Writer-Counselor-Wellbeing Coach

Category: Media misrepresentation (Page 1 of 3)

Censorship, complaints and stepping up

Sneak Peak

On the day I completed the typesetting for my book, Alarmist Gatekeeping: Abortion, I recieved a phone call from a representatitve of the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) informing me of a complaint that had been raised against me.   As a Registered Nurse, I am required to be registered with AHPRA who have the power to determine whether I can maintain such registration or have restrictions placed on my practise.

The complaint was made by a person who claims no direct or even indirect knowledge of my professional practise, but is simply someone who appears to follow my social media and professional pages.   It seems she simply dislikes my professional view on matters I happen to have expertise in.  She also dislikes my title of 'Dr'.

While this complaint is pending (it took 8 months for me to be notified, so who knows how long it will take), others like Jereth Kok have been waiting years for a resolution, having had their careers destroyed.   The complaint against Jereth  has no foundation in his professional practise but was based on a concerted effort to dig up 'unpopular' views that were then deemed to put Jereth's patients at risk, in spite of the fact that in 15 years of practise there had never been a patient complaint about him.

Jereth is not the first health professional this has happened to.  Many have run the gauntlet and decided to remain quiet, even decided to withdraw from the pubic discourse on issues of real importance.  There is a huge danger to the general public in this consequence as the restriction of information becomes greater and people become subject to only one view.  I discuss this a LOT in my book.

Jereth makes the statement that,

"It's getting increasingly costly to hold unpopular religious beliefs."

I would argue that this is an issue far removed from religious beliefs, but is about a very narrow, very radical ideology that seeks to completely remove the right to any view that wavers from its narrow core, destroying all dissidents in its path.  It is such a destructive force that I wrote an entire PhD thesis about it, and now a book.

Which brings me back to the complaint pending in my case.  Just to be clear, none of the below is by way of defense... it is simply the provision of context with regard to the complaint.  I subscribe to the Jordan Peterson position that if you've done nothing wrong,  don't apologise.   The complainant appears to hold grave concerns for the safety of my clients because of my use of the title 'Dr'.  She claims that,

I understand that Debbie may hold a Doctorate degree or PhD, however she does not make it clear what profession she is therefore giving the impression she is a medical practitioner and therefore more highly qualified than she actually is. 

Not only do I actually have a PhD, but the title of Dr has its basis in academia, not medicine and in that regard I lay claim to its most original use.. not to mention the many years of study I engaged in for the end result of the title.  The strangest part of this aspect of the complaint is the idea that she believes I profess to be more qualified than a medical doctor and that I am not clear about my profession.

My twitter profile:

Twitter profile

Note my profession?  Nurse counselor, researcher, educator.....

My private consulting business web description which also rated a mention in the complaint:

web descriptionRegistered nurse.....

It is clear that I'm both entitled to the title.. in fact I worked hard for it, but I am also always very clear about my profession.  As to whether I give the impression that I'm more highly qualified than I actually am, I am wondering what the complainant would make of it if I listed my Master's Degree, my two Bachelor Degrees and the various Diplomas and post graduate diplomas that also line my walls?   There's an argument that perhaps I downplay my level of qualification.

As for whether I'm qualified to deal with this particular complaint, it is a prime example of exactly the field my Doctorate makes me THE expert in... the attempts to discredit and silence those who Dissent from the popular view.  In Australia today, and perhaps even more broadly this IS my area of expertise, so I recognise it very well.

What did I say that was so offensive to this person that she felt the need to draw it to the attention of my professional body?

Debbie made several public comments on a social media page managed by Bettina Arndt who is known for her controversial views on gender issues and defending men accused of violence against women.

We know what happened to Bettina for speaking truth and evidence on these issues. 

Debbie's public comments were made based on the relationship counselling sessions she conducts for couples in her practice. "when I see couples in my practice, I estimate 90% of the time it's the woman who
want to leave a relationship, and men genuinely want to know what they can do." "women can have unrealistic expectations that their partners are responsible for their emotional state. This can manifest as controlling behaviour" "we (women) are not the victims. We hold extraordinary power, and we often misuse it". I feel the care of her clients, conflicts with her own interests and beliefs.

My professional experience of course is exactly this.  My relationship counsellng practice precedes my nursing degree by almost a decade and is not subject to regulation by AHPRA.  My views are well known.. so much so that even this stranger was able to stumble across them.  I see all kinds of people in my practice, and I've even been listed on a 'kink friendly' counsellor list at one point by a lovely young gay couple who came to see me and thought I was amazing.   People can choose not to see me as a practitioner, yet my 30 years of consulting and counselling work would suggest that I must be doing something right, particularly given the major share of my clients for more than 25 years have been word of mouth referrals.

However, this wasn't enough concern for the complainant.. shock, horror... I also,

...openly voices her personal views about abortion...

Her example of my 'personal view' is that I said,

"Most of the general public continue to believe that late term abortions are only undertaken when women are seriously ill and their lives are threatened, or when their babies have no hope of survival and will die a more horrific death if allowed to come to term. Neither of these is true". "Most remain ignorant of the reality that women continue to be offered surgical solutions to their economic, social, relational, and mental health problems rather than positive solutions to address their circumstances, even when they are at a stage of pregnancy when their babies could be safely delivered alive.

These facts, and many more of them are also available in my book if more examples are needed.  This isn't a personal view, it is a statement of fact borne out of government collected statistical data,  more than 25 years of professional experience AND a Doctoral degree on this very topic.  The complainant feels that my 'views' have...

...the potential to impact on an individual's sense of safety or could lead to a patient/client feeling judged, intimidated or embarrassed.

This is where we are at.  Strangers who hold a personal view against what they determine is your personal view, even when it is a fact, can not only make complaints, but even have those complaints taken seriously enough that they destroy careers and livelihoods.  Such complainants only need to express their 'belief' or 'personal view' that the clients of a professional 'might' be harmed, even in the setting of a practice where NO complaints have ever been made by such clients.

This is very dangerous ground on which we tread.  I believe there are enough people in disagreement with such processes that if the consequences weren't so powerful, or we could harness the necessary courage, the strength would be in sheer numbers to stop these radicals from silencing us.   We, and they, would all be better off for it.  Step up. 

NSW Bill based on more misinformation

This article is yet another example of the media allowing ideological misinformation to drive the abortion debate.    With references to the law needing to come into line with community expectations and the law stopping doctors performing abortions, the article is regurgitating the same misleading abortion propaganda that was delivered in Victoria and in Queensland. 

The general community have little understanding of the full context of abortion and will often err on the side of 'I'm pro-choice' if asked in a survey.   But when provided with the context within which women might present for abortion, or at what gestation, actual support for abortion drops dramatically. 

In a study undertaken by practitioners of abortion a more informed set of community values becomes apparent when people are presented with actual circumstances that women may present for abortion.  These researchers asked a variety of questions addressing very specific circumstances of women.  This study indicates that only 61% of Australians agree that  abortion should be legal, without condition in the first trimester, with a further 26% believing restrictions should be in place according to circumstances.   By the third trimester the number of people believing abortion should be available without restriction drops to a low 6% with a further 42% agreeing about availability dependent on circumstances.    The percentage of people believing abortion should be illegal regardless of circumstances increase with each trimester, 12%, 28% and 48%.

On an issue that people can feel very strongly about, it is vitally important that perceptions of people not be misrepresented particularly when the purpose is to drive legislation that is 'in line with community standards'.

We also know from the change in abortion legislation in Victoria in 2008, that such change does not encourage more doctors to perform abortions, because doctors aren't stupid.  They know that if they want to do abortions, the law as it stands allows them to do so, otherwise there wouldn't be thousands of abortions for social reasons undertaken every year.   Many doctors, and most of the general public are not even aware that there are legalities surrounding abortion, and even the most cursory perusal of social media can tell you that.  

Address in QLD parliament

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you in my capacity as a researcher, counsellor and educator of more than 2 decades to give a voice to the many hundreds of post-abortive women and men I have spoken to during that time.   

It is timely that we are having this discussion on abortion and the way its current availability impacts women.  It is unfortunate that it is the wrong discussion, one that is not based on the best available evidence, but on ideological misinformation. 

There is clear and unequivocal evidence that up to 20% of women suffer measurable, serious, and prolonged mental health adverse effects after abortion, including depression, anxiety and suicide.  Research tells us that they often cope with these emotional issues with significant increases in alcohol and drug use.  

While some dismiss this 20% as in irrelevant minority, when we are talking about 80,000 abortions annually, this equates to around 16,000 women each and every year being measurably harmed.  The cumulative effect on families, communities, and the economy are enormous, but unlikely to ever be accurately determined because of the silence and stigma that surrounds abortion, particularly abortion harm. 

This 20% does not include the even higher percentage of women who are forced to live with ongoing grief and regret that doesn’t meet a measurable mental health criteria but which can be debilitating.  

We know there are specific risk factors to predict mental health harm to women.   These include:

  • Being young (teen or young adult)
  • Being unsure about the abortion decision
  • Making a decision in conflict with personal values
  • Feeling coerced or pressured by people or circumstances
  • Feeling a sense of connection to their unborn or believing that the unborn is a human being
  • Having pre-existing mental health problems
  • Immaturity, emotional instability, high anxiety, or difficulty coping
  • Being in a conflicted, unsupportive or abusive relationship

 With 95% of all abortions being undertaken for psycho-social reasons most of the women fit one of these categories.  For the most part these women are physically and mentally healthy and undergoing a procedure for which there is no evidence of health benefit.  

If other elective procedures in these numbers were being undertaken on healthy women who often experience pressure, with no risk factor screening and resulting in this level of adverse effect, we’d be banning it, not making it less restrictive.

Instead of promoting abortion as a solution to domestic violence, we should be discussing how better to support women to leave violent relationships and how to ensure violent men do not intrude on future relationships.

Instead of promoting abortion as a solution for young women who want to finish their educations, not tell their parents they are pregnant, or are just embarking on a career, we need to enact and enforce laws that ensure that pregnant and parenting women will not be discriminated against, and will be practically supported in educational and professional sectors.

Instead of telling women that abortion is a solution to their housing problems, their financial problems, their mental health problems; all of which are risk factors predisposing women to abortion harm, we should be creating communities where women can be supported and nurtured into parenthood. 

Instead of being reactive and enacting legislation based on the misinformation that women are having trouble accessing abortion we should be worrying about why women are not being effectively screened for risk factors or coercion, nor offered genuine supportive alternatives to abortion.

What is being proposed in this Bill is not a progressive step on this issue.   In the USA, the majority of states are legislating greater restrictions around abortion in light of the growing evidence of harm, yet we continue to move in the opposite direction, pressured by a vocal, misleading, ideological minority.

In 2008 Victoria enacted the most liberal abortion laws in the Western world.  These laws have had no impact on what abortion advocates misleadingly state are the issues:   that women need greater access to abortions to address their psychosocial concerns and that they and doctors are fearful of the law in doing so.  

The evidence does not support these assertions at all.  Even the most cursory perusal of social media confirms that the majority of women have no problems accessing abortion, and are unaware that there are even legal issues associated with it.      

The laws have however ensured that women have less recourse to legal support if they are not appropriately screened or if they are harmed.  The law has restricted doctors from talking to their own patients about the potential of harm if they do not wish to refer their patient for abortion.   This means women are less informed, not more informed. 

My current PhD research is discovering that for practitioners of many types, talking about abortion is severely hampered by ideological concerns, often based on misinformation.  Women are less likely to be offered alternatives or support when the only place they source information is from an abortion provider who has a vested interest in the abortion taking place.   

The wider availability of medical abortion is highlighting the coercive nature of abortion from both women’s circumstances and from within clinics themselves.  I delivered a paper on case studies of coercion within Australian abortion clinics at a recent international medical conference. 

The following quotes are from 2 of the cases presented; both sought medical abortion in clinics in 2015.   

‘I said I wasn’t sure, and the doctor told me to take the pill or get out, so I took it’   and

  ‘I had the tablet in my mouth and I was crying and saying I wasn’t sure.  He said you could hardly bring a baby into the world when you so obviously don’t love or want it can you.   I was horrified and devastated.  I swallowed the pill.’    

I hear from an average of 2 women a month like these women… desperately seeking to reverse a medical abortion they began, lacking support and terribly misinformed.

These are the issues that should be discussed and addressed.  Women are being coerced by other people, by circumstances, by discriminatory practises and by abortion providers to undertake abortions they don’t want and don’t need.

They are then sold these practises as the only means to achieve autonomy and freedom.   

In Victoria for the last decade around half of all late term abortions have been undertaken for psychosocial reasons.  Women undergoing late term abortions have a significantly higher risk of psychological and physical harm. 

Women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with congenital abnormalities, or even suspected of having such abnormalities tell of being greatly pressured toward termination, using the very compassion and nurture they instinctively feel toward their unborn children against them…   told that termination is the compassionate, loving and best thing to do.  

We don’t tell them their grief will be more complex, their risk of psychological harm increased, and that they will be silenced because of their part in the decision making process.  They are rarely offered an alternative as there are only a handful of perinatal hospice units in the country. 

In 2010/2011 in Victoria 18 babies were aborted after 28 weeks with 1 of these at 37 weeks, all for psychosocial indicators.  Healthy babies, of healthy mothers.  This cannot be the best we can do.  

The discussion we need begins with how it is we allowed an ideology to drive us to this point, where we have no regard for our own humanity, and certainly no regard for the real experiences of women.          This is an ideology that betrays women. 

Women deserve better. 

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