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Monday, July 13, 2020

Cultivating a life-affirming culture in Australia

[Today's post is by pro-life Australians Matthew Reid and Therese Hungerford-Morgan. If you would like to contribute a guest post, email your submission to info@secularprolife.org for consideration.]

Australian abortion laws have become significantly less restrictive in the last decade. Abortion up to birth has been decriminalized across the country. Specifically, abortion is available on request up to a gestation limit, typically 20-24 weeks depending on the state/territory (one territory, the Australian Capital Territory, has no legal limit). After the gestation limit, abortion is permitted up to birth with the approval of medical practitioner(s). Medical practitioners are legally required to consider the current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances of the mother [1][2]. The broad scope and vague wording of these circumstances leaves medical practitioners with the power to authorize abortions based on subjective value judgments without risk of criminal prosecution for wrongful killing. In the absence of a rigorous, fact-based legal code of ethics, the decision to abort can be influenced by uninformed philosophical, religious, and ideological beliefs that devalue human life and allow for the killing of innocent human beings.

It is difficult to know precisely how many late-term abortions occur, however in the state of Victoria, where historical data is available, official estimates indicate that each year approximately 300 to 350 abortions occur after 20 weeks [3][4]. A simple projection based on population size indicates there may be in excess of 1000 post-20 week abortions each year in Australia.

The liberalization of Australian abortion laws is a reflection of dominant cultural attitudes favoring abortion. Most Australians support elective abortion. While the majority of Australians who identify as religious also support elective abortion [5][6], the vast majority of active pro-lifers are religious, typically Roman Catholic or evangelical. Secular pro-lifers lack a visible presence in Australia, and political parties with strong secular identities are staunchly pro-choice. The pro-life position is often erroneously interpreted as merely religious dogma, a matter of private belief, and generally given little consideration in the public sphere. To overcome this stereotype, and save lives, it's important that we promote an intellectually robust, ethical, and compassionate alternative to killing babies. We must cultivate a life-affirming culture that values the well-being of all humans and protects innocent human life. We must challenge and debunk the widespread belief that babies in the womb are not valuable human beings. We must seek to dramatically expand the pro-life community to encompass the entire political and religious/secular spectrum. And we must support women experiencing crisis pregnancies by providing real alternatives to abortion.

Late last year our team began a grassroots initiative that aims to challenge Australia’s cultural acceptance of abortion-on-demand. The initiative is called 365Life, and involves the distribution of packs of information cards to hundreds of pro-life volunteers, who in turn distribute cards within their community where the message can help people. The idea is that each volunteer passes on one card a day, 365 days a year. The cards feature visually appealing, clear, positive messages intended to spark interest and compassion as opposed to hurt, anger and violence. One card shows a newborn baby with the caption "Me", while the reverse side shows an ultrasound of a baby with the caption "Still me". Another card quotes Dr Seuss, "A person’s a person no matter how small", with baby footprints at 12 weeks on the reverse side. The cards direct people to our site (https://www.voice4life.com.au) with helpful links to local community crisis pregnancy centers that support women and their families. It's early days and we are actively experimenting with different card designs to find what works best.


As we promote a cultural shift of ideas, we hope to change demographics, expanding the numbers of those who support life. Our hope is that discomfort with liberal abortion laws and practices will eventually lead to more conversations about life, more families teaching children to protect life, more churches and community groups engaged in supporting life, and eventually more pressure on politicians to legislate to protect of life.

References:
  1. Ismay, L. (2019). Issues Backgrounder Number 3: Abortion law and the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019. [online] NSW Parliamentary Research Service. Available at: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/Abortion%20law%20and%20the%20Reproductive%20Health%20Care%20Reform%20Bill%202019.pdf [Accessed 23 May 2020].
  2. Summary of Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 (2019) [online] NSW Health, Available at : https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/women/pregnancyoptions/Pages/aborton-bill-summary.aspx [Accessed 28 May 2020].
  3. Paxman, A. (2017). Later-term abortions: Stigma versus reality. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/laterterm-abortions-stigma-versus-reality-20170720-gxf4ym.html [Accessed 23 May 2020].
  4. This is what happened to abortion statistics after it was decriminalised in Victoria. (2019) [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-04/fact-check-nsw-abortion-law-victoria/11474570 [Accessed 23 May 2020].
  5. Law of Abortion: final report. (2008) | Section 4: Surveys of Attitudes [online] Victorian Law Reform Commission. Available at: https://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/content/4-surveys-attitudes [Accessed 23 May 2020].
  6. Gibson, Rachel; Wilson, Shaun; Denemark, David; Meagher, Gabrielle; Western, Mark, (2017). Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, 2003, doi:10.4225/87/8VUHRY, ADA Dataverse, V1. Available at: https://dataverse.ada.edu.au/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.4225/87/8VUHRY [Accessed 23 May 2020]

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