O’Donovan, M. and Stuparich, J (eds), (1994) The Abortion Debate: Pro-Life Essays. ACT Right to Life Association, Canberra, Australia. pp1-8.
AN ABORTION clinic nurse wrote in a 1987 Harper’s magazine that “women who have the fewest choices of all exercise their right to abortion the most.”(1) The word “choice” is used in a misleading fashion by those who claim to be “pro-choice”. Those in favour of abortion often argue that women should be given a choice as to whether they will give birth to a child, or have that child aborted. The irony is that while pro-abortion pregnancy advice agencies in the ACT refer women for abortions as a legitimate “choice”, these same organisations offer no support to women who may wish to continue their pregnancies against the odds.
The fact that abortion is a convenience for everyone but the woman and her unborn child was emphasised in an ABC Radio Encounter program “Mighty Like a Rose”, first broadcast in 1989, and hosted by pro-life feminist Kay McLennan. One woman on the program commented that “abortion is part of [the concept] of the female body as recreational object syndrome. The idea is that a man can use a woman, vacuum her out and she’s ready to be used again.”
There are also physical dangers associated with abortion. In 1977 the ACT Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education and Health, while investigating the possibility of an abortion clinic for the ACT, found that “the complications of abortion … persuades the Standing Committee that abortion is not a matter to be regarded lightly”. This Committee said that “… complications can and do occur and they may be serious and sometimes even fatal.(2) These complications still occur today, and include such things as cervical incompetence, excessive bleeding after abortion, and an increased chance of sterility.(3)
A more caring solution to an unplanned pregnancy is to support women, both physically and psychologically, during their pregnancy. This is a course followed by pro-life pregnancy support services which operate throughout Australia. Such a solution involves commitment and effort over an extended period of time. It is not an easy solution but it is one which demonstrates love and respect for both mother and child. However this area is an under-funded one.
A Commonwealth Government-commissioned report produced in 1991 by the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission (ACSWC), entitled Review of Pregnancy and Parent Support Services,(5) noted the steady increase in funds for family planning organisations which provide referrals for abortions. However, agencies which work to support women continuing with their unplanned pregnancy have not had comparable funding increases.
Women are very isolated when they make their “personal” decision to have an abortion. Abortion is often presented by friends and family as the smart option, and even as a way of saving family embarrassment. One young woman, who had had a number of abortions, said on the Encounter program “I wish it wasn’t so easy. I wish they didn’t automatically say, you know start talking you into having a termination and telling you how hopeless it would be if you had a baby … The worst thing was I just wanted once in my life to have a positive pregnancy test and be pleased about it and have somebody else be pleased about it with me …”. Women in this situation are in unfavourable environments which demand that they make great sacrifices to have a child rather than make what is presented as the easier and more sensible choice of abortion. Yet this stacked deck is supposed to be a choice.
Where is the father in all of this? After so many years of sexual freedom the expectations we have of the father of the child are almost non-existent. We should be encouraging men in the important supportive role that they owe their wife or girlfriend. While some women may not want this support, generally the support or lack of support given by the woman’s partner is a crucial factor in whether the child is allowed to live.
The comment was made on Kay McLennan’s ABC Radio Encounter program that “permissive abortion granted in the name of women’s privacy ratifies a view that pregnancy and children are a woman’s private, individual responsibility. [This mind set] allows men to buy their way out of responsibility. Maybe a decade or so ago the man would have thought the right thing to do was to support that woman; to marry her if not just help her through that pregnancy and to provide for the child. Now he thinks he’s an absolute martyr if he gives her a couple of dollars and refers her to the local abortion clinic. Ready abortion legitimises male irresponsibility and paves the way for even more male detachment and lack of commitment.”
The woman’s parents are also an important source of support. Most parents, though they may be disappointed by the circumstances of the conception of their new grandchild, will recognise the needs of their daughter. Just because some parents do not live up to this ideal does not mean that all parents should be excluded from the lives of pregnant women.
We often forget why women become pregnant. Pregnancy is not some catchy disease, women don’t just “fall” pregnant. Over 99% of pregnancies which are aborted in Australia are the result of fully consensual sex.(6) No matter how effective the contraceptive method used, no methods of contraception are 100% successful in preventing conception. Anyone engaging in heterosexual sex must recognise that conception can result and that they are then responsible for the life of a new human being.
Pressure for abortion
An unplanned pregnancy can appear to a pregnant woman to present her with very little choice, especially if she does not have the support of a husband or family. A young woman at university might find she is pregnant, a pregnancy which seems to threaten her further studies and her future career. A career woman may also look at her unplanned pregnancy as a threat to her working ambitions. These situations bring very heavy pressure to bear on women to have an abortion, and many pregnancy advice agencies will do nothing to alleviate that pressure.
During interviews with members of pregnancy support agencies, the ACSWC found that “there was a general perception by many of those interviewed that counsellors at other types of centres place pressure on younger women to have a termination of an unplanned pregnancy. Some of the arguments cited for this pressure included: the client’s age; interruption to education; reduced job opportunities; and economically poor future prospects.”
No woman likes having an abortion, because deep down there is some recognition that her child dies in this procedure. However, abortion is often presented by its advocates as a relatively easy and instant solution. This was documented in the ACSWC report. “Other agencies recounted their experiences of some young women who had received minimal counselling before obtaining a referral for a termination. The speed at which some referrals, and medical intervention, had been made staggered many staff as typified by the following statement; ‘There is a lot of pressure placed on girls [by pregnancy advice centres] when they are in a vulnerable position to have an abortion – because it is an option that can be offered right away.’”
However abortion is not the simple solution it is often suggested to be. It is often simple for the boyfriend or husband, family and friends, but not for the woman involved. Long-term problems often emerge for women. The group Women Hurt by Abortion has pointed to the deep psychological scarring which often follows abortion, in the form of post abortion grief.(7)
Clinics do not offer better support to women. Counselling, if any, often occurs on the day of the abortion. However, the ACSWC found that “client data from pregnancy support and FPA agencies also clearly indicate that the majority of women who have an abortion in Australia do not seek the services of a counsellor to assist them in making their decision.” The report also said that “… adequate counselling was not always available nor a prerequisite for an abortion … and this should be of concern to Australian health authorities.” Counselling, however, cannot compensate for the damage being done to women.
If a woman does not wish to keep her child, then adoption should be offered as a real choice. While the process might be painful, it is a compassionate and generous course. Approximately 10% of all Australian couples are infertile,(8) and many of these couples would love to have children. Adoption waiting lists in Australia consistently outstrip the number of children available. There is certainly no such child as an unwanted child.
Pro-life feminist Melinda Tankard pointed out on the Encounter program that “feminists have always said a woman’s value isn’t in just being wanted by a man, but it, wantedness, is used by feminists as the criteria by which a baby should live or die … It is interesting that those who say the foetus has absolutely no rights are quick to insist that the baby has the right to be wanted. The pre-born child only has value if the woman chooses to imbue him or her with the value of being wanted. Then, bingo, you’ve got a human being.”
Limits to choice
The interesting paradox involved in the “choice” debate is that many people who are pro-abortion do see limits to choice in the case of reproductive technology, or even sex-selection abortions.(9) Here they recognise the exploitative effects on women of such techniques as in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy. While defending abortion as a women’s issue involving equality and freedom, they do not recognise that unbridled freedom will necessarily conflict with equality.(10) Turning some women into “walking wombs” via surrogacy involves the exploitation of those women, and yet under the language of choice should not they be allowed the freedom to be exploited?
In the same way abortion exploits women because it takes no account of the damage, both psychological and physical, it can do to their lives. Any “right to choose” should not be divorced from the need for women to pursue the best course of action for themselves and their unborn child – and that course is life.
Once a woman has had an abortion, she is left to cope by herself because it was her “choice”. These women are among the victims of abortion clinics. We should resist what one pro-lifer has referred to as “the lonely rhetoric of choice”.(11)
* Margaret O’Donovan is a physiotherapist in private practice and vice-president of the ACT Right to Life Association.
1. An earlier version of this article was published in The Canberra Times on 9 April, 1992. This article was inspired by an essay by Frederica Mathewes-Green, (1991) Unplanned Parenthood: Easing the Pain of Crisis Pregnancy. Policy Review, No.57, Summer. pp28-36.
2. Tisdale, S., (1987) We Do Abortions Here. Harper’s, October, pp 66-70.
3. see Standing Committee on Education and Health, (1977) Report No.26, Pregnancy Termination. Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. Pages 19 and 31.
4. Fisher, A. and Buckingham, J., (1985) Abortion in Australia: Answers and Alternatives. Dove Communications, Melbourne. Pages 64-65.
5. Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission, (1991) Review of Pregnancy and Parent Support Services. Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission, November.
6. see Overduin, D. Ch, (1991) Abortion in South Australia 1970 – 1990: Data, Observations and Conclusions. DBI Study Booklet No.16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer International Institute for Bioethical Studies, Adelaide.
7. see also Anne Speckhard and Vincent Rue, (1992) Postabortion Syndrome: An Emerging Public Health Concern. Journal of Social Issues, Vol.48(3), pp95-119.
8. see Koval, R. and Scutt, J., (1988) Genetic and Reproductive Engineering – All for the Infertile? In Scutt, J. (ed) The Baby Machine: Commercialisation of Motherhood. McCulloch Publishing, Carlton Victoria. Page 35.
9. see Ewing, C., (1989) The Case Against Embryo Experimentation: A Feminist Perspective. Legal Service Bulletin, Vol. 14(3), page 112.
McCormack, T., (1988) Public Policies and Reproductive Technology: A Feminist Critique. Canadian Public Policy, Vol. 14(4), page 366.
10. De Marco, D., (1991) Biotechnology and the Assault on Parenthood. Ignatius Press, San Francisco. pp 239-256.
11. see Mathewes-Green, F., (1991) Unplanned Parenthood: Easing the Pain of Crisis Pregnancy. Policy Review, No.57, Summer. pp28-36.