On September 28, American women scored a great victory when the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the use of mifepristone (RU486). Their French and other European sisters had already been safely using the “abortion pill” for almost a decade. Women in Australia are still waiting.
What’s the holdup! For ten years, anti-abortionists in the U.S. had threatened to boycott any pharmaceutical company that manufactured the drug. In 1996, “family values” champions, John Howard and Kim Beazley, in cahoots with Catholic stalwart, Senator Brian Harradine, engineered the passage of a law which effectively bans the importation of mifepristone by requiring Federal Parliament’s approval.
Big business, which pulls their strings, makes its profits from women’s second class status. From Nike to Coles-Myer to Chivas Regal, our “inferiority” makes their fortunes: we’re their low-paid workers, we bear and nurture their factory fodder, and our bodies sell their products. Denying women’s reproductive rights, which means limiting our other life choices, is crucial to maintaining this degenerate system.
In the battle for these rights, mifepristone would be a breakthrough for Australian women. In a country where abortion is still a crime, it would burst apart the draconian prohibition of our right to choose. The drug would also provide women with another option for abortion.
But the drug is not a solution. Medically, it is effective in only the first 49 days of pregnancy — earlier than many positive diagnoses. It requires access to a doctor and clinical facilities, yet the running down of public healthcare increasingly puts this beyond many women’s reach.
Politically, no pill will stop the war on our reproductive rights. From the USA to Afganistan, we’ve seen how far the State will go to domesticate women. Howard is preparing laws to bar women outside heterosexual relationships from accessing fertility programs, to restrict sole parents’ right to welfare benefits and to put childcare out of reach of working women. He is doing nothing to stop the many practices which deny Aboriginal, migrant, poor and disabled women their right to make a genuine choice to have a child.
It will take a radical, grassroots national movement to win full reproductive rights for all women. We must demand: full, free access to safe abortions and contraceptives; free, 24-hour, quality childcare; no forced sterilisations; free, quality healthcare. We will stop at nothing less than equality for everyone in a society that values us all.