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As debate rages over abortion, Juli Sharpe, executive officer of Genesis Pregnancy Support, speaks about her experience of helping women facing an unplanned pregnancy.

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Juli Sharpe is proud to call herself a “staunch feminist” but unlike many feminists, she believes abortion is the worst position you could ever put a woman in.

“I think abortion is the worst possible option to present to a woman – for the guilt factor, for letting the guy get off the hook, it’s invasive to her body physically, not to mention her heart and her mind,” says Juli.

Wearing her hat as a committee member of SA Abortion Action for Women, Juli has been delivering her pro-life message to parliamentarians in a bid to thwart the abortion law reform bill proposed by Greens MLC Tammy Franks. Debate on the bill has been put on hold for at least six months after Attorney General Vickie Chapman requested the SA Law Reform Institute to examine changes to the current laws.

With 19 years’ experience counselling and overseeing healing retreats for women suffering from post-abortion grief, Juli doesn’t buy Franks’ claim there are no mental health effects of having an abortion.

“Well I’d like to know who I’ve been counselling then?” she asks, adding published international research shows 20-30 per cent of women who abort experience mental health problems.

Nor does she believe that abortion is a pro-choice issue. She cites as an example a young couple who came to see her to discuss the “dilemma” of the woman’s unplanned pregnancy.

Initially impressed that the young man had come in to discuss the issue, insisting it was his girlfriend’s choice about whether to keep the baby, her opinion changed after he declared ‘but I don’t want to be a dad’. Juli explained to the couple this wasn’t really giving his partner ‘choice’ because of course she wouldn’t want to be a single mum.

When she asked them how long they thought their relationship might last, they admitted they hadn’t even talked about that. “So he might not have even hung around and she would have made a decision based on him not wanting to be a dad. He’s got this huge power without any commitment to her,” Juli said.

Having seen women from all sorts of circumstances, including migrants, refugees and women fleeing domestic violence, Juli says there is a lack of support for women who might want to go through with the pregnancy. The only two pregnancy support centres, Genesis and Birthline, get no government funding and yet receive referrals from dozens of government agencies.

“And when’s the last time you heard about adoption being promoted as an option,” she added.

“The system of adopting today is a far cry from babies being whisked out of mother’s arms…”

Juli would like to see pro-life advocates being proactive and putting forward a ‘viability for life’ bill in State Parliament. She says there is a compelling case for outlawing the killing of a baby if it is likely to be born alive, and survive.

“That’s the case from 24 weeks gestation and yet even under SA’s current law a woman can decide to abort up to 28 weeks,” she said.

“You can’t have doctors one end of the hospital celebrating that they’ve saved the life of a premature baby and at the other end expect a woman who is aborting her baby to go home and rationalise that she has done nothing wrong.

“As I told one politician, we’ve got to the point where you are valuable if you are wanted and if you are not wanted you have no value whatsoever, no-one wants to say that’s how we value human life but it is.”

She referred to one male politician who had lost an 18 month old grandson and was in tears when she introduced him to a brave woman who told him about dealing with 40 years of repressed grief after her abortion. “He got it,” she says.

“It’s horrific the way abortion is treated (in the Franks bill) as just a word, with nobody looking into the details. I found when I was talking about it to MPs, when you mention a word like dismemberment, they sit up straight away, because they have not even thought about how they do the abortion.”

With the mental health of the mother being given as the reason for 96 per cent of first trimester abortions, Juli says the reality is that these pregnancies are “inconvenient”.

Juli, who has three adult children and four grandchildren, says her eldest daughter had an unplanned pregnancy with a man she’d only known for about four weeks. With Juli’s support, she went ahead and gave birth to a daughter, now 11, and ended up marrying the father and having three more children.

“It’s all about support,” she says.

For more information on the campaign to stop the Greens’ abortion bill, visit www.saabortionactionforwomen.com

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