Saturday, July 23, 2005
Feminism: stop stepping on my painted toenails. Part 2
Is feminism dead? Is the war over? I began my previous blog entry with Plato and Aristotle’s view of women, and how this rationale shaped Western thought. In the year 2000, Melbourne Australia, an anti-choice National Party Senator Julian McGauran, obtained a woman’s medical records. State Coroner, Graeme Johnstone gave the Senator these records, then realising his error, sealed them. However, the damage had already been done. McGauran had seen enough and then proceeded to put a complaint before the medical practitioners board.
The woman, whose name has not been revealed, had a termination when her unborn baby was diagnosed with dwarfism.
The medical practitioners board, who received Senator McGauran’s complaint, and is therefore obliged to investigate, needs these woman’s medical records (that are now sealed) to proceed. The woman has consistently refused access to her records.
However, last month, the Victorian Magistrate ruled that the Royal Women’s Hospital must hand these documents over to the Medical Practitioners Board. The hospital is now appealing on grounds of patient confidentiality.
This story began in the year 2000 and it is now 2005. It has been five years. Five years, and still, an anti-choice Senator is doggedly proceeding, pursuing his own agenda.
This story has been prominent for some weeks now in one of Australia’s major broadsheet newspapers, The Age. A recent article, written on the 18 July 2005, by Dr Leslie Cannold, a fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, provides some further background information.
"A woman continues to have one of the most private and painful episodes of her life – one that drove her to the brink of suicide – splashed across the pages of the newspapers to be discussed and dissected by strangers…Victorian laws and court judgements that on the one had defines abortion providers and aborting women as criminals, but on the other enable doctors to lawfully provide the procedure if they deem it ‘necessary’ to preserve the woman’s physical or mental health…since that fateful day in 2000, when a kind-hearted deeply ethical man with a long history of commitment to women’s health and autonomy decided – in consultation with colleagues, including a qualified psychiatrist who judged the woman acutely suicidal – to perform the abortion, his life has been hell, his job threatened, his career in tatters, his ability to defend himself impeded. There wouldn’t be an abortion service provider in the state, probably the country, unaware of his story and the lesson it holds for them: toe whatever line the anti-choice groups draw in the sand or pay the price. Indeed, since that termination in 2000, an increasingly defensive medical practice has left many Victorian women stranded at precisely the moment when they most need support: upon learning their foetus is stricken with a serious or lethal disorder. Having made the difficult decision to terminate, many are shocked to discover that the hospital that offered – may even have urged them to have – the ante-natal test that revealed the problem, won’t extend themselves to provide a timely abortion, or any abortion at all."
In my previous blog I spoke of a book I had just finished reading, The First Stone by Helen Garner.
Garner spoke of her own illicit experience of helping women obtain abortions during a time when they were illegal.
"On my way home from Monash that Winter day, I drove past a certain house on a corner, and was overcome by a strange memory. In the early seventies I delivered to that house a silent and trembling woman from New Zealand who had flown across the Tasman for an abortion. I was just one member of a feminist organization formed to help change the abortion laws and to work meanwhile at arranging safe terminations for women who were in trouble, who couldn’t wait for the slow, grinding process of legal change…I delivered her to the surgery and picked her up again afterwards. I took her to the shared house I lived in. My friends and our children sat with her at the kitchen table while I made her a cup of tea. She drank it in silence. We didn’t even know how to talk to each other. She sat in our kitchen with her arms folded over her belly. Soon I drove her to the city, to the Queen Mary Club where accommodation had been arranged for her. Another member of the organization must have taken over from me there; I have driven past that abortionist’s house scores of times, without even noticing it. But driving home from Monash last winter, speeding along the ugly, endless road, I saw the house, and the memory of the woman’s dark, frightened face rushed back to me for the first time in more than twenty years."
Upon reading this passage, I was reminded about Senator McGauran’s actions. I ruminated for days, becoming angrier and angrier. The consequence has been these last two blog entries. I am angry when it is men like Senator McGauran and Mr Tony Abbot (Australia’s Health Minister) who appear to be making decisions like this. Setting up panels, mostly male, to discuss issues like this. I am angry, when, to prove a point, a Senator gnaws away at a small bone thrown to him five years ago. Quite frankly, these men are stepping on my painted toenails. Terminations are never ever pleasant. We do not live in a perfect black and white world. I think women have been excluded from the public domain for long enough.