In an article calling for the removal of abortion from the NSW Crimes Act, Pro-Choice NSW spokeswoman Jane Caro said “the only moral way to decide what should occur in the unfortunate and fraught case of an unwanted pregnancy is to allow the person most directly affected to decide” (Sydney Morning Herald, May 29, 2010).
The argument is a cornerstone of the thesis that abortion empowers women by increasing their autonomy in reproductive matters. And yet Caro’s statement requires a wilful blindness to the very existence of the unborn child. Such a view is now so thoroughly detached from medical reality that it is difficult to see how it can be advanced in the public domain.
Privately, of course, one can understand precisely why it is so important for anyone who acquiesces in abortion to block out the existence and dignity of the child victim. Indeed, it weighs heavily on the heart to consider how intense the physical and psychological trauma of abortion must be that it would necessitate such a desperate need to deny the undeniable – that abortion ends in the suffering and death of a child.
Caro’s own article illustrates the point. Scathing in her criticism of new Oklahoma legislation – which requires women seeking an abortion to first view the child via ultrasound – Caro documents the mothers’ responses to the experience of seeing the child in the womb. Invariably they are reduced to tears, emotionally wrecked by the experience of seeing the child who is about to die.
These mothers simply cannot ignore that which Caro refuses to acknowledge: that the person most affected by an abortion is the unborn child.
Back in Australia, the determined and strained efforts by abortion advocates to ignore the unborn child are under assault, not just from pro-life groups, but by the bare facts of medical practice. A report on perinatal deaths by the Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality revealed that in 54 of the 345 late-term abortions sought in Victoria in 2007, the child survived the attempted abortion, and was delivered into the world alive.
The birth of the living child puts paid to the delusion which insists that moments earlier that there was no child at all.
As Democratic Labour Party MLC (Vic.) Peter Kavanagh has noted, the birth of live children from failed late-term abortions raises important legal questions regarding the rights of the child once born. The abortion movement has always depended heavily on the presupposition that legal personhood – and therefore the protection of the law – does not accrue until birth.
Leaving aside the myriad legal and philosophical issues surrounding the proper role of the law in protecting the unborn, it has never been countenanced by Australian law-makers that a child born alive should attain anything less than the full legal protection of the law. The persons immediately responsible for the care of newborn child have duties in respect of the care of that child, and if the child dies as a consequence of neglect, or as a result of acts intended to bring about the child’s death, then the persons responsible face liability. In essence, those responsible for the child’s death can no longer hide behind the legal protection available when the child happens to be located in the womb.
For these reasons, and given that children born after 26 weeks’ gestation now have a high rate of survival, Peter Kavanagh has called for a full inquiry into the deaths of the 54 post-abortion children born in Victoria in 2007. Mr Kavanagh’s motion has received the full support of the pro-life movement.
Australian Family Association spokeswoman Terri Kelleher has noted that the deaths of these children – legal citizens of Australia – raise serious and urgent questions: “What happened to these babies? Were they rendered medical assistance? … Were death certificates issued … and if so, what was recorded as the cause of death?”
Mr Kavanagh’s call for an inquiry comes at a time of mounting concern over the growing numbers of late-term abortions taking place in Australia – particularly in Victoria, where the nation’s most permissive abortion laws were adopted in October 2008. And despite claims by the abortion lobby that relatively few Australians oppose abortion outright, it is difficult to imagine that Australians would be anything less than outraged at the neglect or killing of children who have actually been born alive.
However, for the staunch pro-abortion advocate, or for the abortionist coarsened by the routine denial of the dignity of the unborn child, it is a small step from “terminating the foetus” to discarding or terminating the same foetus should it happen to survive the abortion.
This is why, when it comes to abortion, Australia is at an important crossroads. Once directed only at children without legal status, abortion is now claiming victims who are themselves entitled to full legal protection. If this tragic development is not enough to halt the abortion juggernaut – indeed, to turn it on its heels – then one can only wonder what will.
Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Australian Family Association.