Case of the inconceivable

Struggle Street, the erroneously labelled “poverty porn” SBS documentary about the shocking lives of three families in Sydney’s Mount Druitt, was confronting viewing. The series was as good as a Ken Loach, whose Cathy Come Home (1966) depicted homelessness in England.

But Struggle Street is not Eng­land 1966. It is Australia, a half century on, in one of the richest countries, with one of the most progressive tax systems, one of the most generous benefits systems and more charity than ever. It is also a half century since the feminist revolution. It does not get any better than this for the underclass and for women.

But there she was, the pregnant Billie Jo, sitting on the toilet sucking on a bong. Billie Jo was pregnant to a lifelong drug addict, the pitiful Bob. How SBS gained permission to film any of this is beyond belief but film it it did.

Two cheers to Mia Freedman of Mamamia for her comment on Struggle Street : “Our priority as a society must be to remove children from parents who cannot take care of them. I’m not big on second chances.” Her policy declaration on Billie Jo seems consistent with Mamamia philosophies: a no-tolerance policy on abuse; women’s rights to control their own bodies; and, above all else, the rights of the child.

So, Billie Jo cops a scolding and a penalty for drug abuse. Tick philosophy No 1. The serial drug-addled woman gets to control her own body by having a child. Tick No 2. And Billie Jo has her child taken to protect the rights of the child. Tick No 3.

But three ticks do not a policy make. It seems to me the right to procreate has overridden the best interests of the child. What to do when the woman wants a child but abuses the child by having the child?

No child should be born to a parent or parents unable or unwilling to care for them. Billie Jo’s welfare history was not reported but I do not doubt that she, her mother and Bob were long-term welfare beneficiaries.

While she was on a benefit Billie Jo should have been on a long-acting reversible contraceptive. The same should have applied to Bob were such available.

The reluctance to prevent is widespread. Earlier this year, a judge of the British Court of Protection declared that a woman, identified as DD, lacked capacity to make decisions on contraception and that it was in her best interests to undergo sterilisation.

The judge ordered authorities to convey her to hospital for the sterilisation, and “authorise the use of reasonable and proportionate measures to ensure that she is able to receive the said treatment even if any deprivation of liberty is caused by the same”. This was a shocking and troubled case.

DD was a 36-year-old woman with an IQ of 70. She had had six children, aged between six months and 12 years, all of whom were being reared by permanent carers. On what grounds did the judge order her to be sterilised against her will? “The risk to (DD) of a future pregnancy … is highly likely to lead to her death.”

Brave call, mate. What about the six children before that? Surely an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Surely, at least in these cases, while in receipt of a benefit, a woman must be placed on contraception. Come on, feminists, let’s have a conversation.

Gary Johns’s book No Contraception, No Dole will be published by Connor Court later this year.