Current alcohol laws are antiquated, and out of step with modern attitudes towards drinking. According to a recent poll conducted by one of Australia’s biggest brewers, the majority of teenagers believe that that alcohol providers should not face sanctions for supplying alcohol to minors. The authors have called for the decriminalisation of supply to minors.
There has been no survey of teenagers about their preferences for alcohol supply. However, in a remarkably similar exercise, the Medical Journal of Australia, journal of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), has recently published research that claims that a majority of Australians support decriminalisation of late term abortion.
An anonymous online survey of 1050 Australians aged 18 years or older was conducted between 28 and 31 July 2008. The survey used ‘contextualised’ questions, that is, it asked the respondents to apply certain circumstances to women close to them, and to specifically consider their responses in that context. The survey is not available for examination, but it appears that the research was focused on abortion after 24 weeks gestation, that is, beyond the age where babies are likely to survive outside the womb.
The Journal article describes the results: “Our study showed a high level of support for access to early abortion; 87% of respondents indicated that abortion should be lawful in the first trimester (61% unconditionally and 26% depending on the circumstances). In most of the clinical and social circumstances described in our survey, a majority of respondents indicated that doctors should not face professional sanctions for performing abortion after 24 weeks’ gestation.”
The release of the article was supported by a press release by the AMA claiming that ‘most Australians support late abortion’. An opinion piece by the authors was also released, drawing a link between the survey responses and the decriminalisation of late term abortion. Another, separate article by one author, espouses extreme views about the morality of late term abortion but has very little reference to the research.
The print media has readily taken up the material, with the Adelaide Advertiser, Courier Mail (Brisbane), Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian all running pieces on the story.
In examining the Journal article, supporting data (to the extent that this is available), and the claims of the authors, a number of inconsistencies become apparent.
Firstly, a note regarding the authorship of the article. Lachlan de Crespigny and Julian Savulescu are well known for their extreme views regarding termination of pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. De Crespigny is also a provider of abortion services, being the man who delivered the fatal injection to the heart of baby Jessica at 32 weeks. Mark Textor is an owner of Crosby Textor which undertook the survey (as declared by the authors). Given that certain survey outcomes are both within the authors' interests and their influence, the study demands critical attention. It seems unlikely that the authors would have published the results and heralded them so loudly if the outcome were different.
Secondly, readers should remember the role and motivation of the AMA. As an industry lobby group, it is reasonable to expect that they will advocate for public policy that serves their members' interests best. What we should not expect, however, is that they will advocate for the wellbeing of either patients, or the wider society, particularly if this means curtailing their business.
Third, there is an implicit assumption put forward in both the research paper and the accompanying media releases that bears some examination. Both suggest that legislation should reflect the attitudes of society and current practise. Sounds reasonable on the surface, but the role of law is to limit the freedoms of some, to ensure the more basic freedoms of others. Outside of abortion, government is expected to constrain, even change, public attitudes. For example, dring driving, cigarette smoking, speeding. It would be ludicrous to conduct a poll to determine whether teenagers thought cigarettes should be legally available at an affordable price. Similarly, we don’t legalise paedophilia just because this is ‘current practice’ for some individuals. We elect good leaders who examine all the facts, and legislate for good social outcomes that benefit all members of society.
The study itself uses methods that distort the responses of the participants, and then misrepresents the results. This is psuedo-science at best, and at worst is a dodgy attempt to put some credibility into a campaign designed to manipulate the public and lawmakers.
The paper refers to ‘factual information about the proposed law change in Victoria’. It is not clear what kind of information this included. It is a fairly safe guess that it did not include reference to termination up until birth. It is also a a fairly reasonable assumption that no information about abortion procedures, the fate of the child involved, the lack of support available for women, high rates of coercion, or the psychological and physical risks was provided. The data therefore, at best, reflects the attitudes of those who are ignorant of the real nature of abortion, particularly late term abortion.
The method of questioning personalises the abortion decision by describing specific situations. It does not, however, personalise the experience of the other person involved (all references to babies were accompanied by the word ‘suffering’ so that the baby appears to benefit from his/her death), nor does it provide any personal stories of women’s grief and regret following abortion. The respondents’ answers are therefore skewed toward providing what appears to be a compassionate response to a request for an abortion. Perhaps a more truthful title would be “Survey shows most Australians wouldn’t prosecute doctors who save women’s lives.” No argument with that.
One of the questions asks respondents to indicate whether or not they thought that a doctor should face professional sanctions for performing an abortion after 24 weeks in certain circumstances, including three where there is risk to the life, physical health or mental health of the woman. The inference is that such situations exist. The continuation of a pregnancy may, in limited circumstances, create unacceptable risks that require termination of the pregnancy. However, the intentional death of the child is never a necessary part of any treatment after 24 weeks. These babies are likely to survive if given care. I doubt the respondents were aware of this.
The short preamble to questions regarding late term abortion focuses on a ‘grey zone’ between 22 and 26 weeks “where some foetuses have survived, most with ongoing disability, through major medical intervention.” This reference to disability and medical intervention skews the respondents’ answers toward cases of borderline viability when answering. The study, however, reports the responses as refering to any age following 24 weeks, implicitly including up until birth. I doubt that the respondents were thinking of fully developed babies when answering.
Finally, the conclusion by the AMA that “A majority of Australians support laws that enable women to access late abortion” is a misrepresentation of a survey about doctors’ professional liability. Nowhere did the survey ask if people thought late term abortion should be decriminalised. Why not ask the obvious? The answer is simple – there are many other outcomes of decriminalisation - an increase in the number of abortions (as we are currently seeing in Victoria), an increase in the level of coercion, an increase in the number of women experiencing severe after-effects, a decrease in our regard for the rights of the unborn etcetera.
Some critical thinking is required here. This report has nothing to do with research, and everything to do with the pro-abortion beliefs of the authors.
The question of legalisation is much more complex than doctors and their risk profile. This simplistic and deceptive approach is both self-serving and calculated. Those with a financial agenda use poor science to manipulate the media, politicians, and the wider public into believing that laws that protect our vulnerable citizens (born and unborn) should be removed, so that their businesses can flourish.
How about a real debate – lets talk about the real issues: coercion, regret, dead babies, infanticide, consciencious objection, physical risks, psychological carnage, big business, lack of care and support, lack of positive options, and social attitudes (towards rape, disability, young mums), to name a few. We must cut through the smoke and mirrors and have a look at what is really at stake – the lives of our children and the wellbeing of their parents. Australians deserve better than (late term) abortion.
The Australian Christian Lobby have also released a response to the AMJ article.