The proliferation of America’s crisis pregnancy centres has transformed the terms of the abortion debate in the U.S., and could do the same in Australia. Tim Cannon reports.
In the bitter and bloody debate over the moral, ethical and legal status of abortion, there has rarely been room on either side of the divide for compromise or cooperation.
But a fresh approach to abortion is achieving notable success in reducing abortion numbers across the United States, and has paved the way for an unprecedented co-operative movement among pro- and anti-abortion advocates which recognises the tragic nature of abortion, and which acknowledges the urgent need to reduce abortion numbers, ideally to zero.
The attempt to establish common ground marks a fundamental shift in the way abortion is being perceived, both in the political realm, and in the personal.
No longer focusing merely on the “rights” of the woman, with a callous disregard for the traumatic consequences of abortion for both mother and child, the debate now implicitly assumes that abortion is an undesirable reality.
This change in the way abortion is perceived and debated has been brought about chiefly through a novel approach by pro-life campaigners in their efforts to reduce abortion numbers.
Realising that, for many mothers, the decision to have an abortion is a result of financial and social pressures, uncertainty regarding the child’s future, and a general ignorance of the nature and possible consequences of abortion, some pro-life advocates have abandoned their placards, chants and pictures of aborted foetuses, and set about providing quality care and support for women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and unsure of what to do.
An article by Nancy Gibbs, which features prominently in the latest U.S. and Australian editions of Time magazine, documents the quiet but steady proliferation of pregnancy resource centres across the U.S., which now number around 2,300.
The centres provide a wide range of services for pregnant women, including facilities for pre-natal care, counselling, and even financial assistance and emergency housing.
The centres have also been successful in dissuading women from choosing abortion. They provide free ultrasound services and pregnancy tests, and encourage mothers to recognise the growing foetus inside of them as a real child.
Significantly, they alert pregnant women to the possible dangers, and the short- and long-term after-effects, of abortion on women.
In Texas, the enactment of informed consent legislation – which stipulates that doctors and abortion-providers must provide patients with a special information booklet outlining the medical and psychological risks of abortion – has seen abortion numbers in that state drop to the lowest levels since 1978, further indicating that, although many women are aware of abortion as an option protected by the law, few women are aware of the impact an abortion can have on their own well-being.
It is this emphasis on the welfare of women that has resonated so strongly with even the most prominent advocates of abortion as a woman’s right.
In an address to a convention of New York State Family Planning Providers (January 24, 2005), staunch pro-abortion campaigner and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton argued that, “we can all recognise that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women”.
And, while some have dismissed Clinton’s willingness to concede ground to the pro-life lobby as an attempt to win over conservative voters in the lead up to 2008’s presidential race, by contrast Gibbs’s Time article points to a cooperative effort in Asheville, North Calorina by Jeff Hutchinson, senior pastor at a conservative Presbyterian church, and an abortion-provider to achieve a set of established common goals: “to decrease abortions, relieve the social and economic conditions that lead women to consider abortion, make adoption easier, condemn violence and keep talking” (Time, February 15, 2007).
That two parties so fundamentally opposed on the issue of abortion can assent to such common goals reflects a profoundly radical change in the nature of the debate, and marks a small but definite step towards a future in which no woman will have to choose abortion.
In Australia, this fresh approach to abortion is still in its early stages. Grounbreaking work by organisations such as Women’s Forum Australia (WFA), and Respect Life, have brought to light the need to acknowledge the grief of women who have experienced first-hand the trauma of abortion.
Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief after Abortion (2000), a book by WFA founding director Melinda Tankard Reist, gives voice to the grieving of hundreds of Australian women, who were unaware of the impact that having an abortion would have on their lives.
Meanwhile women’s organisation Rachel’s Vineyard provides post-abortion care and support for women in Australia, responding to Pope John Paul II’s call for “radical solidarity” with women who have made the traumatic choice to abort.
There is also a growing number of pro-life pregnancy counselling services in Australia, although support for their activities has been hampered by opposition from such hard-line pro-abortion crusaders as Democrat Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, whose Pregnancy Counselling (Truth In Advertising) Bill last year sought to discredit services which did not provide referrals for abortion.
Such hostility indicates that, in Australia, there is much to be done in demonstrating that opposition to abortion is intrinsically linked with concern for the welfare of women.
It is significant that Gibbs’s article bears the title, “The Grassroots Abortion War”. She observes that, far from the political arenas and public media, the battles are taking place “one conscience at a time”.
So too must opponents of abortion in Australia work to provide the care and support that pregnant women in crisis desperately need. Indeed, at the grassroots level, it is our responsibility to protect each woman from the trauma of abortion, and only by our example will politicians and public figures from all sides of the divide recognise the tragic reality of abortion.
– Tim Cannon.