctors can prescribe the pill and not all pharmacies can dispense it.

“Tony Abbott, when he was Health Secretary under (John) Howard, led a few unsuccessful attempts to get abortion funding out of Medicare.

“There have been quite concerted efforts at various times to keep abortions from being publicly offered or to make certain types of abortions inaccessible.”

At weekend rallies, protesters also expressed concern about access to abortion for Australians.

Dr Flowers noted that Medicare only covers a fraction of the cost of an abortion and that public hospitals do not provide the procedure except in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

“A fairly simple early abortion costs at least $500 out of pocket and often much more,” she said.

Isla Evans stands in a crowd wearing sunglasses and a polka dot dress, and holding a sign.
Ilsa Evans thinks her life would have taken a different path if she hadn’t had an abortion.(Ilsa Evans)

Ilsa Evans has described abortion access in Australia as a “postcode lottery”.

“I mean, women in rural areas, also women who are on temporary visas, for example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, marginalized groups especially have, you know, access issues.

“So there’s still a long way to go in Australia, even though we’re in a much better place than the United States.”

As for her message for American women, Ilsa says she hopes they saw the images of the thousands of Australian women protesting the inversion over the weekend.

“We are with you. We see you. We wish you all the best.”

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