Debbie Garratt

Writer-Counselor-Wellbeing Coach

Presumption of Innocence

I will be speaking at this very important conference in a few weeks, so a little recap of our story and an update seems in order.

My step son was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a girl a little over 2 years ago now, yet it is still as raw for me as it ever was. Living through the trauma of the Covid years, then nursing my terminally ill father for 9 months before his death haven't helped my recovery.

Sitting in silence, in this age of censorship and bullying will never be the answer and will only perpetuate the shocking culture in which we currently live: one where information is tightly controlled so that you don't commit thought crimes and one where men are demonised incessantly as 'toxic' perpetrators.

About a year ago, when I was out on a very rare shopping trip as I rarely left the house while my father was so ill, I was accosted by a woman I didn't recognise outside of a shopping centre. She screamed and swore at me initially insistent that I knew her 'Don't you recognise me? You know who I f***ing am." She became more furious as I simply stated I had no idea who she was. People stood around. I asked her to stop swearing in front of my grand daughter who was with me and other children who were about. I assumed she was drugged up and lashing out thinking she knew me.

It turns out she did know me. She told me she knew everything about me, where I went, what I did. She named my son who was with me, and my grand daughter. She threatened my grand daughter by suggesting to me that it would be awful if something happened to her when she was visiting her mother in the town that she lived. She even knew that my grand daughter only visited her mother, and where.

The woman was the mother whose allegation against my son of assaulting her daughter dragged us through years of legal anguish and changed our lives forever. This mother threatened harm on my grand daughter and basically said she was stalking me.

Once I realised who she was I tried very hard to de-escalate her. I offered to sit and talk to her calmly. I told her I was sorry for what we all went through. The entire time she swore and yelled and I expected at any moment to be physically assaulted. In the end I had to walk away with her threats on the wind behind me.

I felt sorry for her. I was halfway home before I began shaking and recognised the threat that she had been and potentially was to my family. Encouraged by everyone I attended the police who said she hadn't really committed an offence but they offered to visit her. I declined. I hoped it was a one off and that she now had it out of her system. I had no energy while managing everything at home to manage that as well.

This is the reality of false accusations for me as a step mother, not even as someone who was accused. Imagine what it is like for my step son to walk around town expecting this kind of thing and possibly being subject to it.. years after the event.

We must restore some sanity to our legal system. We must stop the media from lying or even sensationalising allegations. In fact we must stop people being named in the media as just the naming can be enough to destroy their lives and the lives of their families. It's horrendous.

If you can, come to the conference or watch it livestreamed. We all have fathers, brothers, sons, husbands.. somewhere a man you love who could easily become victim to the culture especially with States shifting to control the most intimate acts in relationships with coercive control legislation. Do something before it is someone you love affected.

All options for women

Below is an excerpt from my book, Alarmist Gatekeeping on the issue of women who change their minds after starting a medical abortion. It highlights the position of 'pro-choice' ideology that is not in fact at all interested in women exercising their right to choose any option.

I wrote about this at a time after closing the service and when the first clinical trial was then available to women in Australia.

Calls for this service to be available to Australian women began around the same time as the USA based organisation found themselves fielding calls from many countries where they were unable to provide the service. In 2015, after being contacted by the US team, I established a small network of medical practitioners to provide progesterone for such women. With limited human resources and no funding, the service was not actively marketed or advertised in any way and relied on women who may find the US service to be referred to me. While still in the early stages of establishment I was contacted by a journalist from Australian Doctor.

Australian Doctor is an internet and print magazine described as the “leading independent medical publication, informing, educating and engaging GPs for more than 30 years.” It provides information on a wide variety of issues relevant to the health professions. The journalist wanted to ask me some questions about our service, which I politely declined as we were still navigating how best to provide service and didn’t want promotion to mean a demand that we found difficult to meet. This didn’t stop Australian Doctor from seeking Expert advice about the terrible dangers of what we were embarking on (153).

Headlined with “Warning over medical abortion ‘reversal’ service,” the service is introduced as being “offered by an anti-abortion group” and stated that it “has been condemned as dangerous and irresponsible.

The Expert quoted in the article is an experienced abortion provider and executive on one of the largest professional bodies in Australia for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It can therefore reasonably be expected that she has knowledge of the use of progesterone in early pregnancy, the fact that mifepristone does not cause a higher incidence of congenital abnormalities (154)  and that women are often ambivalent about abortion and may change their minds or experience regret (155).

Her comments in the article include aspects of both Alarmism and Disinformation.

"I would think that any Australian doctor who is prescribing a woman synthetic progesterone in this situation is acting very irresponsibly."

"There was no way of knowing what effect progesterone would have in a woman who has recently taken mifepristone."

"There is no evidence that this is an appropriate thing to do."

"It would be highly dangerous to say that a pregnancy would proceed normally after that."

"We don’t have women suddenly changing their minds—this is basically not a problem; this is a furphy."

These statements are also an attempt to Discredit those providing the service and, of course, denies the existence of women who change their minds. Which begs the question, what does it matter if the service exists if there are no women requesting it? Interestingly, there were a number of comments on the article from doctors who were critical of the Expert’s assessment and Alarmism:

"Rather than being self-interested, this website appears to be offering women something for which there is no other option, without any self-reward or guarantee of success. Pity the rest of medicine (or perhaps just RANZCOG) doesn’t want to get behind helping women at a time when they are so vulnerable."

"I find it quite interesting that while pro-abortion supporters champion
“women’s choice,” Royal Australian and New Zealand College of
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokeswoman Professor De Costa’s
resistance to allowing doctors to offer the reversal treatment has the
opposite effect of truly providing women free choice by discouraging
their access to this form of treatment."

“highly dangerous”??? RANZCOG is on record for recommending (synthetic!) progesterone in early pregnancy for e.g. threatened miscarriage."

"Totally biased opinion given de Costa helped bring mifepristone to Australia... like asking a butcher if vegetarians get enough iron out of their diet."

"Regardless of how much counselling a woman gets, she is permitted to change her mind. to say that she won’t/can’t is irresponsible and totally paternalistic."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the comments have since been deleted from the online version of the article.

In the United States, a number of state governments—Idaho, South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi (at the time of writing)—have decided the risk versus benefit evidence of progesterone in this setting is convincing enough that they have legislated for women be told they have an option to reverse if they change their minds (156).  There is massive opposition to this intervention from Adherents. The stated major objection is that there is not enough evidence to support the intervention (157).  It is likely, however, that underlying this objection is the concern that such interventions may threaten the Principle of abortion rights. Some of this opposition raises the issue of progesterone to counter mifepristone being a new therapy that does not yet have as strong an evidence base as many widely available medical interventions. However, all new and innovative medical interventions have a starting point, and this particular intervention is both low risk with potentially very high benefit.

While I am convinced that women should have access to such a remedy if they choose it, I am less confident that informing women about the possibility of reversal prior to commencing an abortion has any merit. In fact, such information may encourage anxious, ambivalent women to begin the process believing it can be stopped without fully understanding the risks they are taking.

In 2017, a case study article I had published on women who had accessed the service of Australian Mifepristone Reversal drew criticism from an Adherent who questioned the agenda of the service provision (158).  In a letter to the editor, the International Coordinator of a group called International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion called into question not only the peer review process for allowing the article to be published but also the agenda of the service providers (159).  

The author accuses the peer review process of enabling “anti-abortion efforts to dress up their political aims as science” and of “giving credibility of scientific publication when its underlying aim was to promote a way to stop abortion.”

The service providers of Australian Mifepristone Reversal were accused of having the main purpose of finding “a clinical means to stop abortions already in process from taking place” with the suggestion that this is not the woman’s expressed need. She further suggests that women who change their minds may have done so because they may have been exposed to health professionals who condemned them, showed them their ultrasound scan or “nasty visuals of chopped up foetuses.” In Berer’s mind there is no room for the fact that the women may simply have been extremely ambivalent or under pressure and subsequently sought, asked for, and consented to the service offered by Australian Mifepristone Reversal.

The journal’s Editor responded strongly to this letter which was deemed to “level serious accusations at the editor and questions the reviewing process.” (160)  He went on to state that the published paper met all appropriate standards for research and publication and that rejection of it may have been considered to be censorship and suppression.

The Alarmist reaction by Adherents to this service is due to the perceived risk to the principle of abortion rights, yet underpinning that principle is meant to include the ideal that women have the right to full control of their own bodies. This must include the right to change their minds and access different treatments. Discrediting as “anti-choice” those services that provide women with added alternatives typifies the inconsistency and complete abstraction of the Dominant positioning.

Over almost five years of operation, the service has been contacted by close to 70 women who had taken mifepristone and changed their minds. Almost all the women went to great lengths to contact the service, and then only after exhausting all other avenues of seeking help. One woman had visited three separate hospital emergency departments within the space of a few hours and been turned away, with one doctor telling her she should have thought about what she was doing before she did it. Many of these women were distressed and confused about why it was so difficult to find help and why the service isn’t more widely promoted.

"I will always be pro-choice even though I wish I hadn’t done this (started the medical abortion), but for women like me this should be part of our choice, surely?" (Becca)

So far no typical scenario has been identified in women who change their minds and seek support, except for the common phenomena of immediate regret upon ingesting mifepristone. There have been women from every state of Australia who have accessed medical abortion via all means available, in private clinics, GP-prescribed, and by mail order. Every woman describes the moment that she realised she had done the “wrong” thing as a moment of complete clarity and often total panic.

About half of the women decide to proceed to termination after contacting the service. For those that talk about their reasons, they are usually succumbing to the same pressures that led them to abortion in the first place or their fears that mifepristone has damaged the unborn baby, something that is reinforced by abortion providers.

Around 80% of the women had first contacted or attempted to contact the abortion provider for advice. All but one of these was advised that they had no choice but to either continue the medical abortion process or attend the clinic to complete the abortion surgically. All were told that mifepristone would likely harm the unborn baby, which is not consistent with current evidence. Marie Stopes still has the following on the FAQ page on their website (161):  

Q: What happens if I don’t go through with the medical abortion?

A: It is very important that you understand that mifepristone or misoprostol can damage a developing foetus. If you do not want to continue with the medical termination of pregnancy after starting, we strongly recommend that you have a surgical termination of pregnancy rather than continue the pregnancy.

This is not only untrue but provides added pressure for women to continue a process for which they have clearly withdrawn consent. For women whose pregnancies have continued, there is often an expressed disbelief that they could ever have considered aborting their now much-loved babies. For those whose pregnancies don’t continue, the feedback has still been very positive with women expressing how thankful they were to have had an opportunity to “try to take it back.”

So good, I’m dangerous

"So good, I'm dangerous"

These were my dad's last words on 16 February, 2024, the day he died. He'd been laying in bed unresponsive for almost 24 hours by this time. We had all gathered around him, myself, mum, my husband, his grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Wandering in and out, sharing memories, talking to him, laughing and holding back tears as we knew the end was finally coming after a long illness.

At this point I was kneeling on the bed and trying to straighten Dad up a little when he opened his eyes and looked at me. I asked 'Are you okay Dad, are you good?"

"So good I'm dangerous" he said with a twinkle in his eye, then he fell back to sleep.

Only a few hours later surrounded by people who loved him, both in the room and via FaceTime, he took his final breaths and left us. I'd had the privilege of he and mum moving into my home 9 months prior so that I could help them navigate what we thought would be his final weeks.

Instead of only weeks, Dad lived long enough to celebrate he and mum's 60th Wedding Anniversary, Christmas with all the grandchildren and great grandchildren, and then Mum's birthday only 2 days before he died.

He was 79, and had been in love with my mum since he was 17. They married when they were just 16 and 18 and I was born when they were 17 and 19. They had two children and Dad went to war in Vietnam when I was 6 years old. He suffered serious mental health battles and finally overcame them in his 70's. He and Mum have amazing, connected and loving relationships with all of their grandchildren, most of whom described him as tough but funny. It has been interesting to get to know more of who he was as a man through other people's eyes over these months. In many ways it adds to my sense of loss.

This photo of him at only 37, holding my 6 week old daughter, is how I best remember him.

For various reasons he had no funeral but we gathered a few weeks later to spread his ashes. I held the remnants of his body in my hands and felt the greatest loss. It comes in waves now as I think about so much of the hardship of his life as he battled mental illness and how that illness caused an abyss between us for so very long. The grief is also for how wonderfully healing and loving those last months were as my Dad gave me many healing words and reassured me.. convinced me.. of his love for me.

It was an honour to care for him. I still wonder if I did enough. Today Mum was sorting some of his clothing and as I held a shirt, I thought about how this is a shirt a person was wearing. A person. A person whose body isn't even in this world anymore and I can't comprehend it. What is left when the person leaves but the rest of us... to remember them and to live on with a renewed sense of what is important. That's certainly the case for me.

While acknowledging I am still in a time of grieving, I also believe my priorities have shifted hugely over these months. When all is said and done, you take nothing with you when you die. You leave memories. You leave people. The only thing that matters anymore are those people and how you impacted or influenced them. How you loved them and how they loved you.

We can only ever hope it is enough.

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