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Caring for mums and babies - 50 years on


Greens MLC Tammy Franks is right about one thing – a lot has changed since abortion was legalised in South Australia in 1969.

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For a start the contraceptive pill, which was developed in the 50s and only approved for release in Australia in February 1961, was initially available only to married women and had a 27.5 per cent ‘luxury’ tax attached to it. Now the much more affordable pill comes in 32 different forms and is taken by around 100 million women worldwide. The morning after pill or emergency contraceptive pill became available in Australia in 2006 and can be purchased from a chemist without a prescription. In the same year, the RU486, sometimes called the ‘abortion pill’, was introduced in Australia for use up to nine weeks into the pregnancy.

While abortion advocates in the 60s assured us the lethal procedure would be rare and rejected fears of ‘abortion on demand’, we are now told by Tammy Franks that one third of women will make the ‘healthy choice’ to have an abortion. This is at a time when women experiencing a miscarriage are increasingly opening up about the emotional impact of losing a baby.

Another significant change since 1969 has been medical imaging technology. Anyone who has a family member currently pregnant will not only see amazing pictures of the unborn child from 10-12 weeks through to 40 weeks on the expecting mum’s iPad or phone, they’ll probably also get regular updates on Facebook as well. The clearly identifiable baby growing in the womb is a quantum leap from the fuzzy scans given to me in large envelopes when I was pregnant in the 90s, and I can only imagine what a woman in the 70s would have seen of her cherished unborn baby. Parents can now learn the sex of their babies and even name them well before their birth.

Medical advances in neo-natal care, resulting in dramatically improved outcomes for premature babies, is another welcome development. It seems incongruous that a baby can now be born and have a good chance of survival at 24 weeks but even under the current legislation he or she can be aborted up to 28 weeks. Under the amendments proposed, however, it would be ‘legal’ to kill a baby up to full term.

From a social perspective, one of the biggest changes has been community attitudes towards unmarried mothers. Many families embrace and assist a young person who decides to go through with an unplanned pregnancy. Recently, the daughter of a close friend made the courageous decision to go ahead with her pregnancy despite being in a rocky relationship. She went to a hospital seeking information about a medical abortion but thankfully received some wise counsel and decided against it. The birth of her beautiful baby girl has been a source of constant joy for the 25-year-old mum who has reunited with her boyfriend and gained enormous support from both families.

And for all mothers – single or married – the ability for them to return to the workforce and pursue their careers is much easier now. Even in the 90s when my children were born, there was no such thing as paid maternity leave at a certain daily newspaper and when I asked if I could return to work part-time, management refused on the basis it would ‘set a precedent’.

All of the above has nothing to do with our belief as Christians in the absolute sanctity of life; there are others who can speak about that far better than I. But as Cardinal Dolan of New York said when the recent extreme abortion laws were passed in his state, ‘every thinking, caring person’ should be concerned about laws that make it easier to destroy life and remove safeguards for women.

Perhaps the proposed bill before Parliament could be an opportunity for the whole community to look at how we have ‘advanced’ in terms of our treatment of the most vulnerable, how we support life-giving choices, and how we care for all those who have been hurt by abortion.

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