There were stories of rape, family trauma and tragedy, and of terrible backyard abortions. The Labor member for Wallsend, Sonia Hornery, spoke of her mother, who “became pregnant with her first child at 14 years old. She had her second child at 16. Her husband was a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker and the family had no support. This woman became pregnant again at 16 with her third child. She decided she could not cope and she paid £10 to go to a backyard abortion clinic in Hamilton, Newcastle.”
There were also stories, like mine, that didn’t involve trauma but did involve a termination. I respect that there are members considering this legislation who have strong religious views − and I respect their right to have those views.
But just as I don’t seek to impose my views as an atheist on them, or limit their ability to practise their religion, they should not be able to enforce their religious views on me.
This issue has been articulated very powerfully by a number of members who have put their own faith and beliefs on the record while speaking in support of the bill.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when Prue Car, the member for Londonderry, declared: “I am a woman and I am a mother – a single mother at that. I am a policymaker and I am a Catholic from western Sydney. Being all those things, I am very proud to support the bill because, in my mind, it is long overdue.”
Hearing Felicity Wilson, one of the co-sponsors of the bill and the Liberal member for North Shore, put on the record that: “The Christianity with which I was raised was founded in compassion and non-judgment and those are values that I find consistent with my approach to my role as a legislator and to my consideration of the bill.”
Whether it is from personal experience or personal religious view that people are coming
to it, it is on both counts, deeply personal.
Twenty years ago, I caught public transport to an NHS public clinic in London and had a medical termination. When I told the manager of the cocktail bar where I was working that I needed to take some time off and wouldn’t be able to do the table lifting for a few weeks, I would never have dreamed that 20 years later I would be a Member of Parliament and telling this personal story to the world.
It is emotionally exhausting to have to disclose personal stories like this to try to highlight a point − to add weight to your argument.
There is no doubt that hearing MPs from across the political divide share their experience of an issue − or a piece of legislation − makes for a far more interesting and deep debate.
But what it also shows is that this issue should be a personal one. Sitting in the chamber, watching the faces of those for and against this reform demonstrates just how important it is that every person should have the right to make this personal decision for themselves.
Every circumstance is different. Women – not MPs and not the courts – know what makes sense for their own health, for their own bodies and their own future.
People should absolutely have the right to choose not to have an abortion, just as they should have the right to have one. Neither decision should be mandated in a criminal code.
That’s why politicians need to get out of the way. There is no place for the courts or the Parliament to police these deeply personal and utterly life-changing decisions.
There are a few professions that should be talking about vaginas, uteruses and reproductive health in their workplaces − and politics shouldn’t be one of them.
Jenny Leong has been the Greens member for Newtown since 2015.