: Girlie Down Under in 2015

Girlie Down Under in 2015

Anna Bortion

Abbott’s Bad Habits

At the time of writing, Tony Abbott was Minister for Women, and to demonstrate his support for women he recently doubled the number of women in Cabinet — from one to two. Adele Ferguson, writing in The Age (22 January 2015), considers Abbott should have blackballed himself as Minister for Women and  that his ‘appointment of himself as the Minister for Women was always seen as a cynical PR stunt, designed to compensate for the many gaffes he has made about women over the years, including the gobsmacking comment in 2010’ that what ‘housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up’. When asked about his biggest achievement as Minister for Women, Abbott replied it was in getting rid of the carbon tax because ‘as many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget’.

Could someone please tell the Prime Minister that women do a heck of a lot more than the ironing and the household budget?  We write, we manage, we research, we play sport, we sit on boards of directors and we are CEOs of hospitals, companies, charities, and more.  Shove over Tony, you’re out of date; let someone who understands women have the role of Minister for Women — and she should definitely be a women. Perhaps then we won’t be seeing a slashing of the foreign aid budget that, according to Plan International, will hit the world’s poorest women and girls really hard. (See Sarah Whyte, ‘Study Claims Women to Lose Opportunities’, The Age, 27 January 2015).

Brain Dead and Pregnant

Henry McDonald, correspondent for The Guardian, reports that Ireland’s High Court has ruled doctors could switch off the life support machine of a brain-dead woman who was 18 weeks pregnant, leading to calls for increased clarity over medical guidelines on abortion in the country. The judgment challenged the Irish Constitution, which gives a mother and an unborn child equal rights, and led pro-choice campaigners to demand a referendum on the issue.

Three judges granted the wish of the woman’s family’s that she be allowed to die. Her doctors had refused to switch off her life support for fear they could be prosecuted under Ireland’s strict abortion laws. But Judge Kearns said the court ‘is satisfied, in the circumstances of this case, that it is in the best interests of the unborn child; it should authorise at the discretion of the medical team the withdrawal of ongoing somatic support being provided in this tragic and unfortunate case. … To maintain and continue the present somatic support for the mother would deprive her of dignity and subject her father, her partner and her young children to unimaginable distress in a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by treating medical specialists of potential consequences.’

The father of the woman at the centre of the controversy told the Court: ‘My daughter is dead, the chances of the foetus surviving are minimal, we have been told. I want her to have dignity and be put to rest.’

Victorian Clinic Continues Legal Fight to Protect Clients

In Victoria, the Fertility Control Clinic has taken legal action in the Supreme Court against the City of Melbourne which has failed to enforce existing laws to move on protesters from the anti-abortion group Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. The action focuses on Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Act and asserts the Council has a duty to address nuisances within its borders. The group has been harassing staff and patients outside the Clinic for decades and, in 2001, a security guard was shot dead outside the clinic.

And in Belfast…

Legal action taken by the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast has seen the successful prosecution of Ireland’s infamous anti-abortion activist, Bernadette Smyth. She has been sentenced to 100 hours of community service for harassing the director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. She was also ordered to pay £2000 compensation to her victim, the former Northern Ireland assembly member Dawn Purvis. Smyth is prohibited from being within 20 yards of the clinic and had a five-year exclusion order imposed on her for ‘pestering’ Purvis. Smyth has indicated she intends to appeal the decision.

At The Top End

In the Northern Territory, abortion services just got more difficult (Letter, Medical Journal of Australia, 16 February 2015, 202(3)).  Women seeking an abortion must consult an obstetrician/gynaecologist prior to obtaining an abortion. However the only qualified doctor has resigned. The Territory law’s surgical and hierarchical approach means medical abortion is unavailable. Critics say the NT is way behind in evidence-based medicine and indigenous women are particularly disadvantaged with a very high teenage pregnancy rate.

ANNA BORTION is a feminist lawyer.

(2015) 40(1) AltLJ 60
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