In Abortion

A few days before Life News went to press, on Thursday, 16 February, Federal Parliament passed a Bill that will enable Australian women to have ready access to the abortion-inducing drug, RU486.

The new legislation shifts control of the drug from the Health Minister to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is a momentous shift. For the present Health Minister, Mr Tony Abbott, is opposed to abortion and has steadfastly refused to allow the drug to be used in Australia. However, sponsors of the Bill believe that the bureaucrats at the TGA will not share Mr Abbott’s therapeutic concern for unborn children and will therefore make the drug available.

It is instructive that the Bill was sponsored by four women in the Senate: Fiona Nash (Nationals), Judith Troeth (Liberal), Lyn Allison (Democrats) and Claire Moore (Labor). In all, 23 of the 26 women senators supported it.

The complicity of women parliamentarians in devising, promoting and passing this Bill ought to disabuse us of two widely held misconceptions about women.

The first misconception is that women are not really responsible for the abortions they procure, but are rather the tragic victims of outside (mostly masculine) pressures. The Herald Sun played on this notion on the last day of the parliamentary debate, declaring, “A study by Ringwood-based abortion counselling centre Open Doors Counselling found 75 per cent of women who had abortions felt pressured by partners or family.” Seventy-five percent? Could it be that the abortion counsellors are making excuses for women—or perhaps encouraging women to make excuses for themselves? Without doubt some women come under pressure to have an abortion. But many women are quietly determined to have an abortion. They are not the victims: they are the perpetrators.

The primary culpability of (pro-abortion) women generally was symbolised by the women senators who sponsored the Bill. How proudly they posed together after the Bill passed the Senate on Thursday, 9 February! (See, for example, the photograph on the front page of The Australian accompanying the article “Women’s victory on the issue of choice” on 10 February 2006.) These women are not mousey creatures doing the bidding of their callous menfolk. They are proud, independent women. (Try saying otherwise to their faces!) They took it upon themselves to push for a way to make it easier for women to procure abortions. The women parliamentarians made it abundantly clear that abortion is something that women want. The passing of the Bill in the Senate was, as The Australian so aptly stated, a “Women’s victory …” Truly, it was a “victory” orchestrated by women to give women the absolute right to choose not only to have an abortion but also to have one with maximum ease.

After the vote in the Lower House, the women parliamentarians got together to celebrate. An article in The Age (17 February) titled “After the battle the winning women drink a toast, decorously” describes their gathering: “With a clink of champagne flutes, the female politicians who campaigned to give Australian women access to the abortion pill toasted their victory yesterday. But even in the historic moment, they were nervous about appearances—too much joy on the touchy topic of abortion could be misconstrued. Yet despite attempts to keep the tone low-key, they were clearly elated …” Yes, this was women’s business from beginning to end.

The RU486 debate has exposed a second widely held misconception about women—namely, that women are somehow more noble and caring than men, and as a consequence would make better leaders. The performance of the overwhelming majority of women in our federal Parliament in recent weeks gives the lie to that notion. We have witnessed women legislators striving to ensure that women have the right to kill babies—and not just any babies, but their very own babies—and not just kill them, but kill them inside their own bodies! Frankly, you cannot get more ignoble and callous than that.

It was left mainly to the men to argue and plead for the unborn. Senator Bill Heffernan said, “It is cute to say RU486 is a therapeutic good—RU486 is designed to knock babies over. I said that to a doctor in Sydney the other day and the mob around me started to go mad because I called it a baby. They said, ‘it’s a foetus’ … He [the doctor] said, ‘I’m a doctor who’s been dealing with pregnancies for 25 years and I’ve never had a woman come to my surgery and say, ‘how’s my foetus going?’. They always say, ‘how’s my baby?’.” But the women responded to the pro-life male parliamentarians with indignation, condescension and scorn. Listen to Amanda Vanstone: “One of the men said … he doesn’t want abortion to be any easier and a pill would necessarily be easier. Well, hello. Clearly he has never had the mindset of it ever happening to him. It is not going to happen to him because he is a boy.” (“Women’s victory on the issue of choice”, The Australian, 10 February 2006.) Greens senator Kerry Nettles even wore a T-shirt to the Parliament blazoned with the insulting words, “Mr Abbott, get your rosaries off my ovaries.”

While many male parliamentarians stood against the cruel designs of their female colleagues, many others, sadly, did not.

The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Kim Beazley, for example, was one man who sided with the heartless women. “To me it’s a no brainer,” he said in Parliament on 16 February. He even had the temerity to lecture the Prime Minister about Mr Abbott, who is a committed Roman Catholic. He declared: “It is not wise to place people in portfolio positions where their moral convictions are challenged … If it’s difficult for Tony Abbott to handle these things, he ought to have a word to his boss about where he ought to be situated.” (“What they said”, The Age 17 February 2006) Ah, but Mr Beazley, Mr Abbott had no difficulty handling the RU486 matter—no difficulty, that is, apart from the usual one of finding the courage to do what is right in the face of powerful opposition. Mr Abbott knew exactly the right and moral thing to do. He knew that, as Health Minister and as a human being, he had a duty to protect human life. Happily, his religious convictions, far from interfering with his duty, merely supported it.

Another influential man who sided with the heartless women was the Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Peter Costello. He began his contribution to the parliamentary debate admirably, declaring, “I think it is common knowledge that when my wife, Tanya, was pregnant and unconscious in hospital some 18 years ago I was faced with this terrible situation. I was advised by expert medical opinion that the pregnancy was complicating the medication she would need to survive. I was faced with a choice—an awful choice—but the choice I made was to continue both the treatment and pregnancy. By the grace of God, both survived.” This is a moving and noble testimony—the sort of testimony that an opponent of the Bill might offer.

But having begun well, Mr Costello finished badly. Claiming that he could not divorce his experience from the RU486 debate, he went on to say, “I have no doubt that the law should not have prevented such a choice. The law should allow a choice where the physical or mental health of the woman is at risk.” (“What they said”, The Age, 17 February 2006 & “Peter Costello’s plea may help decide RU486,” Herald Sun, 16 February 2006) What on earth is he talking about? The law did not then—and does not now—prevent people from making such a choice. Mr Costello could have chosen to take the doctors’ advice to sacrifice his child for the sake of his wife. The law has always allowed this. The RU486 debate is not about such choices. It is about making abortion more readily available. It is about adding an additional method of abortion to the ones already available. It is about giving women access to a chemical that will give them a greater freedom to kill their unborn children, along with a greater ability to conceal their crime.*

Mr Costello received accolades from the press for his influential support for the Bill. One report claimed that he had enhanced his reputation because “he presented his argument for change in such measured, logical and very human terms.” (“Conscience vote damages Abbott, enhances Costello”, The Age, 17 February 2006) Mr Costello’s words may have been measured and human, but they were far from logical. And, in the end, they were even further from what is good and right.

Unlike his deputy, the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, opposed the Bill, giving full support to his Health Minister, Mr Tony Abbott.

A comment by Mr Abbott during the debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, 15 February, is a fitting summary of the whole RU486 catastrophe. “[E]very abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation’s legacy of unutterable shame,” he said. “Somehow, up to 100,000 abortions a year is accepted as a fact of life—almost by some as a badge of liberation from old oppressions.” (“Peter Costello’s plea may help decide RU486,” Herald Sun, 16 February 2006)

Action:Write to Mr Abbott and the other pro-life members of parliament (Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600)to commend them and commiserate with them. They doubtless could do with some encouragement.

* Sharman Stone, Minister for Workforce Participation, started the push for RU486 several months ago on the grounds that “she was unable to help a young constituent find a doctor to perform a termination in country Victoria.” Apparently, Ms Stone was concerned not only to help country women get abortions more easily, but also to help them do so without accountability to their partners and families. She was concerned that the difficulty of securing an abortion in country areas “was forcing rural women into the desperate search for cash and a cover story so they could travel to the city to have the surgery.” (“After the battle the winning women drink a toast, decorously”, The Age, 17 February 2006)
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