At the anti-abortion Rally For Life this week in Toowoomba, Queensland, Madeleine wept on stage as she told her story. The Queensland parliament will vote on a bill to give the state Australia’s most liberal abortion laws, on October 16. A handful of votes could make the difference.
I got pregnant when I was just 18, had just finished school and had my whole life ahead of me. And getting pregnant was NOT part of the plan. I was completely overwhelmed, and under huge pressure in my mind to be a successful woman, and live up to my potential, I immediately went into a sort of over-drive.
I was not ready. That is to say I wasn’t ready for the decision. My body was ready, and started to change, to flood me with hormones and grow the baby in me. I had to make decisions quickly, but I felt so out of control.
I was failed by the system that made it easier for me to get that pregnancy terminated and get the baby taken out, than it was to have my wisdom teeth taken out.
I decided almost immediately that abortion was my only option, and I did so because I believed and was told all sorts of things that weren’t true or left out the possible difficulties from having a termination, but I also never even contemplated any good outcomes from having the baby. It was then that I needed a system to protect me from my lack of maturity, wisdom and mis-information. It was so easy to get an abortion, too easy.
No-onearound me suggested or supported any other options, they keep telling me it was my decision and my body and they would support me whatever I chose and I believer, as my counsellor wrote on my admission form, that it was “best for me, and my baby, to terminate”. But knowing what I do now, I no longer believe I would make the same decision.
I was failed by the system that made it easier for me to get that pregnancy terminated and get the baby taken out, than it was to have my wisdom teeth taken out. When I had my teeth out I had to read and sign endless paperwork about the risks of the procedures involved. In contrast the proposed changes to the abortion legislation will make it easy to get an abortion at any time and for any reason. It will mean that it is easier for you to get a baby removed than your wisdom teeth.
But getting your wisdom teeth removed is not the same as abortion. Abortion ends one life and changes one forever.
The GP who referred me for the abortion just assumed I would get an abortion and we discussed nothing but how I would go about that. My boyfriend and my family didn’t know what to say, so didn’t say much at all. And the clinic brushed aside my fears and uncertainties, and then proceeded to placate them with pleasant untruths about the development of the foetus inside me. They lied to my face.
I didn’t understand what was growing inside me. And it was with horror that I realised this some years later as I studied the development of the foetus at 10 weeks. Only then did I understand that the balls of cells no bigger than my little fingernail the “Counsellor” had comforted me I was getting scraped out, was indeed far more human than I had been led to believe.
Not one of them encouraged me to stop, take a breath and consider the risk that when I woke up with the relief of a problem solved, that this would be replaced with a gnawing hollow regret that would dog me for years.
The people around me in large part stayed silent, and I was left alone to make this decision, just barely an adult legally but still so young, and I wish that instead of silence those around me had challenged and supported me to think out what pregnancy or termination would really look like. Abortion solved one problem for me but created many more which I did not know about and never chose. See that’s the lie, that choosing a termination is our right but that we don’t need to understand that choice fully. And isn’t that insulting to women?
And why am I telling you all this? It’s not to make you angry, or pity me, though you might do both.
How was that a choice, or freedom? I deserved to be given all the options. I was frightened and uninformed and needed restrictions on my ability to make such a life altering decision without first considering the impact it could have on me and those around me. And I understand all the complications which come from having children, I have several more of my own now.
And why am I telling you all this? It’s not to make you angry, or pity me, though you might do both. I want to tell you what happened to me, to warn you about the risks of enacting legislation based on the language of choice and reproductive freedom. Freedom and choice are human rights which we value highly as a society and yet I was not given the dignity of a genuinely informed choice nor the freedom to look at all my options with wisdom, nor was I encouraged to think for myself. Instead it was essentially decided for me that abortion was the best and simplest, the only choice I had. And it is a dangerous world when only one choice is given.
I am at this rally, sharing with you what I believe is the greatest regret of my life and the most damaging decision I have ever made, because these new laws utterly ignore my pain and regret and that of the tens of thousands of women like me. The government has decided for us that abortion is the best option for us, and has made every effort to make abortion easy for any woman of any age, at any time and for any reason. They believe that making it easysolves all the problems. But this is a fantasy.
Abortion is not an easy solution. And women need support to make these complex decisions around a challenging situation, and protection against being coerced into making a rushed decision at a time when they are vulnerable.
Like Miss X, the Sydney woman who had an abortion here in QLD at 16 weeks gestation, after her footballer boyfriend paid her $50,000 to do so. It was too easy for her to be bullied into believing she was making a choice to benefit herself, but she was left with the regrets, the consequences, and a handful of what she described as dirty, hush money. Blood money. What support or protection was she offered? And there is no support or protection in this new legislation for women like her either.
She needed to be protected. She needed a counsellor who was going to ask deep, impartial questions and support her to make empowered, intelligent decisions.
Miss X has since named her “ball of cells” Noah, and I too named my baby later to acknowledge the child that I was still grieving for. I began to imagine the life she could have had only when I realised that my regret and loss was real, and not a hormonal response that would stop after several days, which is the only warning the pamphlet from the clinic gave me. I have spent many nights in tears and many days wondering what life would be like with her in the mix of my kids today. I have written letters to her and tried to imagine what she would be like, but there is always a shadow of doubt that hangs over me because of what the clinic said…that I wouldn’t feel anything, that my tears were just hormones. But our regrets and our grief are real.
It is the government’s job to bring legislation that protects a woman and a child’s rights. This means our rights to be protected, supported and given all the information we’d expect in any other medical procedure, and any other situation where there is even the slightest risk of coercion. And abortion isn’t only a matter of a woman’s rights, but also the rights of unborn children. We protect the rights of Australian animals more than unborn children, and we staunchly oppose mistreatment of refugees, while promoting the death of our own children. This makes no sense.
We’ve recently had an inquiry into four deaths on a ride at Dreamworld, that left no stone unturned in discovering the cause of their deaths and making sure it would never happen again. In this case we valued human life as paramount.
My experience may be only one, but it was a genuine experience of suffering after abortion. So why do these laws give no regard to women who have had, or who will have an experience like mine, who will live with regret because of misinformation and lack of protection from these laws. Will our premier accept the guilt shame and blood of this on her hands?
Because abortion is not a single “simple”, “easy” option. It was simply not that for me, for those around me or for my daughter.