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Why Is Abortion Still Taboo?

In an age where we champion women’s rights, what is it about abortion that we remain hush on?

Having an abortion isn’t exactly the sort of process that a woman wants to go through. In fact, it’s so un-fun that we’ll take just about every possible precaution under the sun to avoid it. We’re marketed the pill, the implant, the IUD, condoms… it’s all thrown in our faces like expensive, sometimes painful solutions to making sure we never ever have to get an abortion.

The word abortion even seems dirty and just typing it out I feel like it’s not something I can say — especially not in a public space like the internet. Even in the marie claire office, which is (as you can imagine) filled with progressive, forward thinking women who proudly call themselves feminists, talking openly about abortion seemed like a sort of NSFW topic that we shouldn’t really broach, especially not amongst colleagues.

But, why?

In an age where literally being naked on the internet is grounds for worldwide fame and near-billionaire status, it seems just about the only topic kept off limits. We proudly show off our bathroom cabinets, touting our skincare routines and sharing with the world how to get rid of unsightly scars, pussy pimples or even rouge hairs. We strip off under the empowering concept of, well, empowerment and grace magazine covers in the nude. We celebrate birthing stories, sharing news of famous women who have beat odds and proudly discuss medical procedures like double mastectomies and hysterectomies. We applaud women for speaking out about sexual assault and sharing their raw, unedited rape stories. We are, on a whole, a society that has come to accept that women are as varied as their stories — and we have become, generally speaking, pretty good at hearing about the suffering and loss of others. And yet, abortion still manages to fly under the radar.

It isn’t a topic that’s bought up lightly. Outside of a close group of friends, it’s unlikely a woman will ever tell her extended networks about having chosen to undergo an abortion. She may not tell even anyone. But according to research, one quarter to one third of all Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime. One third. Those are high statistics.

It doesn’t help that the law isn’t exactly on our side. In NSW, abortion is still illegal, with the only way to obtain one is by getting a doctor to signify a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk. For young or religious women, this could be enough of a barrier. Plus, with safe access zone laws still not passed in some Australian states, even getting inside a clinic to receive an abortion is a risk.

And while stigmas around women and their bodies might be lifting, it seems even progressive women struggle with the concept of speaking out about abortions. With all the contemplating and often emotional trauma that comes with considering and then following through with an abortion, it’s not exactly the sort of issue you want to go through alone — but once it’s done, it’s as if it never happened. At least, that’s what our culture has cultivated.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we post about our abortions on social media, scream it from the rooftops or contact A Current Affair about our recovery process — it’s still an issue with significant opposition, both institutional and cultural — but a little more conversation around it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Normalisation is always the key to moving forward. Once upon a time, Hollywood stars never would have opened up about their experiences with sexual harassment. Today, it’s a bona fide movement.

So while, no, abortion shouldn’t have to be your go-to dinner conversation topic, it certainly wouldn’t be too hard for us as a society to loosen up a little about the realities of it. Because let’s be honest, if a third of all men were getting abortions, we wouldn’t have to shop around for contraceptive. It would just work in the first place.

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