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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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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