The first recorded evidence of an abortion comes from the ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, in 1550 B.C. There is evidence of the practice occurring in other ancient civilisations like Greece and Rome as well.
The Ebers Papyrus
Abortion in Ancient Times.
Indeed, abortion is believed to be one of the oldest medical procedures. Back in ancient times, abortions weren’t necessarily surgical. Instead, they relied on herbal concoctions, strenuous physical activity or abdominal pressure to induce miscarriage. The first, second and third century saw herbs being relied on by Greco-Roman women to induce abortions. Some physicians at the time would also recommend certain exercises, jumping, riding and other physical activities. When you start looking into it, you see just how many methods have existed over time. Everything from over-tightened corsets to laying on heated coconut shells to sitting over a pot of stewed onions.
As far as I can tell, abortion has existed for a very long time. I’m no historian, but I would lay money on abortion being around, in some form or another, for just about as long as people have been getting pregnant.
Abortion in Australia’s past.
In the not too distant past, abortion in Australia was near-impossible to obtain. Women would be forced to pay huge amounts of money to private doctors who risked their medical licenses to perform the procedure. Things like proper after-care and counselling were non-existent. For a snapshot of what it was like, I suggest reading Anne Summer’s account of her experience in the 1960s.
If you couldn’t afford a “proper” doctor, you’d have to go to a ‘backyard’ abortionist. Forget proper qualifications, anesthesia, pain relief and sanitary conditions.
If that was out of your price-range as well, you had a choice between continuing the pregnancy or trying to perform an abortion on yourself. Some women tried old fashioned herbal remedies like their fore-mothers did for hundreds of years before them. Herbs aren’t necessarily safe- some are toxic, especially in certain doses. Some could make the woman ill or even cause death. Other women opted for self-surgery using sharp implements made from coat-hangers and similar objects, risking infection, incomplete terminations, perforated organs and more.
What about now?
Nowadays, there is still disagreement over whether or not women should be allowed to abort unwanted pregnancies. And honestly, I’m not even going to pretend that I understand why this is still being debated.
In countries where abortions are illegal or extremely difficult to obtain, women have died because they were denied medically necessary terminations. In developing countries where abortion is illegal or inaccessible, women are forced to utilise unsafe methods. In fact, making abortions illegal or highly restricted does not mean there are fewer abortions. For example, out of women of child-bearing ages in Africa, the rate of abortions is high at 29 abortions per 1000 women. In Latin America it is higher still at 32 per 1000 women of childbearing age.
These are both places where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of their countries. Compare this with Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted. The rate is 12 per 1000 women and abortion is generally much safer.
Each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 47,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions. This is 13% of all maternal deaths worldwide and almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries. Almost half of all abortions that occur are unsafe abortions and almost all unsafe abortions take place in developing countries. Is creating the same conditions here going to help anyone at all?
Personally, I am not “pro-abortion”. I don’t know anyone that is. What I am is pro-women. I believe that women have the absolute right to decide what happens to their bodies. I believe that the woman who exists independently and in her own right has more rights that a foetus. I believe that it’s time we legalised abortion in Australia completely. I actually thought we had done until looking into it around the time I wrote this piece after seeing protesters outside a clinic that provides termination services.
In fact, it all depends on which state you live in. There are still plenty of women in Australia who have trouble accessing abortion services who need to travel long distances at great expense to get them.
Where abortion is safe and accessible there are lower rates of it overall. Fewer women suffer from the effects of unsafe abortions and therefore far fewer die as a result. Yet still, people want to restrict it, ban it or criminalise it. They do so because they hold a belief that a foetus has more rights than a fully formed, independently existing woman. They do so because they claim they are pro-life; that is, the life of the foetus. They might have religious beliefs to base this on and it’s fine for them to live their lives accordingly. What is not fine is trying to force others to live by those same beliefs. We are a supposedly secular country, after all.
If you have a personal belief that abortion is wrong, my best advice to you is to not have one. I could trot out a thousand scenarios to try to challenge your views. I could talk about rape victims, incest victims or young teens. I could talk about severe health conditions meaning that the pregnancy will end in miscarriage or stillbirth anyway or that the woman’s health could be severely compromised by continuing it. All valid reasons to have an abortion.
But for me, what it always comes back to is the right of the woman to decide what happens to her body, first and foremost. This is why education and access to contraception is also extremely important. No form of contraception is 100% effective, however, when used properly, effectiveness rates are high. If contraception is something people are educated on and able to access easily, then it stands to reason that there will be fewer abortions required.
When you look at the facts and figures around abortion, it becomes abundantly clear that trying to ban or heavily restrict it leads to nothing but more danger for women and, it would seem, more abortions. So are people attempting to ban it really pro-life? I don’t think so.