Sunday, February 27, 2005

Abbott and abortion: lodging a religious bid

PerspectiveBy Terry LaneFebruary 27, 2005

The reaction to the Tony Abbott-finds-his-son tear-jerker has been interesting. No doubt in some circles where abortion is considered a sin there are people saying: "Aw, isn't that nice! What an excellent man Mr Abbott is." While around the parts where I live and move, the reaction has been: "What's he up to now?"

For the cynics it is unthinkable that there is not some personal gain in this story for Mr Abbott. The Australian media are not like the British equivalent. We give politicians a lot of space in which to live their personal lives, so the Abbott revelations are of his own choosing.
Attempts have been made to tar Mr Abbott as a hypocrite and, because the charge involved his personal life before politics and also necessarily entangled other people in the revelations, it was left alone.

Mr Abbott may be clearing the decks for a rough anti-abortion campaign which he may be hoping will go so well that the Lodge is within his easy reach, carried there on the votes of the Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant true believers.

Obscurantist religion is beginning to play a part in Australian politics, akin to the US, and here an even smaller cohort of true believers can sway an election, thanks to our preferential voting.
Two enlightened Liberal politicians in marginal electorates stand to lose their seats in the WA election this weekend, thrown out by the anti-abortion faction. Tony Abbott is no doubt reading the signs and saying: "If George W. can get into the White House on the vote of the religious right then the Lodge is mine."

Abortion is a matter of state law, but if the Federal Government declares itself against abortion and removes termination from the Medicare schedule for refunds, then it can only be a matter of time before the aspirants to state government read the signs and start falling into line. And then what?

THIS is the aspect of the abortion argument that no one seems to be considering - imagine that abortion again becomes a crime; what will the penalties be for the woman seeking the termination and the doctor performing the operation?

In 1969, in judgement on a doctor who had performed an abortion, Judge Menhennit handed down his famous ruling: ". . . for therapeutic abortion to be lawful I think that the accused must have honestly believed on reasonable grounds that the act done by him was necessary to preserve the woman from some serious danger. As to the element of danger, it appears to me in principle that it should not be confined to danger to life but should apply equally to danger to physical or mental health. . ."

Since 1969, a woman can terminate a pregnancy without shame or fear, and doctors can treat terminations as they would any other procedure, even though the Crimes Act still sets penalties of 10 years in prison for the woman and five for the doctor. Go directly to jail and collect your Medicare refund on the way. It would be amusing if it were not so serious.
Are these the penalties Mr Abbott and Senator Ron Boswell will impose on women and their doctors? Because, without the fear of sanctions, nothing is going to change.

All the oleaginous blather about the sanctity of foetal life and convenient reunions with long-lost children will not make women go through with unwanted pregnancies. And if doctors are too frightened to perform the operation, backyard butchers will do the job.


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