An unexpected pregnancy for some will mean ecstatic joy; for others deep anxiety. My wife and I on a couple of occasions have experienced the latter emotion when a missed period signalled a potential unplanned arrival.
I cannot imagine coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy alone or with an unsupportive partner and/or family.
The contentious issue of abortion has again raised its head with the closing of the last dedicated surgical abortion clinic in Tasmania. Most Tasmanian women are now opting for at-home medical abortions.
The ACL is currently encouraging Tasmanians to write to the Premier and Health Minister asking them to support life at acl.org.au/support
Women’s advocacy groups are demanding surgical abortions be made routinely available in public hospitals just like any other operation. But is abortion really like any other operation?
During the abortion law debate in 2013 Cassy O’Connor accurately described abortion as an ‘agonising choice.’
Whatever one’s views I think everyone would agree on two basic non-negotiables:
- Pregnant women (and their partners) should be fully informed regarding all the options available and any potential consequences of choosing those options.
- There should be a total absence of coercion in the decision.
These sound straightforward on paper but are they playing out in practice?
The short answer I believe is ‘no’ due to the cultural narrative around abortion.
Some of the generally accepted ideas in our current cultural narrative on abortion include:
- An embryo/foetus is not a human.
- Pregnancy termination is void of significant risk.
- Challenging ‘reproductive rights’ is off-limits.
- Abortion is the only real option for those with an unwanted pregnancy.
But are these true? Do they stand up to scientific rigour and are they consistently applied? If they don’t stack up, informed consent and non-coercion can never really be assured.
Let’s look at each separately:
Expectant mothers have no problem referring to their growing embryo/foetus as their baby – no one questions that. Unwanted babies however are dehumanised as a ‘product of conception.’ The inconsistency is glaring. The stage of development should not matter given the trajectory. A Wedge-tailed eagle and her eggsare protected by law; why not developing humans?
Abortion has been affirmed for years as a low risk procedure. Yet there is a significant body of research disputing this.
When considering the psychological evidence alone (there is also considerable research on the physical toll of abortion) the work of those like Emeritus Professor David Fergusson (interestingly a supporter of abortion) cannot be ignored. His 35 year study of 1265 children born in the Christchurch region of New Zealand is dubbed by many as the most ground breaking longitudinal study ever undertaken.
Professor Fergusson has published a number of papers on abortion and its links to mental health. His initial findings published in 2006 in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychologyshowed women who had abortions had about 1.5 times the rate of mental health problems than those who did not.
There was strong opposition to his conclusions yet he felt it"scientifically irresponsible" not to publish them simply because they were controversial (didn’t fit the cultural narrative).
His subsequent research only reinforced these initial findings.
Talk with any pregnancy/post-abortion support group and the truth of his research will be heartily attested to – including the ever rising incidence of coercion.
The third pillar of the cultural narrative centres on the ‘unquestionable rights’ of women to abortion. Such rights can equally be used to oppose abortion:
We believe in a woman's right to control her body, and she deserves this right no matter where she lives, even if she's still living inside her mother's womb (Feminists for Life).
Rights must be challengeable as they should always be considered in conjunction with others’ rights. Most Tasmanians believe the rights of an innocent child are paramount. The majority of those polled in 2013 did not support abortion where there was a healthy baby and mother which is the case in 95% of abortions.
Lastly, the notion that there is no legitimate alternative to terminating an unwanted pregnancy is firmly entrenched in our cultural psyche. Around 70% of women who have an abortion feel they have no alternative. In their journeys I’m sure very few were encouraged to consider adoption as a realistic option.
Yet nearly two out of three Tasmanians polled in 2013 believed that more needed to be done to encourage parenting and adoption instead of abortion.Mothers who choose to adopt out rather than abort their babies need to be applauded. Around 20-30 Tasmanian couples are on adoption waiting lists at any one time.
Abortion is not a routine medical procedure. Mainstreaming abortions in public hospitals will do nothing to correct the current misguided and inconsistent cultural narrative – it will only reinforce it. The truth is abortion kills a baby (and adversely affects mothers); adoption saves a baby.
Government funding should therefore be prioritised towards services that are prepared to support mums to continue their unexpected pregnancy, that offer adoption as a real alternative, ensure women (and their partners) are fully informed and are able to help those experiencing coercion.
An abridged edited version was published in the Mercury, May 15, 2018: