WEL has campaigned for universally accessible contraception and the removal of abortion from criminal codes since 1972.
Decriminalisation of abortion was central to our 1972 platform and election scorecard to measure candidate commitment to women’s equality.
Opponents of women’s rights, including those who want to roll back rights already gained, always target the right for women to make decisions about when and whether to have a child. WEL is always vigilant against threats to these rights. We can never be complacent on this front.
In the last decade we have worked closely with sister feminist organisations, medical and legal expert groups and feminist MPs to successfully oppose foetal personhood bills supported by religiously conservative groups to undermine women’s reproductive autonomy.
Since 2019 we have made five submissions to state and federal inquiries against a suite of religious discrimination and ‘parental rights’ bills. These bills would strengthen the power of religious hospitals and medical practitioners to deny access to basic reproductive health care and weaken sex and sexuality education. We have campaigned alongside peak legal and gender rights groups as well as our allied feminist organisations.
WEL's reproductive rights reform work focuses on legislation that gives women access to reproductive services including accessible safe and affordable abortion, autonomy over their own bodies, universally available contraception and related women’s health issues.
On 26 September 2019, the NSW Parliament made history by decriminalising abortion, overturning a 119 year old section of the Crimes Act. This was the culmination of a campaign initiated and carefully planned by WEL over 3 years.
We assembled expert advice and seasoned feminist advocates for a tough and hard fought campaign. In December 2018 we joined feminist partners Women’s Health NSW and Family Planning NSW in the NSW Pro Choice Alliance, led by WEL founder Wendy McCarthy. Nine months later we won.
Surmounting entrenched opposition to abortion law reform in Australia’s most conservative parliament marked a significant milestone for Australian women’s health rights. This big win in NSW, together with Queensland which decriminalised abortion in 2018, was a watershed moment for women’s equality and a testament to our campaign mantra, Trust the Women. The victory in NSW and in 2021 the full decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia, means that abortion is now fully decriminalised in all jurisdictions.
See WEL’s Federal Election Policy Platform on women’s health and well-being.
Why we need a national commitment to women’s health
The ongoing Covid health crisis has hit women hard
The COVID pandemic has exacerbated domestic and family violence, employment and housing insecurity in combination with a dramatically increased burden of care.
Women have suffered in ways that will have long term implications for their health and well-being. In particular the evidence on the links between domestic and family violence, sexual assault and poor health, including trauma is overwhelming.
Abortion is legal, contraceptives are available but cost, location and inadequate training hamper access
Access to reproductive health services in Australia is still seriously hampered by the cost and limited geographical accessibility of privatised abortion care with terminations not easily available via public hospitals in most states.
Knowledge about and access to the best contraceptive options is also limited. The ability of women and girls to control their fertility is essential to health and empowerment and to achieving gender equality. Unrestricted and free access, based on health practitioner support and advice on the full range of contraceptive options should not be constrained by costs or unnecessary barriers.
Access to reproductive health services is restricted by limited training of GPs, with serious underutilization of health practitioners, especially nurses and pharmacists in menstrual pain and menopause management, contraceptive options and medical and emergency abortion.
Profound disparities in women’s reproductive health care persist for women in rural and socio-economically disadvantaged areas, younger women, women experiencing violence and those from diverse backgrounds.
Aboriginal communities need Aboriginal designed and delivered maternity care
There is strong evidence that health services designed and run by Aboriginal communities which draw on cultural knowledge and practices are the best foundation for improving Aboriginal women’s health outcomes. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) report emphasised the power of Aboriginal controlled birthing on country.
The 2021/2022 Budget ignored Aboriginal controlled women’s domestic violence legal services as well as Aboriginal controlled birthing services. Commonwealth funded research on ‘Birthing in our Community’ programs led by Aboriginal medical researchers has shown such services can halve the rate of preterm births for Aboriginal women.
Young people are crying out for consent and sexuality education but the need doesn’t stop with young people.
Priority area 1 of the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30 commits to promoting ‘access to resources for students and parents to learn more about sexual and reproductive health’.
The 2021-22 Budget failed to mention or fund this priority women’s health commitment. High quality sexuality and consent education has increased urgency in the context of extensive evidence of young women’s experiences of sexual assault and the current uneven quality of this education, including programs produced by the Federal Government.
WEL’s 2022 Federal Election Policy Platform on Education advocates that the Federal Government delivers on this priority through a funded roll out of a national schools program. To support gender equity the broader Australian community also needs expert and up to date information on sexual and reproductive health care information, diagnosis, treatment and services.
There is extensive evidence of the negative impact on women and girls of inadequate information on menstruation, the shame still associated with menstruation and limited access to menstruation products, as well as the severe impact of pain from menstruation and associated conditions such as endometriosis.
Recent research in Australia highlights that menstrual health needs tailored and community led responses building on the knowledge of Indigenous Australians. Women suffering poverty and marginalised cultural communities as well as communities that are remotely located need expert and culturally sensitive support in understanding menstruation as a normal occurrence and in acknowledging and treating conditions such as pain and endometriosis linked with menstruation.