PETER DAY. No womb in the Inn.

Too often the issue of abortion is couched in terms of women’s rights only – “It’s my body. It’s my choice – back off!” 

A friend told me recently of a powerful experience he had during his time as Principal at an all-boys school in the 1970s.

He was asked to fill-in for a year nine religious education class following a staffing mix-up.

With little time to prepare a lesson, he decided to take a different tack. He asked the boys to move their desks and chairs to the back of the room and to sit down in a circle.

He then asked them to take turns in sharing something they thought was good about their lives.

After a dozen or so perfunctory replies, something from out of the blue:

“I’d just like to thank my mum for not aborting me when she was asked to.”

Silence.

_______________________

Too often the issue of abortion is couched in terms of women’s rights only – “It’s my body. It’s my choice – back off!” 

For some, abortion on demand is even celebrated as a source of feminist pride – as though it were the yardstick for a truly progressive society. Bearing in mind, in Jurisdictions like the A.C.T, for instance, a foetus can be terminated at full-term (nine months gestation!).

Indeed, places like Canberra pride themselves on diversity, on fair and just treatment of minorities, of the vulnerable – thus, and rightly so, events like the Paralympics, Refugee rallies, Gay Pride marches etc. are celebrated and encouraged.

This compassion is certainly not limited to human-beings: think the howls of protest over the culling of kangaroos, over the deaths of live sheep and cattle on boats, over the treatment of greyhounds, and over the cutting down of old trees; not to mention the passion generated around the conservation of non-sentient things like heritage listed buildings.

What, then, to say about the treatment of the silent, voiceless ones in the womb – the ones who don’t get to reach year nine at school and say, “Thanks for having me”?

And what of the culling of foetuses with disabilities – in WA, for instance, 93% of women given a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate?

As journalist, Jennifer Oriel, says, “The popular narrative is that late-term abortions are performed mainly for foetuses with terminal conditions, but data shows… a global trend towards aborting [those] with disabilities. Iceland is nearing 100 per cent termination of foetuses with Down syndrome.”

There is nothing more “domestic” than the womb – it is the first home of all human beings.

It can also be a place of violence, of culling. 

Perhaps it’s time to broaden our national and international conversation about domestic violence, especially in the context of late (twentieth week of gestation) and full-term abortions?

That said, and as I have written previously, I am not in any way suggesting another unseemly finger-pointing exercise, nor am I advocating criminalisation. Indeed, compassion compels one to want to walk alongside a woman confronting such a choice, even to cry with her – there is no place here for pompous moralising. 

Further, the issue cannot continue to be reduced to simplistic labelling: its pro-life v pro-choice, religious zealot v secular progressive; left v right etc. It’s far more complex and layered than these lazy binaries would have us believe.

Nor must we allow the ideology of identity politics to shut down conversation and bully people into silence – i.e. “This is a woman’s issue; only women should have a say.” 

What I am advocating is a robust and reasoned, if sometimes heated, public conversation similar to the ones we have about the life conservation issues mentioned earlier. 

Perhaps such a conversation might begin with a question: “What does it mean to be human?” 

And while we should have compassion for the Cricket Australia employee recently sacked for her tweets concerning abortion in Tasmania, we must also be conscious that hers is not the only side of the story that needs to be told.

Peter Day is a Catholic Priest in Queanbeyan. 

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7 Responses to PETER DAY. No womb in the Inn.

  1. Nigel Drake says:

    Ah!
    Yes!
    The sanctity of life.
    Whether or not the individual benefits from being alive or not.
    To expand on the ‘voice from the womb’ concept, have any of these foetuses been asked whether or not they wished to have been conceived?
    How many people become so desparate with the lives which the are forced to endure that they self harm and/or suicide?
    How many unwanted children grow up in lives of deprivation and misery?
    Ah!
    But these factors do not fit the narrative, do they.
    Whilst the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Profiteers and Priests continue to determine the lives of ordinary persons there will be no justice.

  2. Mary Wood says:

    It must be wonderful to be a male and know that you will never have an unwanted pregnancy. Why should any person take notice of a priest of the church which covered up child abuse for years? Look to the flaws in your own backyard before pompously telling others how they should live. It seems to me that “right to life” and anti-abortion campaigners only care about life while it is still in the womb – after that you are on your own.

    • Catherine Ransom says:

      Mary I think it’s actually encouraging for men to be emotionally invested in the welfare of women and children. I didn’t think he was telling we women how to live, I took from his comments a personal ‘aha’ moment where he saw the impact of abortion from another angle. It made me remember the time when working in a secondary college, I encountered a young man crying and in obvious deep distress because his girlfriend was pregnant and was on her way to have an abortion. He could do nothing. The girl’s parents had ‘helped’ her to make the decision to abort. I was struck by the fact that our boys are not taught the impact of having no control over the fate of their first born child. We think they don’t care but they do. We say it’s ‘women’s business’ and hate men having an opinion. I think we do this to our detriment.

      With regards to ‘only caring about life in the womb’ I really don’t think that’s true. There are amazing support systems for women in difficult pregnancy situations here in Australia. They could definitely be better but is there any incentive for the government to boost funds in that direction when abortion services are cheaper and quicker? It’s a bit like euthanasia, if that gets through it will be because it is a quick financial fix to the expense of decent care for the elderly.

      I remember when the womb was analogous as the safest place on earth. its a shame that it is now a battle zone.

      • KAYTHEGARDENER says:

        Why did the young man not think of the possible consequences of his actions before it was too late??
        If he left the situation up to her (by not controlling his own fertility), then why would he expect her to see things with HIS views having priorities in HER life??

  3. Peter Meury says:

    You are right Peter Day, the matter should be discussed, but then again it appears statistically proven, that contraception minimises the cases of abortion. The Catholic Church is still hiding behind the failed Humanae Vitae encyclical and still teaches that artificial birth control is sinful! Let’s discuss the whole subject of sex, and it would be helpful if Catholic Priests are married to be able to be part of the conversation!

  4. Roger Terry says:

    I wonder how long it is since Father Peter Day visited the slums of Manila? I wonder how long it is since thought was given to the stand taken by the Roman Catholic Church concerning contraception in places like that diocese

  5. Cathy Taggart says:

    I totally agree with Fr Peter Day that abortion shouldn’t be seen as just a “women’s issue”, and that we need a public conversation that goes beyond finger-pointing, pompous moralising and simplistic categories. Yet this article seems to be a perfect example of how NOT to have such a conversation.

    For example, Fr Day rightly states that women considering abortion should be treated with compassion. Yet he uses the highly emotive and negative term “culling” to describe the decision to abort a foetus with a significant disability, and he also accuses those women who undergo abortion as committing the terrible crime of domestic violence. And yet this sort of language is meant to be a form of compassion and not pompous moralising for women faced with this choice?

    What I would consider a truly compassionate way of supporting a woman (or couple) in this situation – and, dare I say it, the one I can imagine Jesus using – would be to say something like (and to actually mean it!), “I will not condemn you if you take the path you’re considering. But if you don’t take this course, and if you find the consequences to be too much of a burden, I will be there to help you in any way I can, and if I can’t be there, I’ll make sure others can.”

    I can’t help feeling that such an attitude would lead to a greater reduction in abortions than any amount of moralising and condemnation!

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