Tasmanian women undergo either surgical or medical abortions for all sorts of reasons, yet access in the state remains confusing and complicated. Here, four Tasmanian women share their stories of the procedure – despite the stigma that still exists around abortion – because they aren’t ashamed of their choice.
‘I never thought that I would get one’
Renee Gray now has two children, aged one and two. She and her boyfriend both always wanted children, and raising their son and daughter together has been a dream come true.
But when she fell pregnant in 2014, they both knew at that time they were not ready – mentally or financially – to be parents.
“It was a real shock, because I was on the pill,” she said.
“I never thought I’d have one, but I guess you just never know what you’re going to want until you’re in that situation.
“I actually remember we had a debate when I was in college, about abortion – and I was fully against it. One of the girls in my class was like, ‘How do you know you won’t need it?’ And I was like ‘I just know that I’m never going to need one’. I was so strong in my belief because I knew I wanted to be a mum, and I just never thought that I would get pregnant before I was ready.
“I didn’t know that you can be doing everything right, and as long as you’re having sex, you can get pregnant.”
She went to Headspace, who gave her information about the two clinics open in the state at the time. Launceston was booked out, so she went to Hobart for a surgical termination, with her boyfriend’s sister driving the three of them to the city for the day.
Then, a few months later, she fell pregnant again. She believes the batch of contraceptive pills she was taking at the time must have been faulty.
“I was so careful, making sure I was taking it at the same time every day – it’s just luck of the draw, I guess,” she said.
That time, she was able to get into the Launceston clinic.
“[Both times] they were lovely, and it was a really quick thing – they put you under general anesthetic so you don’t really remember the actual process,” she said. “It was quick and easy. I was really annoyed when I saw both the Launceston and Hobart clinics have closed. It may as well not be legal, if they’re going to make it so that you can’t get one if you need one.”
‘My employer made me get one’
This woman wanted to remain anonymous to protect the identity of the man who paid for her to go to Melbourne for an abortion – her boss, when she was working in a Launceston retail store in the seventies. But she wants to share her story because it shows how powerful the stigma around abortion has been for a long time.
She was 16 years old when she fell pregnant to her boyfriend.
“My boss found out, and he was horrified,” she said. He said, ‘women who work with us – we won’t tolerate it. We’ve put too much work into you, so we’re going to send you off to Melbourne, you’re going to have a termination, and that’s all there is to it’.
“There was no discussion with my parents, or how I felt about it. And I was so naive, I just went along with it.”
It was only her second trip interstate in her life. She went by herself, past the protesters with their placards screaming at her, returned the same day, and put the whole experience in a box, somewhere in the back of her mind.
“I still just find it amazing that sort of behaviour can happen,” she said. “I was just a child.”
‘I was sent to a clinic that didn’t exist’
Georgia Ingall took a pregnancy test as a joke. When it came back positive, she “didn’t have time to think”.
“I was like, ‘I can’t even consider [having a baby].” she said. “Like, I have no money. I’m constantly moving houses. I don’t feel very stable just by myself.”
She went straight to an after-hours clinic in Hobart – where the GP gave her a referral for a clinic that had closed about two years previously. She went to a second GP, who had a crucifix hanging on his door and who tried to convince her to keep the baby. The third doctor she saw – a gynecologist – was sensitive and professional, and booked her in for surgery within a matter of days, although it cost her over $1000, and she had to borrow the money. But the “insane” experience has made her passionate about abortion access in Tasmania.
“I had no idea how hard it was going to be,” she said. “There were a lot of hoops – and now, I understand it’s even trickier, because my friends are going through the steps, and it’s a headf*** for them trying to figure out where to go.”
She said the surgery itself was the least stressful part of her ordeal in trying to get the abortion.
“You have to make all these calls and you keep hitting dead ends – and it shouldn’t be this hard,” she said. “Why did I get sent to a clinic that had closed? You’re supposed to trust doctors, but even they don’t know.
“I felt sad, like I had the blues, but that’s because I felt humiliated.”
‘I can’t think of anything as painful’
Abby Saunders could tell she was pregnant early. Usually a night owl, she was suddenly tired all the time. She was nauseous and light-headed, started feeling repulsed by food and drink she normally liked, and was getting constant cravings for specific fruits and vegetables. Her suspicions were confirmed with a pregnancy test.
“I have never felt younger than when I found out I was pregnant,” she said. “I felt like such a child. Like, ‘I am not ready for this’.
“My friend’s partner came home, and he was saying, ‘You know you don’t have to … you know you can keep it’. And as soon as he said that I was like, ‘No’. That’s not right for me.”
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She called the Tabbott Foundation: a national abortion service that consulted over the phone, organised local ultrasounds and blood tests, and mailed out the abortion pill – called RU486, or mifepristone. It has closed, but the 2020 equivalent is Marie Stopes or Abortion Online.
“They were just absolutely so helpful and lovely,” Ms Saunders said. “It was just an easy process, I can’t speak highly enough of it. It’s really such a good option, and I don’t like the idea of a surgical one, because it just seems so invasive. But the physical process didn’t go so well for me…”
Within a couple of hours of taking the pill, the symptoms of Ms Saunders’ pregnancy had abated. She felt her energy and her clarity of mind returning, after weeks of haziness and exhaustion. She then started experiencing the symptoms of the medical abortion: vomiting, heavy bleeding, and pain in her reproductive system. She lay in bed, frequently changing a pad and showering, and waited for it to pass. After a few days, she felt completely back to normal.
Then, over a month later, Ms Saunders was in a spa with some friends when she suddenly got a “horrendous pain” in her stomach. She went to the toilet to discover a “chunk of membrane” making its way into the bowl.
“The pain was insane – I guess it was the kind of pain I would have been experiencing if I wasn’t on the paracetamol and codeine [when she took the RU486],” she said. “I could barely walk. I can’t think of anything I’ve had that’s been as painful as that.”
Her friends took her to her partner’s house, where she had blood-thinning medication and pain relief from the time she originally took the pill. She called the Tabbott Foundation, received advice, and waited it out. The complication was unusual, and she thinks it may have something to do with an ovarian cyst the “size of an orange” that was discovered when she had her ultrasound.
And she never doubts that she made the right decision.
“I want to have, like, seven [children] one day,” she said. “Well, max seven, minimum two. But I want to be the best person I can possibly be and learn everything that I want to teach my kids.”