September 15th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Horse flu: another quarantine scandal

COVER STORY: Howard and Rudd: the Xerox men

QUARANTINE: Taiwan farmers' lessons for Australia

WATER: Federal water plan could wipe 2.9 per cent off GDP

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS: Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children: is Labor serious?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor's cumbersome IR policy

INTERNET FILTERING: Teenager bypasses 'useless' Govt porn filter

DIVORCE LAWS: Aussie dads still in dark about family law changes

OPINION: Abortion: an unanswered question

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Surprise appointment / A country looted by its corrupt leaders / An exercise in Islamic compassion / Now for the good news

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: WTO's Doha round staggers to a stalemate

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia's uranium sale to India

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Toxic childhood

BOOKS: SACRED CAUSES: The Clash of Religion and Politics, by Michael Burleigh


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Abortion: an unanswered question

by Tim Cannon

News Weekly, September 15, 2007
Tim Cannon warns that pro-life activists have little chance of enlisting public sympathy for their cause unless they change their rhetoric.

According to Reproductive Choice Australia, 87 per cent of Australian women aged between 18 and 49 support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. Even allowing for a margin of statistical inflation (as is to be expected in such a contentious debate), these figures suggest that, in all likelihood, the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria will proceed at some point in the foreseeable future.

But not before a fiery debate in which, unfortunately, many will overlook the extraordinarily fragile and delicate issues at stake.

For opponents of abortion, it is vital - and this cannot be given sufficient emphasis - it is vital that we proceed with charity and patience, mindful that our goal is to protect the health and safety of unborn children and the women who bear them.

We cannot underestimate the potential for carelessly flung words of zealous condemnation to savage the hearts of women who have experienced the tragedy and trauma of abortion. By clumsily crushing these already wounded hearts, we risk closing them to the healing for which they so desperately yearn.

Well-rehearsed diatribe

And again, how often we fail to see how unconvincingly our well-rehearsed diatribe falls on the ears of those who have not yet made a concrete decision, who have not yet committed to a supportive or opposed view of abortion. So many, who may well be inclined to hearken to the quiet rumblings of conscience, are repulsed by our oppressive efforts, and default to a "pro-choice" position in protest against our uninvited mandate.

Instead, perhaps the undecided will become convinced of the need to free women and children - and all of society - from the tragic grip of abortion if they are allowed, and encouraged, to form a well-reasoned opinion for themselves.

Here, I would suggest, we can assist through gentle and patient questioning. This approach is likely to elicit a much better response for several reasons.

First, a review of the "public debate" regarding abortion reveals an abundance of reasoned opposition to abortion, and a distinct lack of reasoned support. By this I mean that, while organised opponents of abortion are all too ready to give a detailed account of their stance regarding the questions at the heart of abortion - questions such as: is the foetus a person distinct from the mother? What happens to mother and child during an abortion? What is really meant by "a woman's right to choose"? etc. - advocates of abortion are strangely silent when it comes to explaining their position on such matters.

As a result, there is a great void in the public consciousness: many who support abortion simply cannot justify it on rational grounds. Instead, they can merely justify their support for abortion, usually on the strength of two assertions: first, that in the interests of protecting their health, welfare and reproductive freedom, women have an inviolable right to choose to have or not to have an abortion; and, second, that a majority of people (or at least women) support a woman's right to choose. Given the failure of the abortion lobby to publicly offer sound, rational justification for their position, supporters of abortion, when questioned in an appropriate manner, invariably find that their personal stance is untenable. From this point, a change of heart is possible.

But a change of heart cannot be imposed or forced; it must be free. In this way, the second reason that questioning, rather than lecturing, is likely to foster resolute opposition to abortion, is that it in no way violates the freedom of the individual to choose, but rather it shows a genuine concern for the empowerment of women. By this I mean that questioning enables women to establish in their own minds good reasons for the choice they make.

Advocates of abortion speak of empowering women by giving them choice, but forcing women - and let's be clear: "women", where abortion is concerned, refers predominantly to young, dependent females - to make a choice on an issue which they do not fully understand is anything but empowering; on the contrary, it is belittling and terrifying. Only the ability to make informed choices is empowering. Patient questioning can help women to discover for themselves what it truly means to carry a child in the womb.

In the same spirit, a questioning approach can, and should, be directed towards the organised advocates of abortion. It is strange, indeed, and unfortunate that somewhere in our struggle against the proliferation of abortion, we have forgotten to ask the abortion lobby to justify the act of abortion in itself. On this, although we have become accustomed to excitedly voicing and justifying our opposition, we discover among advocates of abortion an unnerving silence.

Certainly, they assail us with statistics showing widespread support for "the right to choose". Certainly, they speak of the dangers of back-street abortions, of the right to good medical services, and of the oppression of women throughout the history of Western civilisation.

These last two points especially carry considerable weight. But of the nature and fate of the unborn child they say nothing.

Would it not be reasonable to ask, patiently but earnestly, and before even one more abortion takes place, that advocates of abortion prove beyond doubt, to us, and to the women considering abortion, that the foetus is not a child, distinct from its mother? If they cannot, let us ask them how, in this instance, can the death of a child be justified?

The absence of any effort on the part of the abortion lobby to address this central and most important issue speaks volumes. It is without doubt the Achilles' heel of the pro-choice movement, and although we have persistently trumpeted our side of the argument, I would suggest that it is time for questions.

It is time for the other side to break its chilling silence.

- Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Thomas More Centre, Melbourne.

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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