(Reproduced with permission)
The abortion debate provokes mixed feelings, but leaving late-term babies to die in dishes or bins is wrong. Silence is no longer an option.
THIS country has a bad conscience about abortion. You can tell this by the frantic attempts to make us shut the hell up about it.
Health Minister Tony Abbott, who mourned the "unambiguous moral tragedy" of up to 100,000 abortions a year, has been warned by rivals in the Liberal Party this "foray into morality politics" has ruined his chance of ever becoming leader.
Even his boss apparently wants him to keep quiet.
Now Governor-General Michael Jeffery, who on the weekend merely said he wished there were many fewer abortions, is being damned by some of the usual commentators for allegedly meddling in politics.
His comment "doesn't augur well", warned Labor Senator Jan Mc Lucas.
On Sunday, "pro-choice" Labor spokespeople such as Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were alarmed enough by the fresh headlines to tell the Government to put up a new law or shut up – with an emphasis on the latter.
"Do we need to have another debate on abortion?" sighed the exasperated Age on Monday, while Labor Premier Steve Bracks said having this debate now "lacks legitimacy", whatever that means.
Earlier, Australian Medical Association boss Bill Glasson berated the ABC for simply showing My Foetus, a frank documentary on abortion which he damned as "unnecessary" and "voyeurism at its worst".
Why this absurd fear of mere talk? Why, too, all these red herrings: that there is "no obvious groundswell of concern about abortions", or that people such as Abbott actually plan to ban abortions completely, or that only die-hard Catholic men are pushing the issue?
Why? Because we are too scared to face up to the horrors now perpetrated in the abortion clinics, such as the abortion of babies expelled alive, or killed in the womb just weeks from birth.
These are horrors never contemplated even by those who chanted that abortion was merely a "woman's right to choose". These are horrors that now trouble also feminists such as Eva Cox and Wendy McCarthy, and force even us non-Christians to conclude an evil is being done, and we must speak up.
But I'll tell you how frightened we are to confront what we know to be wrong.
Note that not a single bishop has dared say a word in public to back the politicians who are protesting at the level of abortions, and the kind we now do. Not one.
So far we've heard from the Liberal front benchers Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Eric Abetz, and from the Nationals' De-Anne Kelly and, before the election, Julian McGauran.
No doubt, if these politicians had spoken of the need to save trees, they'd have won loud "amen's" of praise from a whole mass of Catholic and Anglican bishops.
But when they speak instead against the killing of unborn babies old enough to survive outside the womb, the bishops are as silent as the grave. Where are these moral leaders now that they are needed not by a eucalypt but by a child?
Here's a clue. In August, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Watson, admitted "we in the Anglican church particularly have been so silent" on abortion.
And one reason that "most of the time abortion is a no-go area" was perhaps the church was "intimidated by the feminist rhetoric". Well, now is the time to speak, archbishop. Or must mere politicians be left to do the work of our clerics and speak on the sanctity of life, while the leaders of our churches hide in their vestries from angry activists?
I would not want you to assume from this that I want a ban on all abortions. This is a terrifyingly difficult issue, and no answer will satisfy all people of good will and deep conscience.
But surely one aspect of abortion today must worry us all, and have us agree we have drifted too close to the murder of the helpless. Let me give you the three cases that finally shocked me out of my own silence.
Please consider each one, and ask if you should stay silent yourself when such things are done in your hospitals, under your laws.
In 2000, a prominent Melbourne specialist performed an abortion on a healthy 32-week-old fetus, a girl, after her deeply distressed mother threatened to kill herself if made to give birth to a baby so imperfect.
The mother believed from ultrasound tests that her baby, Jessica, could be a dwarf. But the tests were in fact inconclusive and the staff notes written immediately after the baby had been killed in the womb and still-born at the Royal Women's Hospital state: "On delivery, the baby doesn't look small." It seems possible, and perhaps even likely, that the baby had no "defects", after all.
I won't tell you much more about this troubling case, because a magistrate has imposed a suppression order on any evidence from a hearing before her. The information I've given you is taken only from proceedings in federal parliament.
But we have since learned that in 2002 there were 163 of these "late-term abortions", at or beyond 20 weeks' gestation, and 60 of them were for "psycho-social" reasons – which could mean the mother simply did not want her child.
Although the rest were for congenital abnormalities, a Medical Practitioners Board report on late-term terminations concedes these abnormalities could be as trivial as a cleft palate.
Does the thought of killing a fetus around 20 weeks old – let alone 32 – not disturb you? Then consider the death in 1998 of Jessica Jane, whose mother decided she wanted no baby to interrupt her career. Jessica Jane was just 22 weeks old when she was aborted – alive. She was placed in a stainless steel dish by a horrified midwife and left in a room, where she cried until she died, alone, 80 minutes later.
A coroner's hearing in Darwin was told by witnesses they'd known of other aborted babies born alive, although no other case had been reported to officials.
Except one. Someone cleaning up after an abortion in Sydney's Westmead in 1998 found a baby, still alive, in a bin. The coroner in that case, too, said she'd been told "many terminated fetus live after they are expelled from the mother".
I don't need to be religious to know these deaths involve a profound wrong. I know and respect that a mother has a right to her body, but I know also that these aborted babies, born gasping or killed in the womb just weeks from birth, had a greater right to their young life.
Why, for instance, was Jessica killed, when she could have been born alive that very day and been adopted? She would have turned five next February.
Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne both say banning such late-term abortions – and doing more to help mothers carry their babies to term – is about as much as they hope for from this renewed debate.
You can see why, then, they are being told to shut up. Of course they must be silenced, because when we face squarely these three cases – the deaths of Jessica, Jessica Jane and the baby in the bin – we know in our soul we have condoned a sin and betrayed the most weak among us.
About abortion in principle, I struggle to know my own mind. But about the late-term abortion of children such as these, I am certain. This is wrong. And silence is no longer an option.