The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Greens MP Tells Of Abortion As Victorian State Govt Prepares Decriminalisation Bill

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 19, 2008

On the day that the State Government of Victoria is likely to introduce a bill to decriminalise abortion in this state – yes, it’s still in the Crimes Act – Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland has spoken out about her own experience of abortion, when she fell pregnant aged 22:

“The timing was just completely wrong,” Ms Hartland says now, almost 30 years later.

Raised a Catholic, she could never tell her family. She confided in a couple of people, stored the memory away and for many years did not speak of it again.


For several months she thought about whether she wanted to tell her story. In the end, she decided it might help shatter the taboo that remains. And she is opposed to any move to restrict access to late abortions that take place after 24 weeks, the model the Government is tipped to go for.

“Leaving it in the criminal code means that somehow when you do this it’s wrong … and I think these things should be out in the open and people should not be judged,” she says.

Ms Hartland goes on to explain that, having been raised in a poor family, she knew that there was no way she and her partner – who was 24 and working in a factory; Hartland was working as a cleaner – could support and raise a child.

I think it’s great that Ms Hartland has spoken out about this, as it demonstrates that abortion is not something taken lightly by women and their partners, and that, well, it can “happen” to anyone – even respectable politicians.

There are still so many people who see abortion as “emergency contraception”, or as something that is undertaken willy nilly by irresponsible girls who have gotten themselves into a bit of a pickle. Too few people realise that, as emotive as the idea of falling pregnant can be, a child is not necessarily a precious gift – what’s more irresponsible, terminating a pregnancy, or having a baby when you know you can’t afford to care for it (either physically, emotionally or financially – or all three)?


11 Responses to “Greens MP Tells Of Abortion As Victorian State Govt Prepares Decriminalisation Bill”

  1. I’m only going to comment on a portion of what you wrote.

    You said, “There are still so many people who see abortion as “emergency contraception”…

    I that is the line abortion opponents frequently use, but it is false. Think about it. What kind of person would use this extreme measure lightly?

    Perhaps there are a few very… um… mentally challenged (?) women that have done and will do that, but the vast majority of women deserve the respect that says they should have control over their reproductive life.



  2. Clem Bastow said

    Tom, this is a feminist blog – you don’t actually think I agree with the line you’ve highlighted, do you?

    And if you think that society is by and large enlightened and accepting when it comes to abortion, well, I’d love to live where you do.

  3. mscate said

    The very thing that annoys me is that the MP had to disclose personal information in order to give her support of the bill some type of legitimacy.

  4. I think it’s fabulous. I admit, when I first clicked on the article I expected to be irritated by endless cloying descriptions of emotional turmoil. I thought it wonderful that she acknowledged it was something for which in one respect she had absolutely no regrets.

    I think it’s telling as well that she doesn’t have children now, and hasn’t felt the need to apologise for that.

    I’m going to write her an email of support and I suggest we all take five minutes to do the same. From personal experience, she’ll be receiving an awful lot of vile hate mail right about now, mainly focusing on the fact that she isn’t engaged in hand wringing and self recrimination.

  5. Tom – how many abortions must a woman have before it constitutes ’emergency contraception’? Two? Three? Does it only count if she’s failed to use a condom or the Pill before getting pregnant?

    I have a real problem with even well intentioned people mentioning the emergency contraception line as something that perhaps a small percentage of ‘mentally challenged’ women would use.

    We agree that abortion should be legal and it should be the business of nobody but the woman involved. We also agree that in the cases where women have abortions, the foetus is distinctly different from a baby.

    Therefore, except in regards to concerns for a woman’s actual health and the consequences multiple abortions might have for her body, what does it really matter if she has 1 as a result of an accident or 10 as a result of poor planning?

  6. sim said

    Audrey, I agree that that abortion should be legal and it should be the business of nobody but the woman involved. But I don’t agree that it’s completely morally unambiguous precisely because, after a point (and I’m not sure where that point is), I don’t agree that “a foetus is distinctly different from a baby”.

    My view is different to yours, but the practical effect is the same. You think a foetus is not the same as a baby; I think that after a point, the distinction is a mere term of art. Instead, I think we should be expected to deal upfront with what it is we’re doing. I wouldn’t expect to be guilt-free of I aborted a viable baby – but I might do it anyway. But because of my ambivalence, I do everything reasonable to prevent unwanted pregnancies from happening in the first time.

    Women are entitled to have differing views about what is and what isn’t right when it comes to their bodies. I think it’s a mistake for you to make statements about what “we” believe.

  7. Clem,

    I only highlighted the portion because it was in the article.

    My point is only the people who are radically opposed to abortion ever see the issue through the lens of “its emergency contraceptive”. If that view is so pravelent of women considering abortion I challenge you or them to give me 100 links of women who have said as much. Out of the thousands of abortions that occur per day in the world this should not be a huge task- but it is, because women that use abortion as contraceptive either do not exist at all or are very, very few in number.


    Read above. I believe the “emergency contraceptive” line is a red harring those people against abortion use to draw attention away from the true facts of what abortion is- which is a very difficult, gut wrenching decision. No appreciable population of women any where in the world actually use it for contraceptive. You know that and so do I. So what’s your beef with what I said?



  8. audrey said

    Hi Tom. I don’t have a beef with what you said – I think you and Clem and I all agree that the argument about emergency contraceptive is dumb.* I was just taking you up on the comment that if there are women who would do it, it would only be a small percentage and they would be have to be ‘mentally challenged’. Perhaps I was being pedantic. I think there are women who take a very practical view of abortion and don’t consider it a difficult, gut wrenching decision. I’m not saying this is what you feel, but I don’t think those women are any more deserving of suspicion than a woman who accidentally falls pregnant and wrestles with the decision.

    Sim – You’re right. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said ‘we’. At the very least, I should have said ‘IF we’. I apologise. I also agree that after a certain point a baby becomes viable, but I suppose because the numbers of late term abortions are so minimal I tend to focus solely on abortions that occur when a baby really is just a foetus (in my eyes).

    *as an aside, dumb is the best word. No one can argue with it.

  9. Leah said

    On the issue of ‘viable babies’ – I was interested to see the different options before parliament, one was that abortion be legal at any stage of the pregnancy, another was that it be legal until 24 weeks into the pregnancy, and possibly afterwards.

    I am pro choice, but late term abortions are an interesting question. If the foetus could survive outside the mother’s body, does it then qualify as a baby? I’m remembering a story I heard (presumably true but perhaps not) about a woman in China who was forced to have an abortion at eight months because of the one child policy, as she’d already had one child. I remember thinking two things: firstly, how horrific to have a forced abortion, and secondly, surely the baby could have survived as a premature, one month early birth if that had been possible?

    So this led me to think about the ethical dilema of a woman wanting an abortion at 8 months, 3 weeks into the pregnancy? Admittedly this is very unlikely, but still, I was interested to interogate my own pro choice stance with this difficult question. I can’t decide on this thorny question, as I think that an eight month, 3 week foetus is in reality a baby that could survive outside the mother’s body, but on the other hand I am loathe to support any law on late term abortions that would determine in some black and white way what women can do with their bodies.

    I got this from

    ‘a doctor would decide if a late termination was “appropriate” based on the woman’s physical, psychological and social circumstances and with the backing of a second opinion. “Social, psychological and physical could be read to be issues of income, issues of poverty, issues of incest, issues of rape, issues of a whole range of different things,” Victorian Health Minister Daniel Andrews said.’

    This leads me on to an argument I HATE, that is, that abortion is only ok when the woman has been a victim of incest or rape – this argument is so clearly about judging women’s behaviour rather than being about the foetus. Some people act as if it is a ‘moderate’ position when in my opinion it is based on some idea that rape victims ‘couldn’t help it’ and therefore deserve rights that other women, who consentingly ‘got themselves into trouble in the first place’ should be denied. It makes my blood boil in its implicit judgement of women’s behaviour.

  10. sim said

    Hey I wrote an email to Colleen Hartland (at Audrey’s suggestion) and got a lovely reply from one of her staffers in return. He said she’s actually been getting lots of emails in support, which is great to hear.

    I also emailed my local member in support of the bill and he wrote back that he had already called Ms Hartland to express his admiration for her public stance, and that he was going to vote for the bill.


  11. audrey said

    Sim, that’s great!

    I got a lovely email from one of her staffers too. Unfortunately I can’t really email my local member because I’m in SA so it wouldn’t make much difference…

    My friend was heading to Parliament yesterday to sit in the gallery. Apparently it was already being packed by protestors.

    Leah, I share your confusion over late term abortions and especially your anger over the moral judgement on which abortions are okay.

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