By Paul O’Rourke, CEO of Emily’s Voice.
Dear Pro-Choice advocates who are curious, concerned, upset or incensed at our Notbornyet TV, billboard and social media ads.
Thank you for taking the time to write and express your views. We’re not as far apart in our thinking as you might think.
No one wants to see anyone make a poor choice, regardless of their right to make it.
Thankfully, most people appreciate the campaigns and what they represent: life, real choice, family, child rights, women’s health. We think it’s good to discuss these important issues in an informed, reasoned and factual way, free of hysteria and rhetoric.
The ads purposely feature real, personal stories of people just like you, or someone you know, who found themselves with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy.
Here is the current ad attracting such widespread interest in WA, featuring Claire.
Claire’s story is her story. She had a choice, she made one from among the three options, despite pressure from others to choose another. She’s happy with her decision. She thinks others may benefit from her experience. She makes no comment about your choice, or the woman’s down the road. She can’t make you feel guilty or angry. That’s your choice.
We are sincerely sorry if the ads have caused you grief and anger. That is not our intention.
We know you watch through your grid of personal experience, education and cultural conditioning, as do we all.
Some of you have heartbreaking stories of loss and grief. So do we. We empathise with you.
But just because a topic is difficult, sensitive and potentially painful, doesn’t mean it should be taboo.
Thank you to all those who have written to say they love the ads, become donors or supporters. We are heartened.
Thank you to the brave women, couples and families, like Claire, who bravely share their personal stories in the hope that others may be inspired, encouraged or educated. They take part voluntarily, knowing they may be honoured, reviled, misrepresented and misunderstood.
Our sincere desire is to promote real choice and restart a sensible and civilised discussion about life, without condemning or guilting women who may have made a different choice, which is their legal and often-celebrated and fiercely-protected right.
We want Australians to fall in love again with the unborn, and support and encourage women with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy.
We don’t hate anyone. We’re motivated by love for women and their unborn babies. Really, sincerely, and honestly.
The ads are produced by a few young mums, one of whom had an abortion and regrets that decision. She believes she would have made a different choice if those close to her had spoken up, or been allowed to, or if she had seen one of our ads. Her choice was influenced by a GP who assumed being single, young and pregnant she should have an abortion.
We think adoption should be easier, that we need many more pregnancy support services to assist women make an informed choice and get help to remove the obstacles that make continuing a pregnancy difficult. We also think there needs to be much more discussion about a topic that is polarising, difficult and yet so grossly misunderstood and often misrepresented.
We just don’t think unborn children are the enemy. We think they deserve a face and a voice in an age where greater rights and extra safeguards are provided for those most vulnerable in society: children, the elderly, those with disabilities. When we talk in this nation about a “fair go”, it’s with the underdog, the marignalised, the voiceless and vulnerable we have in mind.
According to international research by Australian Selena Ewing, 70 per cent of women said they would have continued an unplanned or crisis pregnancy if just one significant person in their lives had encouraged them to do so. It’s this group our ads are speaking to: the partners, parents and friends of women facing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy who may make a choice they regret, without all the facts about the short and long term effects, at a time when they are vulnerable, under pressure from others or society.
We are defending the women who can be manipulated and unduly influenced by a medical profession that, armed with the latest technology, a humanist philosophy and terrified of litigation, don’t need much of a reason to encourage women to choose termination, particularly if she is young, old, single or disadvantaged, or the unborn child has the slightest hint of imperfection.
We don’t want to see anyone pressured, manipulated or deceived into an abortion that 70 per cent of women don’t actually want. This hardly seems like real choice or empowering of women.
We do get angry at those who seek to impose their views, or force vulnerable women to have an abortion for profit, personal gain or some misguided view that children are a trespass on society.
Feminist Germaine Greer said of abortion: “Women went with shame to undergo a painful and humiliating procedure presented to them as a privilege.”
Our campaigns result from concern about 80,000 to 100,000 terminations a year for the past 20 years, about 97% of which are for social, financial and relational reasons, not because the woman has been the victim of rape, or the unborn child has a life-threatening condition.
These “hard cases” are thankfully in the minority, and we know they cause enormous heartache. We purposely avoid these topics in our media campaigns.
Most Australians have no idea there are so many abortions, or why women have them, or how these women are doing afterwards. We think some of these terminations can be prevented through a measured, sensitive, truthful and hopeful public education campaign featuring real people telling their personal stories and highlighting a variety of common circumstances.
Galaxy Research surveys undertaken on our behalf in four States show most Australians are opposed to the majority of reasons why women have abortions. We would continue our campaigns even if most Australians disagreed, but the surveys confirm that the majority have strong views that are seldom represented.
Australians are uncomfortable with abortions for career, financial, gender and family size reasons. They are opposed to late-term (post 20 weeks) abortions and those where the unborn child has a minor disability.
So when you write saying we shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of others, I want you to know we’re not just trying to defend babies, but also protect women, many of whom suffer terribly from an abortion, despite the procedure being promoted, celebrated and sold on the premise that this is a good thing for women, a minor procedure that solves a multitude of problems.
Those for whom the rhetoric didn’t prove truthful suffer in silence, told no one else feels the way they do, that abortion is a sacred, hard fought right; that they did the right thing; the pain and regret will pass. Except, for many women, it doesn’t. So where is the abortion “industry” at a woman’s darkest hour, nine, 12 or 36 months after the simple, safe and irreversible procedure?
Journalist and women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist captured the heartache of abortion in the words of Australian women who responded to a simple newspaper ad inviting them to share their abortion stories. The result is Giving Sorrow Words, a tragic litany of first-person accounts of loss, grief, pain, violation, coercion and regret.
There’s a mountain of research about the mental health effects of abortion on women. There are links from the notbornyet.com and emilysvoice.com websites. The initial relief can give way to grief and depression on the anniversary of the abortion, what would have been the child’s birthday, the birth of other children, the birth of friends’ children, the loss of a loved one, a new relationship, or a failed one.
Despite 80,000 to 100,000 abortions a year, we have record numbers of children in out-of-home care, numbers of reports of child abuse, and the lowest number of adoptions in our history.
Something is not working. Are we terminating the wrong children? We’ve even added chemical terminations to allow women to abort at home, provided cut-price abortions for university students, and distributed free condoms by the truckload. Yet 60 per cent of women who experience an unplanned or crisis pregnancy were using at least one form of contraception at the time.
We’ve told women it’s their bodies and therefore their choice. It sounds noble, empowering and right, except we tell women, and men, all the time what they can and cannot do with their bodies. You can drink yourself to a stupor, but not drive a vehicle in such a condition; get angry, but not abuse others; smoke yourself to death, but not at the kids’ school, your workplace (even the pub and brothel); dance naked around your house, but not in the main street of town.
In Tasmania, doctors are allowed to take into account a woman’s current and future financial prospects in deciding if she can have an abortion post 16 weeks. So in that State, doctors are now financial planners as well as medical experts. Before 16 weeks, abortion is on-demand. So when you write and say it’s a private matter, a woman’s choice, it really is. A woman of any age, including under 16, can choose to have an abortion provided the medical practitioner believes the child has the capacity to make an informed decision. Parents do not have to be notified.
Are we Ok with students requiring a note from parents to go on an excursion to the zoo, but not to have an abortion?
During debate on abortion law reform in Tasmania, the State’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Craig White, was asked how many abortions were performed each year in that State. He said there was no count, and that “abortion is just another medical procedure” no different to a hip replacement or appendectomy. Except your hip or appendix does not have a heartbeat or the potential to become a dancer, designer or doctor.
He said the number of abortions and why women have them was not worthy of study. He said we need to “normalise the procedure” for the “health and wellbeing of women”.
So why the angst about our ads about a woman (Claire) who exercised her right not to have an abortion?
Is she a bit too self righteous? Too confident in her choice? Too happy? Too visible?
If having an abortion is akin to having your tonsils removed, why the drama over our media campaigns?
In NSW, a pro-choice mum and pro-choice pollies have sought to introduce Zoe’s Law, in honour of Zoe Donegan who, was killed at 32 weeks gestation when her mum Brodie Donegan was hit by a car driven by a drugged and drunk driver. The bill was written in such a way that abortion was excluded, as it is not a criminal act. The medical association, Bar association, NSW Law Society and many so-called feminist groups opposed the law because it may reignite discussion about abortion, even though the new law seeks to specifically exclude abortion. Why the fear?
In WA, late term abortion (post 20 weeks) is restricted to cases where the mother’s life is at serious risk or the baby has a severe condition. However, hundreds of abortions are being performed because of minor physical defects. Is this progress?
In Victoria, abortion is available to term, and pretty much on-demand.
Abortion seems to be the only subject we are no longer allowed to discuss publicly.
I’m surprised and troubled by those who say they are “pro choice”, provided their preferred choice is the only one represented. If abortion is such a good choice, why such reaction about a woman who decided not to have one, usually from the women who say they are happy with their choice?
There has been a television ad running for many months about fathers: The word “dad” is the only spoken word in the ad as boys, women and girls in all sorts of situations use the term “dad”. Sometimes it’s a cry for help, a question, a greeting, a sign of affection etc. While most people love the ad, some have reacted because their experience of fathers has not been a good one. Perhaps dad was abusive, absent, aloof. The inference is that we shouldn’t run ads inspiring men to be the best dad they can be. Taken to its extreme, we should ban Father’s Day and Mother’s Day because it might upset some people.
The public education campaigns promoting sun safety, seat belts and quit smoking are also likely to offend those who have lost loved ones to car accidents, skin or lung cancer. That is not their intention, nor is it ours to upset those who have had to make a difficult choice in complex circumstances, had a miscarriage, a stillbirth or lost a child in infancy.
Again, I am sincerely sorry for the anger that the ad has provoked in you. But you also need to consider why.
We think the life issue is an important one that requires serious discussion for the good of women, children and society.
CEO, Emily’s Voice.
(Paul O’Rourke is a former newspaper editor and CEO of child sponsorship and advocacy organisation, Compassion Australia. He has a Masters Degree in child development and been the CEO of Emily’s Voice for four years).