Time to Listen

This article was originally drafted in December, then redrafted and published in the Courier Mail on 9 February 2006.

The drug RU486 causes abortions. A Senate inquiry reviewing whether ministerial control over the importation of the drug should be removed will hand down its report today.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration would then determine the availability of the drug. The inquiry has received more than 4000 submissions opposing these changes.

Some lobbyists are saying this isn’t about abortion – just drug regulation. Senator Lyn Allison, leader of the Democrats and co-sponsor of the Bill, says it is about a woman’s choice – which infers that it is indeed about abortion.

Senator Stephen Fielding of Family First says it is a public policy decision and, as such, should stay in the hands of elected representatives, not unaccountable bureaucrats.

Obviously many questions are being raised, yet you can’t escape the feeling that we are treating this issue too narrowly. It’s time to recognise that abortion is an element of a much larger issue. Failure to do so excludes many who need to be a part of this discussion.

Where are all the other voices in the abortion debate?

Where are the voices of courageous doctors calling for good medical practice? The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, recently angered many of the association’s members by supporting the wider availability of RU486.

He called for people to “make their decision based on the real facts and what is important”.

More than 200 doctors in the Medical Guild of St Luke think it’s important that ethical criteria have some bearing on medical practice. Further, they believe that the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s inability to take ethical criteria into consideration leaves it ill-equipped to assess drugs designed to take life.

These doctors convened a meeting on Sunday to consider resigning from the AMA in protest at its stance.

Where are the voices of the childless couples? I find it disconcerting that the only option our society is discussing – with regards to women with unwanted pregnancies – is abortion.

In a nation where countless childless couples ache to hold a baby in their arms, there are fewer than 80 Australian children available for adoption in a year. There are also more than 90,000 pregnancies ended each year.

Do we not find it a curious tragedy that in our nation women will weep with the grief of childlessness, while other women will grieve because they feel they have no choice but to abort? Why have we made it easier to end life rather than nurture life?

Imagine if our community considered adoption as an alternative that we would support, emotionally and economically? Imagine the dignity we would bestow upon women if we empowered them, in the midst of uncertainty, to be givers of life.

No one is denying that adoption can be emotionally difficult. However, once an unplanned pregnancy occurs, there are no detached, easy options. We are simply naive if we think that abortion has no psychological or emotional side effects.

In fact, where are the voices of post-abortive women who experience great grief and regret? Why are they not a part, and a vital part, of the policy decisions we make as a society?

After all, they can tell us, more than most, what the costs of these procedures really are.

They may be the voices who challenge us to come up with constructive solutions for women who face an uncertain future.

Where are the voices of courageous women who give birth, despite their child being diagnosed with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome? The immense pressure placed on women to abort children who are seen as “less than perfect” not only fails to affirm the value of those in our society living with such conditions but it also fails to give women true choice.

We should celebrate the courage of women who defy society’s quest for perfection and choose to love extravagantly and unconditionally instead.

In all of this we would be wise to remember that abortion is big business, and that those who profit from it do so at the expense of women across our nation.

If the choice we are fighting for is between a medical and a surgical abortion, we have failed women.

That is not real choice.

We must make a place for the many voices that now are being silenced in this issue. At the very least, someone needs to speak for the women who are calling for a pro-woman approach in its fullest sense.

To be truly pro-woman, life-affirming choices should be as passionately and creatively supported as any other.

If we really care about the rights of women in our nation, let’s listen carefully to all their voices – for in a multitude of counsellors, there is wisdom.