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After the trauma, here is how Australia can work to address reproductive injustices

Introduction by Croakey: The United States Supreme Court’s decision to reverse 50 years of constitutional protection for the right to have an abortion has provoked intense global concern and discussions about reproductive rights.

In Australia, the health sector now has an opportunity to reshape reproductive healthcare, drawing upon a true understanding of colonial history and a respectful engagement with community expertise, write Brenna Bernardino and Bonney Corbin, from MSI Australia.

“Communities need to lead the path of healing from past reproductive injustices to self-define reproductive health, rights and justice,” they say.


Brenna Bernardino and Bonney Corbin write:

People across Australia continue to rally against reproductive injustice in the United States. Yet is Australia any better?

Australia is a country that was founded on reproductive violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Colonial violence has involved genocide, forced removals of children, institutionalisation and medicalisation.

This injustice continues today in many ways.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be removed from their parents, some of whom are imprisoned as young as 12.

Women, trans and non-binary people with disability continue to experience coercion towards contraception and hysterectomy, under a guise of ‘menstrual hygiene’.

Migrant and refugee people, particularly those on temporary visas, continue to self-fund or face lengthy waits times for maternal healthcare.

What would it take to reshape Australia’s health systems? Here we explain four key areas for the health sector to consider.

1. Allow time for community development

There are communities across Australia who have experienced intergenerational reproductive injustice. They are First Nations, disabled, LGBTIQAP+, sex workers, incarcerated, migrants and refugees. It is time to make space, listen and hear.

#RoeVWade has opened conversations across kitchen tables, backyard barbeques and workplace lunchrooms. The collective movement for abortion rights has motivated some people to participate in online activism or rallies for the very first time. They are speaking out for what they want, for their own bodies, lives and communities.

This is self-determination.

Our communities need time and space to develop their own narratives on this topic, to think about what this means on a personal level. This needs to be led by people within communities, at dinners, book clubs, poetry readings, organically and in their own ways.

2. Co-design health literacy content

In the past few weeks there have been hundreds of Australian publications on abortion access in news and social media. With the sea of information, there has been a great deal of misinformation.

There is confusion over the difference between medical and surgical abortion, about what informed consent means and what health rights are (and are not). Organisations with access to clinical knowledge alongside health consumer advisors, can use this opportunity to communicate facts.

Collaboratively design and distribute health information on reproductive health, including abortion, adoption, care and kinship care. Highlight intersections with miscarriage, birthing on country and other reproductive rituals across cultures. This may mean platforming Elders, First Nations researchers and community groups who had been doing this work long before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

3. Understand and empower regions

The time is now for state and territory governments to undertake reviews of sexual and reproductive health equity in their regions. There are more questions than answers.

What reproductive injustices have occurred in your region? Which Elders and community leaders are involved in health consumer forums, health boards and committees? What opportunities do they have to co-design sexual and reproductive health initiatives?

Where in your region is there access to low or no cost sexual and reproductive healthcare? Which mental health workers in your region provide culturally safe pregnancy options counselling? Which universities in your region have sexual and reproductive health content in their medicine, nursing and midwifery courses?

4. Strategise national collaboration

The next Medicare Benefits Schedule review must reassess item numbers relating to both medical and surgical abortion. Consider how item numbers could better resource counselling, cultural safety, and responses to reproductive coercion.

Make the reproductive health links between the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Their Children, the National Women’s Health Strategy (2020-2030) and the National Preventative Health Strategy (2021-2030).

If we can’t make strong links between existing strategies, we will need to bridge the gap with a National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy authored by leaders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Identify and incentivise workforce solutions, enable leadership by the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, and the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association. Collaborate across regions, monitor and share best practice with leadership from Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

It is important to resource those who have experienced historic reproductive injustice to lead solutions.

Australia continues to be one country amongst many progressing the global trend towards reproductive rights. As we define what reproductive rights look like in the Australian context, let’s take this opportunity to reallocate power.

This is a time for the health sector to pause, listen and hear.

Communities need to lead the path of healing from past reproductive injustices to self-define reproductive health, rights and justice.

The authors

Brenna Bernardino (she/her), pictured below left, is the Health Communications Officer at MSI Australia. She is Timorese, Portuguese, and Torres Strait Islander. She has worked in research across Indigenous health, health promotion and sexual health in Australia and the United States.

Bonney Corbin (she/they) is the Head of Policy at MSI Australia, Chair of the Australian Women’s Health Network and a board member at Genetic Alliance Australia. Bonney is Channel Islander, Irish and Scottish. She’s disabled and part of various LGBTIQAP+ communities and networks.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on women’s health