How politicians use abortion controversies as a tool for political gain
It’s a slogan that gained ground as many female protesters took to the streets to demand the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland. “My uterus, my choice,” served as a common anthem between those who rallied together in Brisbane, showing support for the two bills that were eventually withdrawn from Parliament but which would have made this a reality. This sounds like a firsthand account of my progressive rally experience, but unfortunately during the protest I was locked away, working in my capitalist ivory tower. However, the coverage from my friends, family and media outlets on Facebook conveyed apalpable disappointment that could be felt through even my iPhone.
Despite the ruling, it was the most advancement Queensland has had on the issue since its inception. The bills were handed down to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) and as Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign spokeswoman Anna McCormack said, “Until now, there has been no political will from either side of Parliament (to pursue reform)”.
Women’s rights issues are no stranger to political discourse and many politicians use these issues to manipulate public opinion and pursue political agendas. Abortion has become a controversial and divisive women’s rights issue, and one need only look at the rhetoric in Australia’s political landscape to see how abortion is used as a tool for to polarize voters for political gain.
“Until now, there has been no political will from either side of Parliament (to pursue reform)”.
Losing our religion
It’s probably no surprise to hear the most restrictive abortion policies come from Catholic countries that have a high degree of religiosity. Hands up all those people who are baptised but never practice. Yeah, that’s what we call low religiosity. Brazil, Mexico and Italy are within the top four Catholic countries in the world and many citizens are devout, meaning they actually practice what the preach. In comparison, Australia is one of the highest scoring countries saying religion is unimportant in our lives. Australian’s religiosity continues to wane every year, with 1 in 5 people reporting ‘no religion’ on the 2011 Census, compared to 1 in 250 in 1911.
While our beliefs may have changed, our laws haven’t. Queensland abortion laws are almost identical to the aforementioned countries. Like Brazil, Mexico and Italy, in Queensland it is only legal to have an abortion to protect the woman’s life or mental health. Australia, a supposed secular country that is number 12 on the “religion is highly unimportant to me, please pass me a beer” scale enforces abortion laws akin to that of some of the most religious countries in the world.
Separate that Church and State
While Australia is a secular country, the distinction between church and state has never been that clear. Cheers to being a British penal colony fostered in a thick coat of Christian oppression. I’m joking, I’m joking…kind-off. Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor proposed three forms of secularism and Australia falls most closely into his third definition, whereby the church and state interact, but no religion takes the cake over another. What’s that I hear? Apparently, Islam and Christianity are supposedly equal?
All religions may be equal in the eye of the law, but Australia’s political landscape tells a different story when it comes to abortion.
Tony Abbott was just two consonants away from being the walking inception of Abort. Alas, despite the affinity of his last name to the action, Tony was an outspoken critic on the issue. The ex-Prime Minister was vocal about his Catholicism, and many of his religious beliefs were incorporated into his Conservative party policies, particularly around controversial issues such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage. Before he became Prime Minister, Abbott was Health Minister for the Howard Government and during his time in this position he banned the abortion drug, RU486 and openly confessed his opinions on the issue.
“Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.” – Tony Abbott
Looking back through the previous administrations of Government, church and state have often worked more closely together than they have apart. Politicians like Abbott push their own personal agendas to polarise the Australian audience and gain a committed set of voters. It’s a minority though, only 4% of Australians are opposed to abortion and 77% of those voters who identify as religious support a woman’s right to choose. So, if we are a so-called ‘secular’ country, with politicians bound by a Constitution to not impose their religious values on us – why isn’t my uterus my choice?
Behind the looking glass
During the Howard Government from 1996 to 2007, abortion policies came under intense scrutiny and faced some of the most pro-active anti-abortion laws ever. Like the Abbott Government, digging deeper into the cabinets of these politicians reveals tugging marionette strings that influence party politics. Vocal oppositionists, such as Kevin Andrews who bring top dollar campaign budgets, access to a large network of pro-life voters and click-bait statements that gain ground in popular media ensure these politicians always keep abortion as the smoking gun in their arsenal. A sure way to simultaneously polarise Australian voters and promote their own agenda.
Mind your own agenda
Abortion has always been a controversial topic within the political arena but the stats show the majority of Australians support a woman’s right to choose. The 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found a whopping 88% of us believe Australian women should have access to safe and legal abortions. A 2003 study, that was more than 14 years ago (scary I know), and yet we’ve seen no change in law, despite our change in values.
Politicians continue to use abortion as a scapegoat issue to polarise voters and detract attention away from the real issues. When a Conservative polly like Abbott broaches the abortion topic, media pounce on it like dog and fuel irrelevant debates. If 88% of us believe in a woman’s right to choose, just change the bloody laws. Abortion controversies allow politicians to shy away from real issues like the housing crisis, our failing economy, climate change and chemtrails….gotcha with that last one. No but seriously.
When politicians broach the topic of abortion it’s a calculated move to pursue their own political agendas – but enough is enough. If the only arguments against abortion are religious ones, or at least those coated in Christian values, as a secular country women should have autonomy over their bodies, no matter the agenda of our leading politicians. It may seem like one step forward, two steps back, but keep fighting the good fight ladies and gents. Maybe one day those with uteruses will finally get to have their choice, whatever that may be.