The Infant Viability Bill is currently before the Victorian Parliament and aims to prevent pregnancy terminations after 24 weeks of pregnancy, ensure that women who present in distress after this time are offered practical support and holistic care and to provide essential life preserving health care to infants born alive following termination.
Victorian law currently allows termination until the time of birth, for both medical and psycho-social reasons and in the last decade there has been a range of between 24 and 52 infants born alive and allowed to die each year. The misinformation about late term abortion currently being published by the media in response to this Bill is truly irresponsible and perpetuates the mythology and deception that women, and the entire community live with on this very sensitive issue.
An unidentified 'spokesperson' for Gippsland Women's Health in this article states that '..most of the post 24wk terminations are for serious health issues and often the woman's life is in danger.' She goes on to say,
"..there were a range of factors, including rape and sexual assault, incest, domestic violence, terminal illnesses, severe mental health issues and severe genetic abnormalities, which affected a woman’s ability to carry a baby to full term."
There is no doubt that a number of women present for late term abortion for some of these reasons. That doesn't however mean that abortion is, or should be the first or only option made available to women, and there are many stories of women who will tell you that is precisely what happens.
As a woman, I am appalled that domestic violence is considered a reason that people would use to argue for abortion availability. Appalled, that instead of ensuring the safety of women and managing violent, criminal men, we tell them they can 'choose' abortion. I am even more appalled that an unnamed spokesperson who works in Gippsland Women's Health is seemingly unaware of the very real risks of psychological and mental health harm following a late term abortion, or the fact that around half of all post 20wk abortions are not for health reasons at all.
It is no surprise that the spokesperson chooses to remain anonymous when she/he also espouses the lie that 'often the woman's life is in danger'. This is blatantly false. It is an extremely rare occurrence that a pregnancy would ever need to be done to save the life of a woman. So rare in fact that in 2012, in the UK where these statistics are kept, there were 185,122 terminations and not one of them was needed or undertaken as a life saving procedure for the mother. If a woman did present at 24 weeks pregnant with a life threatening condition, it is not necessary to deliberately end the life of her unborn child in order to end her pregnancy, which is what the practice known as 'pregnancy termination' entails.
Our work is focused primarily on the coercive factors associated with abortion, and the injustice to women of forcing them to choose between their unborn children and their full participation in professional, educational and social worlds. When we try to educate the public about the well accepted international evidence of risk of psychological harm from abortion, we are accused of woman hating, of scare-mongering and of deception. Yet when anonymous spokespeople from government funded organisations make misleading statements to the media which are published as truth, few question it.
When post-abortive women try to tell their own stories of having felt unsupported and deceived when they sought abortions, they are accused of being brainwashed or of trying to coerce women into continuing a pregnancy. Many are told they have no right to speak because their intent is obviously to try and remove 'choice' from other women. I have heard professionals talk about the need to 'reframe' a woman's experience if she talks about post-abortive grief or trauma, so that she remembers it was her choice and it was the right one... regardless of her actual, subjective experience.
When I spoke about the direct coercion that women seeking medical abortion experience in clinics, one high profile abortion provider stated that these women do not exist! What better way to silence a woman than to pretend she doesn't exist?
As we consider the Infant Viability Act it is timely to consider not only the plight of women through a social justice and feminist framework, but also to ask questions about what women's children, born and unborn mean to them.
It is not surprising that the point of commonality in terms of engendering public concern and compassion is often centred on babies. We are in awe of pictures depicting the hand of an unborn baby reaching to be grasped by the surgeon who has just performed life saving surgery on the foetus even before it is born. We are shocked when the 'wrong' baby is accidentally terminated instead of its twin who was intended to die. We are horrified when stories of infanticide by abortionists are made public, because there seems to be something much more wrong with ending the life of a baby seconds after it leaves its mothers body, regardless of the intent of the procedure to get it there, than there is with ending that life a minute earlier, while still inside the mother.
When people are confronted with truths which include that the majority of women are having abortions because they lack the most basic of economic, social or relational supports to continue a pregnancy, or that most late term abortions are for the same reasons, they may cringe... they may experience some unidentifiable discomfort, but they then often fall back on the very tired rhetoric of 'womens choice'.
How it is that we can choose to remain so blind to the unmet needs of women who feel forced to choose abortion. How is that we enact laws to protect unborn animals just in case they may be sentient or experience pain, but ignore the science that tells us that unborn babies are aware and do feel pain. We accept that a baby born at 24 weeks and in need of medical care should be treated like a human being and given that care, but we want to deny the same concern and care for a child of even greater gestation in the womb of its mother. In fact, the mere suggestion that there must be more we can do for a woman who presents in distress when pregnant can cause an outcry from abortion advocates that demonstrates they argue for an ideology not for actual women.
There is a woundedness that is so sad to see in every post abortive woman I have met who comes for help or who just wants someone to bear witness to her story. A woundedness that the religious might claim is spiritual, that counsellors may claim is about stigma, that some may concede is legitimate grief. The woundedness seems even more significant than any of these. There is a betrayal in these women. We have let them down in an irreversible, tragic way.
We cannot continue to talk about 'choice' where little exists. We cannot continue to tell women their unborn children are irrelevant when clearly, to them they are not.
Next time you see a newborn and marvel at the tiny fingers and toes, spare a thought for the thousands of women who have had abortions and later come to see that decision in a new and very painful light.
Spare a thought for the young woman who doesn't get a chance to hear information about her unborn before she is talked into an abortion as her 'best' option when she wonders how she'll ever manage university and a baby.
As we consider the Infant Viability Bill, don't be dissuaded from your concern for babies or for women because of the deceptive and coercive concept of 'women's rights.' Women are not enacting a 'right'. They are making often painful decisions which don't feel anything like 'choice'. Some are being forced by partners, employers, parents or their own fears of shame and stigma. Still others are being coerced inside the abortion clinics. How is that about the rights of women?