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I first asked my father about Australia’s relationship with the United States in 2003. It felt like the whole world was discussing the impending invasion of Iraq and I wanted to know what it meant for us.
“If America goes, I guess we’ll follow suit,” he replied off-handedly.
So when I hear people say what happens in the United States has very little bearing on our lives here in Australia, I usually disagree. For better or for worse – what happens in the US matters.
In the wake of the news that the United States Supreme Court will likely move to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose, it’s a sobering thought.
Speaking to the Future Women community via The Download last week, Research Group Leader at the Castan Centre of Human Rights Law Dr. Tania Penovic said that people were right to keep an eye on moves to limit reproductive rights overseas.
“It’s a very, very concerning decision and one that’s not irrelevant to Australia. We finally have decriminalised abortion in all of our states and territories,” she commented.
“But we still have fairly tight restrictions in some jurisdictions.”
In her work with the Castan Centre, Dr Penovic leads research in gender and sexuality, including reproductive rights, and the rights of children and asylum seekers. Recently she’s been examining period poverty and how Australia’s access to safe abortion has changed throughout the pandemic.
She’s also noticed an alarming and marked increase in sexist rhetoric in Australian politics.
“More extreme elements have really gained oxygen during COVID-19. I think we need to be very vigilant about that, and the misogynistic stance taken by these groups. I think it is related,” said Dr. Penovic.
Abortion became legal across Australia, after South Australia formally decriminalised abortion last year. But even in the lead-up to that historic event, Dr. Penovic noted influences from right-wing American groups.
“We’ve really seen a disproportionate voice being given to the Christian right. An American anti-abortion campaigner was invited to South Australia’s parliament to address parliamentarians.”
“I was invited too, but I’m an academic who undertook research in the area.”
Dr. Penovic noted a growing ‘transnational’ ideological influence which has already been felt throughout Europe.
“It’s been involved in abortion law reform in Poland which has taken a very restrictive turn.”
While a final decision on Roe v. Wade is expected in June, Dr. Penovic says anyone waiting for a last-minute save for the historic case will likely be disappointed.
“I don’t hold out much hope that [an overturning] is not going to happen… it’ll be handed down sooner rather than later. I’m sorry to be the bearer of terrible news.”
With movements to curtail safe and legal access to abortion gaining traction internationally, we were naturally curious to ask Dr. Penovic what her advice was for resisting similar influences in Australia.
“The influence of the American Christian right has certainly been felt here,” she said.
“We need to ensure that we hear from medical experts and stories from the lived experience of pregnant people, rather than giving an outsized voice to people who hold an ideological view.”
“These rights we’ve gained across Australia have been hard fought, and they’re fragile.”
“We need to guard them with great care.”
Missed our chat with Dr. Tania Penovic? Catch up on Future Women’s April 10 edition of The Download below.
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