LIFE ISSUES: by Peter BarnesNews Weekly
Abortion - bringing the numbers down
, March 2, 2013
In November 2012 there was a tragic case in Ireland where a 31-year-old woman, Savita Halappanavar, died after doctors refused to abort her 17-week child in utero. Mrs Halappanavar delivered a dead child, but later she herself died of septicaemia.
Right on cue, journalist Karen Kissane penned an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald with the headline, “Woman’s death shows risks of putting the church before civil law”. She cited the words of Stephanie Lord, a spokeswoman for Choice Ireland: “Savita had a heartbeat, too.”
It is the too that gives it all away. It is a reluctant acknowledgment that Savita was carrying a child with a heartbeat.
The sad case in Ireland is manifestly not what legalising abortion is all about. In Australia there are about 100,000 abortions every year. That is, even on the admissions of the pro-abortion lobby, 100,000 heartbeats are stopped.
What can be done to reduce the number of abortions? Attempts to achieve this in Western Australia in 1998 through the state parliament proved disastrous, and would likely prove counter-productive elsewhere.
The result could be something as brutal and as dehumanising as Victoria’s Abortion Law Reform Act, passed in 2008, which gave to doctors a licence to kill at every stage of pregnancy, and also trampled on any right of conscience.
To change Australia’s pro-death culture, legislation will be needed; but the pro-life movement first needs to target some weak spots in the pro-choice armoury:
1) The use of ultrasounds has made it impossible to deny that the unborn child is a child. The language of the 1960s, when the child in the womb was referred to as a blob of tissue, was always unconvincing; it is now hopelessly out of date and unscientific. So the more ultrasounds the better!
2) Sex selection has added another horrific dimension to abortion; but it has caused some unease in feminist circles. Again, it has made it clear that the child in the womb is a baby, with a gender. Targeting what has been called “unnatural selection” has some chance of success.
3) The fact that the unborn child may well experience pain in being aborted is also increasingly becoming an issue. In our schizophrenic society, we fear pain more than death. Hence, smacking is almost a crime, but abortion is not. However, the fact that an aborted child may suffer physical pain because he or she has a nervous system is something that causes discomfort to the pro-abortion lobby.
4) Late-term abortions are the visible horror story in a horrible industry. Apart from South Australia, no Australian state provides reliable abortion figures; but it is generally conceded that about one per cent of all abortions take place after the 22nd week. This means that about 1,000 children who are possibly capable of surviving outside the womb are killed simply because adults do not want them to live. This is indefensible. Logically, it can only be defended if infanticide too is deemed acceptable.
5) The killing or harming of a child in utero is now becoming a criminal offence unless it has come about by abortion. Cigarette packets warn mothers that smoking can harm the unborn infant. It does not take too much logic to wonder what abortion does to the child. If a man beats his pregnant wife and she loses her baby, he may be culpable before the state. On the other hand, if he psychologically browbeats her into an abortion, the couple may receive a Medicare rebate.
However, as with what passes for the homosexual debate, there is a hardened irrationality at work here.
George Orwell once commented, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” That is very much under threat in today’s climate.
The formation at the University of Sydney, in June 2012, of a pro-life student group — ironically called LifeChoice — led to a bitter dispute within the University of Sydney student union.
Only by the casting vote of the president was the group allowed to exist. Opponents paid the usual cursory homage to freedom of thought and expression, but claimed that the pro-life group “vilified” women.
This points to the added extra in the whole debate. It is not enough to out-argue the pro-abortion industry. In terms of the debate, the pro-abortion movement seems to be vulnerable and at times almost in disarray. Yet it still reigns virtually supreme in most Western societies.
We may cite the words of Moses — “Choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19) — but the context shows that to choose God is to choose life.
Our aim is not just to win individual battles, but the culture war. That will take more than strategies and arguments, but a work of God, to revive a hardened people.
Revd Dr Peter Barnes is minister of Revesby Presbyterian Church, New South Wales, and editor of the Australian Presbyterian magazine.