Domestic violence prevention campaign White Ribbon has come under fire for wanting to decriminalise abortion in NSW and Queensland as a flawed means of protecting women from violence.

Decriminalisation allows abortion-on-demand up to 24 weeks, depending on the jurisdiction, no questions asked. Abortion on-demand protects the abusive and coercive partner, not the victim and her baby.

White Ribbon released a position statement regarding women’s reproductive health, which says “safe” and legal abortion is a basic form of “health care” that should be afforded to all women, and is working well in other states and territories.

White Ribbon also says late term (post 20 weeks) abortions in Australia are rare, and mostly occur to protect the woman’s life.

Let’s compare White Ribbon’s statement against the evidence.

‘Women experiencing domestic violence need access to safe abortion’

Firstly, “safe abortion” is an oxymoron. A human being, be it an embryo or fetus, always dies (an unborn baby has a heartbeat at 25 days from conception), and a woman is irrevocably changed. Many would equate abortion as a form of domestic violence against little women and their mothers.

If by “safe”, White Ribbon means done in a clinical, sterile environment as a means to avoid complications, as opposed to a backyard job with a knitting needle, then decriminalisation brings no such added protection. In the years immediately before legalisation, abortions were done by doctors in clinics and surgeries. Decriminalisation in NSW and Queensland won’t make the procedure safer, just more prevalent.

Latest figures show 7% of chemical abortions fail, resulting in a secondary procedure to remove the embryo. Such a painful and prolonged method must be traumatic for women, particularly those being encouraged to terminate against their will.

There is much qualitative and quantitative research showing the long term psychological effects of abortion on women. I refer specifically to Priscilla Coleman’s research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, and studies by Dr Philip Ney on the link between abortion and abuse and neglect.

‘Abortion reduces violence’

The figures are overwhelming and it’s well known that many women suffer violence during and after pregnancy. My contention is that research shows abortion-on-demand protects the perpetrator and not the victim, and that the unborn baby is being used as a scapegoat: Abortion, often coerced, is seen as a means of stopping violence against the mother. However, the challenge and more reasonable and just action is to stop the perpetrator through AVOs, and removing the mother from the violent partner; to protect women and children. The pregnancy is not the problem, the violent partner is.

Each year in Australia for the past decade there have been 70-80,000 annual abortions. Abortion is not rare.

The question White Ribbon should be asking

There are more abortions each year than deaths from heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and the road toll; these are generally regarded as our biggest killers.

95% of abortions are performed on physically healthy women carrying physically healthy children. This is based on figures from SA and WA, the only two jurisdictions that count abortions and from which national figures are derived. SA is the only jurisdiction that asks women why they have abortions.

The fact that we don’t count abortions or why women have them should be of concern to an organisation that cares about women’s health.

‘Late term abortion is rare’

In the past 12 to 18 months, WA MP Nick Goiran has asked a series of questions relating to late-term abortions in his State. He found 8% or 639 of all abortions were post 20 weeks, and many were for minor disabilities, including cleft palate and a turned foot. This contravenes legislation in that State which says abortions post 20 weeks should only be for occasions where the mother’s life is at risk, or the child has a serious disability.

Victoria figures show more than half of all late term abortions are performed on healthy women with healthy children.

These contradict White Ribbon’s claim about late term abortion being to protect the woman, or because of some other “emergency”.

Many of these women “choose” late term abortion because of partner violence and coercion, lack of support, changed financial or social circumstances.

A Brisbane pregnancy support centre says 70% of women presenting for counselling are being pressured by their partners to have an abortion. This is hardly empowering of women, a stated aim of White Ribbon’s policy and organisation mandate.

US research by David Reardon says 80% of women would have continued an unplanned or crisis pregnancy if just one significant person had encouraged them to do so. Most women don’t want an abortion, but feel they have no choice.

Coerced abortion and domestic violence

An ally of White Ribbon in the cause of protecting women against violence and sexualisation, Melinda Tankard-Reist from Collective Shout, has authored two books on the pressure women face to have abortions. Giving Sorrow Words and Defiant Birth are filled with personal stories from dozens of women coerced, tricked, manipulated or bullied into abortion.

Some of the strongest coercion is by the medical profession, keen to rid the world of defective children.

In Defiant Birth, Melinda quotes feminist Germaine Greer who says women “often, usually, went with shame and humiliation to undergo a painful procedure presented as a privilege”.

I’m surprised and disappointed that White Ribbon does not invest in research and strategies aimed at protecting pregnant women, instead of developing a statement promoting abortion as a solution. At best it’s simplistic, and worst it’s dangerous to the women they want to protect.

It’s akin to the illogical position of decriminalising prostitution as a means of somehow protecting women from sexual and physical assault. Real life for women in Australian brothels is very different to that portrayed by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

We’ve seen how effective arming a whole country has been in preventing gun deaths. What we legalise and endorse, we promote.

Earlier this year we interviewed Miss X  the young Sydney journalist paid $50,000 by her then partner Bryce Cartwright to have an abortion. She had the abortion at 16 weeks in Queensland, where it’s supposedly illegal to get an abortion, although no one has been charged for procuring the procedure in that state. Her baby’s name was Noah. It could have been Noelle. Her story is one of bullying and coercion.

Decriminalising abortion in NSW and Queensland will not protect Miss X or Jaya Taki, the other Sydney woman pressured into abortion by her footballer partner, Tim Simona.

Decriminalisation removes any safeguards, and gives men the power to force partners to have abortions, no questions asked.

Decriminalisation gives doctors legal and political cover to perform abortions.

There is clear evidence that abortion has not reduced the rate of abuse and neglect against children. The number of abortions has increased in parallel with reports of abuse and neglect.

Believing doctors, particularly those employed by abortion clinics, give independent “counselling” to women is naive and dangerous.

Melinda’s books, and personal stories from women who appear in our life ads, show that GPs actively promote abortion.

Decriminalising abortion and statements endorsing abortion from organisations such as White Ribbon are promoting the procedure, disempowering women and emboldening coercive partners.

White Ribbon has many commendable programs, but buying into the abortion lie is not one of them.

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