This essay looks at contraception and abortion in Australia and how feminism of the last three decades has changed the understanding of women’s health issues and women’s health services. Contraception methods will be examined and how women have changed their perception of changes in their lives. The author will also look at history and how it has led to the present changes of contraception and it will lead to a conclusion of how important the changes have brought in Australian women’s lives.
was government interest in fertility control which was a reflection of national concerns about the size of Australian population.In 1915 the issue of birth control came into the public as women from USA, led by Margret Sanger defied obscenity laws by distributing information about contraception ( Fee, 1983, p.154).There was a campaign of direct action for birth control in 1916.In 1917 there was a legalization of contraception and many organizations were formed and they considered themselves to stand for women’s rights in reproductive health. Contraception was also viewed as an advanced stage in women’s health as it liberated them from unplanned pregnacies, freedom to choose when they want to have children and protect them from sexually transmitted diseases (Fee, 1983).
Birth control is an important issue to women’s well being as it provides the effective ability to control when and whether they want to become pregnant and gives them the choice and ability to achieve goals and contribute to her sense of well-being. The choice of birth control methods involves factors such as how easy it is to use, safety, risks, cost, and personal considerations which in turn gives them freedom. Fee (1983, p. 151 ) noted that birth control has three major social purposes that is to give women increased individual freedom, to control the population as well as taking care of their health and bodies. Most commonly method used in form of birth control in the 1900 was withdrawal before ejaculation next to condoms as the other methods available to women during this time were not safe, ineffective and unpleasant. In the year 1900 most women used pessaries which were not safe as they contained bichloride of mercury which was poisonous if not used properly .The pessaries also caused chronic discharge and bleeding secondary to injury of the vaginal tissues.
As according to Fee (1983) although contraception became widespread in the 1930s, most middle class women continued to get help from private doctors and working class women did not get any help at all. Thus shows there was little access to birth control services for the poor people. In this period of time birth control became an issue that experts lobby for reforms on behalf of a lager population. The transformation was accomplished by the large number of doctors and nurses into the birth control.
The consequences of abortion between 1920 to 1950 were substantial as it was seen as an offence against morality. The woman who would have attempted to abort was sentenced to seven years in jail while the one who conducted the abortion process would be sentenced to fourteen years in prison while the other people who might be involved like supplying medicines for abortion would also spend up to three tears in jail. (Hetherington & Maddern, 1993, p 224-227) .In the 1960s abortion was made a more acceptable choice.
The medical profession and the Australian government had been discouraging the use of contraceptives on religious and social grounds as contraception was associated with being promiscuous, prostitution. Early government discouraged awareness of contraceptives and birth control and social activists worked so hard to publicise and push the use of birth control methods as part of their campaign for social change (Libesman & Sripathy, 1996, p. 4).
The language of control and rights arised along with the second wave of women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s.Using the feminist voice Working with difference has had to mean acknowledging the idea that a woman is not a stable identity that has always existed through time, and belonging to a culture of its own (Yetman, 1993, p.235).it is rather a fluid identity, that may also hold with it many other identities, such as class, race and sexuality among others and is one that is constantly changing and transforming, according to time society and culture.
By the 1920s abortion was widespread and abortion services had become
Well known with women from different socioeconomic groups accesing abortion from different categories of abortionist (Finch & Stratton, 1988). Wealthy women accessed private gynaecologists, middle-class women increasingly sought the services of physicians, and working-class women utilised a traditional network of midwives. However, a police crackdown on midwives in Melbourne between 1928 and 1932 put. As
a result, poor women were increasingly left without access to those networks,
resulting in them seeking abortion later in their pregnancy when all other
methods had failed and then attempting self abortion (Gruber, 1956).
There were only three birth control clinics in Australia between 1920s to 1960s, and they provided information to married women (Matthew, 1984, CITED IN Broom, 1991). The most reliable contraceptives were still available to married women and only prescribed by doctors and terminations of pregnancy were expensive and dangerous. The legal consequences of abortion between 1920 and 1950 were substantial as it was deemed to be an offence against morality. Many doctors would not prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women even though they were welcomed by Australian women as an urgent and important method in preventing against unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases (Luker, 1975, cited in Broom, 1991). A willingness to show responsibility in partners was proven by the increased use of condoms, though it was a product of sexually transmitted diseases prevention (Broom, 1994, p. 165.)
According to Hetherington & Madden, 1993, p. 246 in January 1961 when the pill was introduced in Australia, it did play an important part in the resurgence of feminism in the late 1960s and changed many women’s lives and it meant that women were able to make long term plans and embark on careers and further theiur education, free from the uncertainty of unplanned pregnancy. Though the pill had its problems women were still happy about the freedom to choose when they would want to get pregnant, and as an alternative if the pill fails there was abortion though the cost was a financial burden for women with limited financial resources.
There was an increase in abortions after 1970 but from the average woman’s experience it was not dramatic as the first great increase in induced abortion towards the end of the nineteenth century .Abortion changed from desperate expedient of married and unmarried women who were over forty years and child bearing with them having less burden to a common means of birth control (Shorter, 1991, p. 190). Many doctors by this time were performing abortions but women did not know how to perform abortion as they regard it as a secret . (Cited by Grayston in Hetherington & Maddern, 1993, p. 243).
In Australia the grounds on which abortion was permitted varied from state to state. In the 1970s in Western Australia the conviction for procuring abortion was made. But since that time despite the fact that it remains illegal, abortion become openly available. It also showed that abortion was widely accepted with the introduction of other means of abortion that differed from the surgical abortion and this was the abortion pill. Above all the two abortion methods widely available in most Australian states, the law stipulates that access to many effective forms of contraception and terminations of pregnancy will be controlled by a medical personnel.
Feminism has seen a shift in thinking, from a movement that was largely concerned about particular women to one that embraces and has a respect for change.In the past three decades feminist activist and scholars have placed emphasis on developing ways that respect and account for the difference between men and women that is if women were to have equality with men and participate fully in society they must have control over their bodies in terms of sexuality. The abortion debate being not just about women’s reproductive control but also about essential struggles over meanings of femininity was an opportunity for the choice to push for recognition of women’s abilities to make responsible decisions. As Warnock has asserted: ‘We must trust the women and not patronise them’. The above statement however defer with the views of the Catholic Church today as they have always condemned abortion and have maintained that the Bible forbids abortion, just as it forbids murder. This line provides some examples given by the Fathers of the Church and thus making it be males controlling women’s bodies. Some feminists analysis sees patriarchy as the primary source by which women are oppressed, and aim to trace the history of women’s subordination, in order to begin to transform women’s position in society, other feminists challenged the idea, questioning whether sufficient and conclusive evidence can be gathered about the roots of patriarchy (Stacey, 1993,p. 55).Much of the work of the feminist movement in the 1970s and 1980s focused on challenging the position of men in society which compromised women’s equality (Curthoys,1992,p.425).The contemporary women’s movement of the feminist movement as it was widely known sought to empower women by changing their assumptions about themselves, and by doing so would impact on the way women viewed themselves as individuals and their place in contemporary Australian society (Curthoys,1992,p.426
Under present Australian law women do not have the right to choose an abortion in all circumstances and regarding the role of the medical profession and abortion laws, the doctors are given the rights to determine whether an abortion will be necessary in any particular case given. However good medical care, education and equal opportunity for all women has changed as in the past three decades as they are free to have control over their bodies in terms of contraception ,pregnancy and abortion in case of unwanted pregnancy
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