February 16th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Battle lines drawn for US Presidential race

EDITORIAL: Mitsubishi closure a blow to our manufacturing

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Will Rudd summit achieve anything?

BIOFUELS: Sugar industry - execution by policy madness

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: EI inquiry hears of more quarantine failures

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: The lessons of the past we so quickly forget

STRAWS IN THE WIND: A new Bunyip intelligentsia? / Paddy McGuinness dies / The homeless

ASIA: Re-shaping Asia: The Great Game Mark II

INDONESIA: More good than bad: Suharto (1921-2008)

FATHERHOOD: Making men redundant (and harming our children)

FAMILY POLICY: Family-friendly policies at risk

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Melbourne doctor's bid to decriminalise abortion

UNITED STATES: America's wrong course

LEADERSHIP: Five keys to democratic statesmanship

Demise of The Bulletin (letter)

Re-opening of South Gippsland rail? (letter)

Foreign intervention (letter)

The "more committees" fetish (letter)


BOOKS: CLASSICS: 62 Great Books from the Iliad to Midnight's Children, by Jane Gleeson-White

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Melbourne doctor's bid to decriminalise abortion

by Charles Francis, AM, QC, RFD

News Weekly, February 16, 2008
The outcome of Dr Lachlan de Crespigny's campaign could be that abortionists are subject to no government controls whatsoever, warns Charles Francis QC.

Despite thousands of women expressing their psychological distress about past abortions, there is debate within the psychiatric profession whether post-abortion trauma is a defined syndrome.

However, in my opinion, it appears that eminent Melbourne obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Lachlan de Crespigny, who aborted 32-weeks gestation baby Jessica (because she was suspected of being a dwarf), is showing some of the symptoms of post-abortion syndrome himself. PAS affects not only mothers, but fathers, siblings and medical staff as well.

De Crespigny cannot stop talking, writing and lobbying, sometimes with tears in his eyes, to achieve justification for what he did. His latest article, "When mums come first" (Herald Sun, Melbourne, January 23, 2008), co-authored with Prof. Julian Savulescu, an ethicist from Oxford, is just his latest effort for internal validation.

He cites the case of a 24-weeks foetus with lethal abnormalities, not expected to survive after birth. However, at 32 weeks' gestation, Jessica was viable and had no lethal disability, even if the diagnosis of dwarfism was correct - a matter about which there is considerable doubt.

Mental problems

Jessica's mother suffered mental health problems even before the diagnosis of alleged "dwarfism", and she is apparently still disturbed today. What she needed was psychiatric care, not an abortion, which aggravates existing psychological problems and the risk of suicide.

What she and other mothers stressed by an unplanned pregnancy need to know is that there are alternatives to abortion: pregnancy support and adoption services. Jessica's mother need never have seen her baby if it would cause her emotional distress; but there was no need for Jessica to die.

De Crespigny is waging a campaign to decriminalise all abortion in Victoria, the outcome of which could be that abortionists are subject to no government controls whatsoever.

Most Victorians accept (many more reluctantly than others) the present law as set out in the 1969 Menhennitt ruling, which first permitted abortions under restricted circumstances. However, they also believe rightly that there are far too many abortions. In particular, there is opposition to late-term abortions where a viable baby is terminated.

As a lawyer who acted for a number of women who sued for damage done to them by abortion, I became aware that the abortion industry in Victoria is a major scandal with which successive governments, both Liberal and Labor, have failed to deal.

Most abortionists are in it solely for the money, and their medical standards fall far below what is appropriate. Their failure to take adequate medical and family history or to provide follow-up care are just some transgressions which would not be tolerated in any other surgical field.

Most women are moral and trustworthy, but they are not able to make proper decisions unless they are fully informed on the many well-documented risks to themselves following abortion, such as severe psychiatric damage which occurs in about 10 per cent of cases, the risk of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies, the loss of protection which a full-term pregnancy and breast-feeding provide against breast cancer, and the increased risk of breast cancer caused by the abortion itself.

It should be borne in mind that the absence of any legal restraint will make it easier for a husband, partner or family to put pressure on a woman to have an abortion which is not her own choice. Research by the Elliott Institute, USA, indicated that 64 per cent of women felt pressured into having an abortion, and more than 80 per cent would not have had an abortion if they had been fully informed of the consequences.

De Crespigny's claim that obstetricians are compromising patient care for fear of legal repercussions is nonsense. Since Menhennitt in 1969, no medical practitioner who has done what he honestly and reasonably believes is in the best interests of his patient has been subject to any legal repercussions.

There is no reason to think that the Victorian Parliament intends to compromise prenatal testing nor set up "expert" committees ruling on how women live their lives. To legalise all abortion, Dr de Crespigny raises spectres which do not exist. What women need is complete information on the risks of abortion, and advice on alternatives.

When, later this year, abortion legislation is introduced into Victorian parliament, it is hoped that state MPs will fully inform themselves of the complex issues involved and not make decisions solely based on what is sought by abortion-providers.

A good beginning would be to understand that the life of a viable foetus need not be terminated. The mother does not have to see the baby if she thinks she would be distressed by its appearance. A law or amendment encompassing these provisions could be called "Jessica's law" in remembrance of a small baby who never saw light of day.

- Charles Francis, AM QC, is a barrister and former member of the Victorian state parliament. He has obtained settlements for women who sued abortionists for their failure to warn of psychological trauma and the increased risk of breast cancer caused by abortion.

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