Shedding a light on
late term abortions
On Tuesday 17 June 2014 the Hon Nick Goiran MLC devoted his speech on the budget papers to, as he put it, “shine a light on a hidden part of our governance garden, an area that is cloaked in secrecy, concealed and hidden from view … where bad things happen and, worse, at this time is not subject to any scrutiny or accountability.”
Mr Goiran began by recounting the stories of 18 month old William Gonzalez and 23 year old Meghan Roswick as reported by 60 Minutes on Thursday 8 May.1
“William Gonzalez, [is] an 18-month old boy who is exploring the world, doing all the things that little 18-month-old boys do and bringing delight to everyone around him. Little William also has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and he is only alive today because his parents defied medical advice. You see, Mr President, they were told by their doctor that they had a non-viable pregnancy and that they needed to terminate. No other option was given. William’s parents were told that their baby would have no quality of life and that he would be a burden to everyone. It is hard to believe, when we see little William feeding the ducks, sliding down a slide and nestling into his mum’s embrace to fall asleep, that this delightful little boy has anything wrong with his health.”
“Meghan Roswick [is] a 23-year-old dynamo. If ever anyone was living life to the full, Meghan Roswick is a prime example. She has played gymnastics and soccer; she skateboards and skis; she recently went skydiving for the first time; and she is currently training for a half marathon. She is full of zest and full of life and has hypoplastic–left heart syndrome.”
Mr Goiran then informed the House that “since 2001, 12 Western Australian babies with hypoplastic–left heart syndrome were terminated after 20 weeks of pregnancy. To take and amend a line from Hamlet, ‘Something is rotten in the state of Western Australia’. These 12 young children will never reach their potential; they will never feed ducks, try skateboarding or have an opportunity to achieve anything, let alone live. Sadly, they are not the only ones.”
He then reported that with the assistance of the Minister for Health, the Hon Dr Kim Hames MLA and the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, the Hon Alyssa Hayden MLC he had been able to examine data reported to the Abortion Notification System between November 2001 and July 2013 giving the reason for abortions performed at 20 weeks or later in Western Australia.
“[O]f the 474 [late term] abort-ions performed since November 2001, 52 were for spina bifida and 35 for Down’s syndrome. Other conditions clearly compatible with life were given as allegedly justifying the abortion. There were four cases of skeletal dysplasia, another word for dwarfism. There was one case of what is referred to as ‘lobster claw’, which is, of course, only a hand defect, and one case of upper limb abnormalities. The mind is blown away when one considers that there could ever be a situation in a civilised society when a baby’s life would be terminated because of an upper limb abnormality. After all, what would be the worst form of an upper limb abnormality—perhaps no arm at all?
“Lastly, I draw the attention of the house to one case that was justified by what is referred to as 47XYY syndrome. This is a minor chromosomal disorder whereby males with an extra Y chromosome will have normal sexual development and are able to father children.”
Mr Goiran then cited extracts from the debate in the Legislative Assembly in 1998 when the provision allowing abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later subject to specific requirements was introduced. The Hon Kim Hames MLA (then Minister for Housing) explained the intent of the provision:
“No-one in this Chamber would support aborting a healthy child after 20 weeks’ gestation. We are referring to those pregnancies currently performed at King Edward Memorial Hospital where the life of the mother would be in severe jeopardy if the pregnancy were to be continued.
“The case raised earlier by the Health Minister involved a patient of mine who had breast cancer. She was unable to undergo treatment and had other children at home. She chose to have the birth induced. There was no attempt at termination; it was induction of the pregnancy where there was a significant chance the child would survive. However, it was done at 23 weeks’ gestation, when the chances are 50:50. That was the choice of the mother, her husband and her family. This puts in place a choice for such women or those who find at a late stage of the pregnancy that the child they are carrying has no brain. Those children die at birth. It is often considered far better for the woman and her future childbearing prospects to have that pregnancy induced. The baby dies at birth as it would otherwise have died at term. As I said, only six to 10 of these cases occur each year.”
Mr Goiran informed the House that, contrary to the intention of the Parliament when this provision was introduced it was now being used to eliminate babies with disabilities compatible with life for eugenic reasons.
“We can see from Hansard that the intention of the law was that post 20-week abortions be permitted only for those babies who would have died before or at term. But now children with Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, dwarfism and upper limb abnormalities—conditions plainly compatible with life—are being terminated. Rather than abortion for these cases being a rarity, parents such as David and Zoe Gonzalez, who are not willing to accept the imposed limitations on their son, are now faced with having to fight hard to defy the medical experts. I just wonder whether honourable members can see the impact that this is having and will continue to have on our society. The option that is seen by pragmatic medicos as the easy option will extinguish life that is different, life that is challenging, life that is inspiring, and stories of heartbreak and stories of incredible courage. The analysis of the data held on abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation or later leads one to the conclusion that some within our health system are enabling a culture of eugenics that in effect says that there is, as H.S. Reinders has written, an unacceptable way of being human.”
Mr Goiran then explained that “Perinatal deaths following a late abortion are the only deaths of legally registered Western Australians that are not subject to investigation by any person or body.”
“It seems incredible to me that this is the only category of human being for whom we would say there needs to be no oversight. It seems as though every aspect of health care is subject to oversight, continuous improvement and accountability except in this one area. There are several aspects of perinatal deaths following approval of a late termination of pregnancy by the ministerial panel that I think would warrant investigation. Firstly, is there evidence post-delivery or post-mortem that the child actually had the specified condition that was held by the panel to justify the abortion?
“Secondly, could this condition have been prevented or treated? I note, in particular, that abortions have been justified for foetal alcohol syndrome and other clearly preventable conditions. Thirdly, in the case of a live birth followed by a neonatal death, could the death have been prevented by providing appropriate medical care or treatment to the same standard that both honourable members or I would expect? Fourthly, is there a trend of approving abortions for increasingly minor conditions compatible with life?”
The Hon Nick Goiran MLC made it clear that he did not support abortions “as a matter of principle grounded on the right to life” while urging members who do not share this view to “have the courage to reform this area urgently so that we cease this grotesque discrimination against people with disabilities. We cannot pretend to be a civilised society if we stand by and allow terminations of pregnancies for Down syndrome, which I have described publicly as people who happen to be happier than I am; or for people with spina bifida whose backs are less straight than mine; or for people with dwarfism who happen to be shorter than I am; or possibly, worst of all, those with limb abnormalities”.
He then recounted a final story about Western Australia Senator Alan Eggleston, who is retiring from the Senate on 30 June 2014. Senator Eggleston is 127 cm in height and has a condition called dyschon-droplasia.
Senator Eggleston, who is a qualified obstetrician and gynaecologist, was failed in his final exams in Perth by a group of doctors who thought he was unsuitable to be a doctor simply because of his short stature. He moved to London and qualified there before returning to Australia to pursue a successful career first in medicine and then in politics.2
The Hon Nick Goiran MLC concluded his speech by observing that “Whilst the past unfortunately cannot be erased, it is clear that reform is required as a matter of priority and that the current practice of terminating children’s lives for ‘conditions compatible with life’ needs to stop.” He added that “there are countless Williams, Meghans [and] Senator Egglestons around the world” who inspire us and live life to the full, and in Western Australia there could be many more “if only this Parliament will let them”.
There are four things you can do to help end abortions at 20 weeks or later in Western Australia for disabilities compatible with life.
1. Sign the enclosed open letter to the Premier the Hon Colin Barnett and get your friends to do the same.
2. Write to the Hon Kim Hames MLA, Minister for Health, 13th Floor Dumas House, 2 Havelock Street, West Perth WA 6005, telling him in your own words why he should move to change the law to stop abortions at 20 weeks or later for disabilities compatible with life such as Down’s syndrome, spina bifida and dwarfism.
3. Telephone your local MLA and tell him or her that you are concerned to learn that babies with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, spina bifida and dwarfism are being aborted in Western Australia between 20 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Ask him/her if he/she will support a change to the law to stop this from happening.
You can check your electoral district by telephoning 13 63 06 or online at: https://www.elections.wa.gov.au/enrol/check-your-enrolment
You can find your MLA’s telephone number at: http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/parliament/Memblist.nsf/WallMembers or by telephoning Parliament House on 9222 7222.
4. Write to or email the Hon Nick Goiran MLC, Unit 2, 714 Ranford Road, SOUTHERN RIVER WA 6110; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to congratulate him on his speech and to encourage him as he continues to pursue the defence of human life.