Writer-Counselor-Wellbeing Coach

Abortion coercion admitted

Relevant section of hearing available here

On 12th September Dr Carol Portman, one of Queensland’s only later term abortion providers spoke at a Committee Hearing for the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.  When asked if she had ever experienced a woman attending for termination who may be experiencing her coercion, her response revealed all that typifies abortion discourse.  A discourse that upholds the concept of ‘abortion rights’ above all else, even a woman’s right to be free from coercion, to be entitled to the highest standards of ethical medical care and the right to say ‘no’.  

Portman says:

“Sometimes even in the best of circumstances we understand that a person is to a degree being coerced but feel they still need to go ahead.. because it’s their only choice, because otherwise this person will leave them, and their 4 kids (for example).    it’s very hard to know what to do in those circumstances so you go ahead with what their choice is even though to a degree they are being coerced.

Note that not one of the politicians in this hearing committee questioned this doctor about why she would perform an abortion on a knowingly coerced woman.

Let’s try this approach this in other settings:

  • A woman attends to undergo a breast enlargement saying her boyfriend is going to leave her if she doesn’t have it so she feels like she has to.
  • A woman requests a tubal ligation saying her husband is going to leave her if she doesn’t have it done, even though she isn’t really sure.
  • A woman says she is having sex every night with her husband or one of his friends, even though she doesn’t really want to, but feels she has to because he will leave her otherwise.

In each case the woman says this is her ‘choice’ while also talking about ‘not really wanting to’.

I wonder how many doctors would proceed with a cosmetic surgery procedure or a tubal ligation when a woman is clearly expressing doubt or clearly expressing that her partner is pressuring her and she is consenting under coercion?

How many people would accept that a woman having unwanted sex with any person because she is fearful of abandonment or threats of violence is okay?

For more than a decade we have been talking about both direct and indirect forms of coercion toward abortion, and abortion advocates and providers have denied coercion exists or simply stated that if they identified that a woman was coerced an abortion wouldn’t be performed.

It's not that big a leap from 'my husband will leave me or hit me' to 'I don't have enough money' or 'I will lose my job' or 'my school will kick me out'.   Yet these types of situations would make up the bulk of those experienced by women seeking abortion and we still dress them up as 'choice'. 

I have dozens of cases in front of me of women who experienced coercion to abort, both overt and subtle, from partners, mothers, employers and inside abortion clinics by doctors.   Such coercion can be direct threats, threats to withdraw support or lose jobs.  They include women who are pressured to abort after being told they aren’t possibly capable to providing for this baby and still support other children.  They are also women who cried in front of the abortion provider saying they were unsure or they didn’t want to do it.

At least now if nothing else comes out of the Queensland hearings, these women’s stories are validated by Portman’s revelation.   

  • Abortion providers do abortions on women they know are not fully consenting.
  • They do not care about the exercise of the woman’s right to freely choose.
  • Abortion ‘rights’ are not about women’s rights to autonomy, freedom or control of her own life.
  • They do not abide by the most basic tenet of informed consent; that is that a person must be free from coercion and able to exercise his/her own will.

How much more evidence is needed by our politicians and the public that abortion is not serving the needs of women when even abortion providers admit to completely ignoring coercion? In the same hearing, the Director of Marie Stopes, Philip Goldstone states that his organisation is currently working to develop tools to assess for coercion.  I have to wonder for what purpose, when it appears to make no difference whether consent is free or coerced anyway.  

We must do better than this for women.  Every state should be revisiting their abortion law in light of this confirmed information that coercion both exists, and is ignored by those who should be held to a higher ethical standard.

Briefing paper on Abortion Coercion


  1. Rob McCahill

    Is there a way to get this response from Dr Portman into a short clip that can be spread far and wide? At the moment I feel like we are “preaching to the choir” and people have pretty much made up their minds – but the issue of coercion has never been properly addressed in the media and the public discourse because of the dishonesty that surrounds abortion.

    • Debbie Garratt

      Hi Rob, there is a link to the parliamentary website in the commentary however I’ve just also uploaded the relevant section separately and linked it. Deb

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