Book Review: Never, Ever, Again… Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa.


Abortion activist Caroline de Costa gets the name for her book from the Queensland trial of young couple Tegan Leach and Sergie Brennan, who were charged with procuring an illegal abortion by using the “controversial abortion drug”, RU486, which is a situation that should happen “never, ever, again” (p. 24).

This unique case garnered so much media attention because it was the first time since 1959 that a woman was charged, under section 225 of the Queensland Criminal Code, with procuring her own abortion. This section of the criminal code hasn’t been changed since it was written… in 1899.

The couple were declared innocent after the trail came to a close on the 14th October last year, but it brought to a head the debate surrounding the aforementioned “controversial abortion drug” RU486.

de Costa has also written another book on RU486, and a lot of that material is rehashed in this publication. Before this case, I only ever thought there were surgical abortions, performed in a hospital using suction. I supported them nonetheless. Now that I’m aware there is an “abortion drug”, which not only assists in the safe termination of pregnancy, but “could help treat, among many other things, certain inoperable brain tumours, breast cancers, burns and, ironically enough, the fertility-inhibiting condition of endometriosis” (p. 151), I’m even more in favour of allowing access to abortion to women who don’t want to be pregnant.

de Costa continues:

“Mifepristone/misoprostol [RU486] is also an effective way of starting labour in women when it is found that the fetus has died in the uterus at any time up to mid-pregnancy, and this is now recommended practice in many countries overseas.

“Mifepristone has also been shown in trials to be useful for Emergency Contraception (EC)” (p. 152).

de Costa is quick to point out that RU486 is not the same as EC, as one assists in abortion while the other prevents an egg being fertilised in the aftermath of unprotected sex.

The drug has also been seen to be effective in small doses as a contraceptive pill, assist in the treatment of Cushing’s syndrome (the “over-production of glucocorticoids”), depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s, arthritis, “certain types of hypertension”, glaucoma, and even HIV and AIDS (p. 152, 154).

But RU486 is only available from a few medical practitioners in a few locations in Australia, hence why Leach and Brennan decided to purchase theirs from overseas. It is also a fairly recent development.

Before medical abortion was available, women tried all sorts of treatments and home remedies to abort their foetuses, a cacophony of which are detailed in Never, Ever, Again. Most of these cases resulted in the desired death of the unborn child, but also in the death of the mother.

Whilst Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Territories have abolished abortion as a crime, Queensland still considers it an illegal and punishable offence. So do, to a lesser extent, Tasmania and South Australia. Seriously, people: when some third world countries have no problem with mifepristone, why should a progressive country such as Australia?

The book talks about the majority of Australians who think abortion should be legal, and how Queensland residents and the media came out in support of Leach and Brennan during their trial. For example, “as journalist Emma Tom wrote in 2009:

“Like many people who believe women should have the right to safe, affordable and legal terminations, I don’t like being described as pro-abortion because it sounds like I think terminations are fabbo things that women should hop into as often as possible. The truth is I’d like to see a whole lot less of them, but via sex education and contraception rather than by robbing women of their right to decide whether they’re up to seeing through a pregnancy” (p. 24).

Now that’s something everyone can agree on, no?

In the final chapter of the book, a recent addition to this second edition, de Costa writes in a much more relatable and personable tone than the rest of the book. Perhaps that’s because the final chapter is an account of the trial of Leach and Brennan, which de Costa attended.

de Costa also repeatedly writes the assertion that abortion should be a matter that exists between a woman, her partner and her doctor, and not the government, the police and the legal system. In the final sentence, de Costa writes:

“It [the second chapter of abortion law reform in Australia] will be written when finally State Premiers and Attorneys-General have the wisdom and courage to remove abortion from the too-hard basket and agree on uniform decriminalization of abortion law across the country. Then, and only then, can abortion truly be a matter for a woman, her partner and her doctor.”

Amen to that!

Related: Melbourne Writers’ Festival: Never, Ever, Again: Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

Image via Fishpond.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—Never, Ever, Again: Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Last year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival was pretty lackluster, and I didn’t attend any events.

This year, however, is jammed packed with hard-hitting seminars, news-related talks and all-day workshops. There are more events I’m interested in than there is money in my pocket.

But to kick things off was a free, no-bookings-necessary book launch at ACMI’s The Cube on Friday afternoon for Caroline de Costa’s second edition of Never, Ever, Again: Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform (review to come in the next few weeks).

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d heard of de Costa before, and just saw the word “abortion” and knew I had to attend!

However, when the author began speaking about the abortion drug RU486, I remembered reading her work a few weeks ago on MamaMia, and featuring said article in “On the (Rest of the) Net”. It is an article I recommend checking out wholeheartedly.

In this article, De Costa asserts that we need to increase sex education and access to contraceptives in order to bring Australia’s high abortion rate down.

In de Costa’s address at the event, she said no woman enjoys having an abortion and that there’s “no such thing” as “pro-abortion”, an assertion that I don’t 100% agree with, but I do think it is a damaging label pro-lifers sometimes paint pro-choicers with.

Ultimately, de Costa says we “should be concerned about the health and safety of every pregnant woman” as opposed to the biologically dependent mass of “unwanted tissue” in her body.

The other speakers at the event—the MC whose name I didn’t catch, long-time pro-choicer Dr. Jo Wainer, former Minister for Women’s Affairs from 2007 to 2010, Maxine Morand, and Dr. Chris Bayly from the Royal Women’s Hospital—reiterated de Costa’s sentiments in her book, that the “hidden business that is women’s business” of abortion needs to be destigmatised and legalised in order to increase access to safe pregnancy terminations.

Finally, the revised edition of the book includes an extra chapter on the Queensland trial of Tegan Leach and Sergie Brennan, who were charged with procuring an illegal abortion in 2009 when they purchased the drug RU486.

Dr. Wainer noted that when Leach was on the stand being questioned as to why she felt the need to abort her baby, it was the “21st century equivalent of putting women in the stocks”. Or burning at the stake for her “crimes”, if you will.

It’s something that, as the book’s title suggests, should happen never, ever, again.

That’s why abortion law in Australia needs to be reformed.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

Private Practice: Pro-Choice?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] RU486, Sex Education & Contraception. That’s All We Need.

[MamaMia] The Couple Facing Jail Because They Tried to “Procure an Abortion”. Hello, Queensland? It’s 2010.

[Televisual] The Changing Economics of the TV Abortion.

Image via Melbourne Writers’ Festival.