When I talk to Dr. Jane Baird, she tells me the story of a 17-year-old girl she met not too long ago.
The 17-year-old had come into her clinic seeking a safe abortion. She had been sexually assaulted walking home from TAFE one night. With only her mother in-tow, the young girl’s visit was shrouded in secrecy. She was from a Muslim family, and both mother and daughter knew that if her father were to find out, she would no longer be living in their home.
Before I can articulate how much the story hurts my heart, she tells me another one. A young mother-of-two in her early 30s comes to Dr. Baird’s clinic. She too is looking for access to a safe abortion. Some hundreds of kilometres away in another state sits her husband in a chair of a different hospital, receiving chemotherapy for melanoma. Between caring for her husband and looking after her two children, the young mum knows a baby can’t come into the world this way.
Dr. Jane Baird has stories like these two that roll off her tongue. After all, she’s been an abortion provider for 16 years now, working at Marie Stopes in Melbourne, and providing safe abortions for women across the country.
It was only through a chance meeting with a couple of nurses who worked in an abortion clinic themselves that Dr. Baird saw a need for abortion providers across the state. So she became one of them, making the jump from rural general practice to one of the few doctors in our country who are determined to ensure women of all ages and all backgrounds have access to terminations.
In my conversation with Dr. Baird, I realise two things. Firstly, that her job is one that is crucial for all women across Australia and secondly, that it’s a remarkably thankless job to do.
After all, if she’s sitting next to someone on a plane, does she tell them what she does?
“I’m always apprehensive about it, ” she says. “I keep it vague, often telling people I work in women’s health or day surgery. I have had some interesting conversations with people when I have told them about the work that I do.
“It’s interesting, the minute I say it, they feel obligated to provide their ethical viewpoint on abortions, as if in telling them what I do, I’m asking them what they think.”