25 September 2023

Choice Words

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Edited by Louise Swinn, Allen & Unwin, $29.99.

This engaging repository of stories highlights the sheer, unspoken commonality of abortion.

At least one-in-four women have abortions. The circumstances are tragic.

This has been described as a timely collection of ‘stories, essays, rants and raves, seeking to demystify abortion and its surrounding stigma’. The fervant plea should not go unnoticed.

‘Women have been dealing with the risks and the fall-out for longer than there is record. It is poignant, wise, funny and true; a salute to those who have been working in the field, a celebration of how far we’ve come, an electrifying caterwaul at how far we still have to go, and a clarion call to action.’

The passionate appeal has come from writers, thinkers, musicians, actors, comedians, activities and political staffs offering personal stories of abortion alongside historical records and political anecdotes.

Swinn, a writer, publisher and editor, admits she didn’t know the extent of the legal differences across Australia’s states and territories. Even in places where abortion is legal it is sometimes nearly impossible to access, and costs can be prohibitive.

“The stories in these pages are from people who have experienced abortion first-hand, people who are working in the field, and people who have thought long and hard about it. This is not a facile subject and many of the people included here did a lot of soul-searching.”

Descriptive about abortion laws across Australia, contributors include Jane Caro, Claudia Karvan, Jenny Kee, Laura Jean, Melissa Lucashenko, Emily Maguire, Tara June Winch, Michelle Law, Tony Birch, Melanie Cheng, Anne Summers, Gideon Haigh, Monica Dux and Bri Lee.

The Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek, makes some valid points in the foreword. “It is so clear that our current approach is not good enough. Abortion is a crime for four million Australian women. Reproductive healthcare can be prohibitively expensive – if you can even find a service that will help you”.

“Yet one of four pregnancies is unplanned and a third of those pregnancies end in abortion. If the intention behind all these barriers and restrictions is to stop women having abortions, it is not working.”

“Reproductive freedom is intimately tied to gender equality. Australia still has unfinished business on reproductive health.”

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