July 13th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Escaping our debt roller coaster

CANBERRA: Simon Crean's winter of discontent

BIOETHICS: Tell the truth about adult stem cells

AGRICULTURE: Sugar industry report: a mixed bag

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Victoria clones white elephant / The new boy scouts

TRADE: Globalism - an idea whose time has passed

LAW: Government approves ICC - with qualifications

Sexual misconduct in the church (letter)

Keeping couples together (letter)

"Censor" or "classify"? (letter)

ENVIRONMENT: Our future in our own hands

MEDIA: What of women traumatised by abortion?

ABC Media Watch: who judges the judges?

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS: Mabo decision - ten years of frustration

AFRICA: Zimbabwe's agriculture, industry face meltdown

ASIA: Free trade agreements - what's in it for us?

FILM: Molokai: the story of Father Damien

BOOKS: Marriage, Health and the Professions

BOOKS: Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep, by Siba Shakib

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What of women traumatised by abortion?

by Melinda Tankard Reist

News Weekly, July 13, 2002
Ian Powell ("Life and death struggle", The Australian, Features, June 13) reported the plight of abortion clinics and doctors being cruelly sued as part of a supposed new pro-life conspiracy against them, and the threat this poses to abortion as business-as-usual. She forgets the women who are initiating legal action in the first place.

Legal action is rarely undertaken for trivial reasons - especially when it involves something as personal as termination. It's a very big thing for a woman to contemplate re-living her ordeal in a courtroom; laying herself bare, risking exposure and blame.

But Powell does not explore the reasons that compel a woman to take such drastic action. All that is offered is the patronising and insulting view that she is merely a pawn, manipulated into the courtroom by evil anti-abortionists.


Why is it that many, who claim to be concerned for womens health, appear concerned only with the effects of legal action on abortion businesses, not the effect of abortion on women?

Powell's language - "supposedly abortion-caused mental problems"; post-traumatic stress syndrome "trotted out" for legal claims - reveals her contempt and disdain for women whose lives have been irreparably damaged by abortion.

But not one of them is given the chance to speak for herself.

If they had, they might have shared some of the things they did with me when I wrote Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion two years ago.

Giving Sorrow Words drew on the experiences of more than 250 women. It told of their shock, grief, despair, anger and depression; the unrelenting question : "Why didn't someone tell me this is how I might feel?"

None were warned of the possibility of long-lasting psychological repercussions. All felt the doctor/counsellor/abortion provider failed in their duty of care towards them by not disclosing risks.


"D" from NSW wrote to me recently: "I wanted to drive to my ex-GP and yell 'you horrible bastard' and ask him why didn't he tell me, prepare me, warn me." She describes herself and women like her as "duped, lied to, ignored, discriminated against, unloved, unsupported, violated and left for dead".

It's because of being duped and lied to that women are now rising up and appealing to the justice system for recompense.

A look at abortion-related medical negligence cases demonstrates their seriousness.

On December 20, 1989, Ms "B", then 17, of Sydney, underwent a midtrimester abortion, suffered a lacerated cervix, lost a litre of blood, almost died and had to be resuscitated. The Professional Standards Committee of the NSW Medical Board stated: "Ms B denied being informed of any complications of the procedure."

On February 21, 1991, Mrs "M" was admitted to Sydney Hospital in a coma as a result of complications during an abortion. She suffered severe brain injury which left her physically and mentally incapacitated, requiring full-time physical care.

In September 1993, the Professional Standards Committee found Dr Neville John Marinko guilty of professional misconduct over both these abortions.

Mrs M's claim for damages was settled for $3.7million in 1997. Justice Rolfe ordered damages of $455,170 for nervous shock to her husband in 1998.


The Queensland Medical Assessment Tribunal found (the late) Brisbane abortionist Dr Peter Bayliss guilty of professional misconduct in the case of a 21-year-old Chinese woman left in a persistent vegetative state in a Queensland nursing home after her 1994 abortion.

Tribunal head, Justice George Fryberg, said the doctor's negligence "was gross, perhaps even criminal." Bayliss returned to work after a three-month suspension.

Bayliss was also investigated by the homicide squad after an Aboriginal girl suffered a cardiac arrest and died eight years ago. A post-mortem found the cause of death was "septic abortion."

A women known as "C", in the case C v Dr Pannikote and St George Hospital, suffered complications after an induced abortion at four months gestation. The induction process was prolonged and the plaintiff suffered an epileptic fit. The ventilator was apparently accidentally turned off, resulting in brain damage. She was left grossly spastic. In August 1993, she was awarded damages of $2,261,361 plus costs.

"Ellen" won a settlement from Royal Women's Hospital and a Melbourne gynaecologist for "deep and profound nervous shock" after an abortion in 1990. She had expelled the aborted baby into the toilet bowl at home. There have been five cases for psychological trauma settled since this one, with more in the pipeline.

Sydney abortionist Geoff Brodie labels legal battles a waste of time and money. Perhaps that's because two years ago he paid a substantial settlement to a woman known as "S" who brought an action against him in the NSW Supreme Court after suffering internal bleeding and septacemia following an abortion he performed on her in 1992.

But "S" doesn't get a mention, nor do any of the multitude of other women for whom the "right to choose" was the right not to know how they might end up afterwards.

Abortion doctors may find legal action against them a hassle. But if they're not meeting their obligations to their patients, how else will they be made to change their ways?

  • Melinda Tankard Reist is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion (Duffy and Snellgrove 2000/2002) She also advises Senator Brian Harradine on bioethical and human rights issues.

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