Saturday, September 13, 2008

Abortion debate

There is a proposal before the Victorian government to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks gestation. The bill also lays out restrictions for abortion up to full term. This floors me. Perhaps, removing all belief in a compassionate creator, reducing things down to the flawed logic "it doesn't look like me therefore it ain't human - it's just foetal tissue", or even putting forward the idea that a person isn't a person until they can survive outside the womb - perhaps then one can understand the view of those who support early abortion being freely available and strongly recommend to some. Even while vehemently opposing the view, I can still understand the logic, flawed though it may be. But 24 weeks gestation? How is that logical, even in a twisted sense? I personally know TWO children born younger than this . I prayed for their families and for them as their frail, yet surprisingly tough little bodies defied the odds with medical help. Today they are indistinguishable form their 'normal' peers. They were at less than 24 weeks, a life, capable of surviving, growing and being, well, being HUMAN. Surely anyone with a recognition of the sanctity of human life could not have a logical view that these children, these PEOPLE, should die simply because of the circumstances of their parentage? My own child is at about this gestation at the moment. He or she is a MAJOR part of our lives. To say that because this child still lives within me, their life could become forfeit for my "psychological well being" - well, that as unfathomable to me as killing one of my older children because their existence caused stress and trauma to me. I think anyone reading about "Baby J", the girl born at 23 weeks in Darwin a few years ago, crying and trying to breathe for half an hour before she died (Abortion has a new adversity by Angela Shanahan, The Weekend Australian September 6-7) or reading the biography of Gianna Jessen has to carefully consider their stance on abortion.

Now I am not about to make this blog a personal political commentary, but I just could not let this one slide without comment. I could wax lyrical for pages and pages about the intrinsic ethical dilemmas, inherent philosophical stances, women's rights, the rights of the unborn, disability and catastrophic circumstances etc. but I won't. There are plenty of others who have done so far more eloquently than I can using good quality, current research. So I will leave it to you to do your own research on this issue and see it for the insanity that it is. What I will write about is what WE can do about it.

  1. If you are in Victoria, e-mail your local member. Let them know your views and that votes WILL ride on this issue. Please be kind and respectful. Some members have received thinly veiled death threats on this issue which only serves to paint those who are against abortion with the same brush as fanatical fundamentalists who bomb clinics and blow up buses. Members need to know that the average person, the average voter, has a view on this issue.
  2. Help set up abortion alternatives. There are big ways to do this - crisis centres, adoption agencies, hot lines, counseling etc. But for most of us, the reality is our time and access restrictions will mean that our support will be in the form of donations, prayers and letters of support. Don't belittle the impact of this, whole armies have been turned aside through the power of prayer. If nothing else, please pray specifically that these alternatives will become more available.
  3. Love and support the women and children involved. Why would a women go to illegal backyard abortionists, risking their own lives and ending that of their unborn? Shame, feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone, thinking they would loose everything - everyone - they cared about. I can imagine these are among the weapons used by the enemy to hound women to such an act. But we, as a church family, need to make sure we aren't passing these weapons into his hand. Too many women have been forced to wear their illegitimate children as a scarlet 'A' for the rest of their loves. The young men involved and the promiscuous girl whose birth control 'worked' still happily singing in the choir, avoiding all accountability. The unforgivable sin, it seems, is to sin so the neighbours can see. Is it any wonder that one in five women in America seeking an abortion claims to be an evangelical Christian? We need to be the soft place for these women to fall, not the iron fist of judgement or the acid bath of gossip. How would you shape up if every one of your sins had a public and lifelong consequence? What happened to showing compassion to the fatherless? Lets step up and show that compassion by bringing a message of hope and healing to their mothers. Perhaps start now by praying for some of the girls on this site or invite the "unwed mother" home for lunch this weekend and get to know HER as a person.
  4. We also need to teach our children what sex SHOULD be. In a perfect world, every little girl would feel so loved, she would never need to seek love among unscrupulous men. In a perfect world every little boy would pride himself in self respect and self control so much that notches on the bedpost wouldn't even register as manly. I know it isn't a perfect world, but I hope I can contribute to my own children having these views as well as every other child who enters my influence. It is simply not enough to say "don't have sex or you will end up with AIDS, get pregnant, God will hate you and what would the neighbours say?". We need to show Song of Solomon to our kids ("Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you, do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" S of Sol. 8:4), we need to reveal God's plan for marriage in scripture and we need them to know that their virginity is the most precious gift they can give to their spouse. We need to remove the focus in church groups on the "romantic" (eros) relationship and put it back on the Divine Romance. Too many youth groups - or even 'grown up' church groups - are all about finding a partner. Place worship and the word back in the heart of our families and our church.
  5. Value life. Don't avoid the disabled but welcome them into our society. To find out that your child may have Downs Syndrome has to be traumatic - but it has to be even more traumatic if you have never met someone with Downs Syndrome. There is much heartbreak involved in parenting a child with a disability - even one uninitiated such of myself can state that. But I watched at a distance the journey of a women who had a son a few months before I had Christopher, he was also named Christopher. Her Christopher had profound and multiple disabilities. He had multiple operations, was subjected to many uncomfortable procedures and spent lots of time in a little plastic box. But as she posted pictures online of his first smile - even with the cleft lip and the tubes I could recognise that smile and it still stays with me. His life was but a few months long in the end, but his existence was, what's the word, profound, valued, important - no, it was a miracle. His few months affected the lives of many profoundly,myself included. His mother's favourite phrase for a time was "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." Now, there are many in this debate who would say that his existence should never have happened, that the pain and trauma of his life outweighed the value of it (they never met him obviously). There are those who would argue that his care was a 'waste of resources' as he was unlikely to ever have a fully independent life. I am yet to find where it is written that a life dependant on others is worthless. We need to recognise EACH life as a miracle and shed the tones of Nazi that tell people that a disabled person is worthless. ETA: I also want to take a moment to mention the fact that families with profoundly disabled children need HELP. The costly, time-consuming, emotionally draining nature of caring for a person with special needs is VASTLY underestimated by many - myself included I'm sure. We need to raise the carers payments and rebates (some families struggle to pay for the basic medical needs of their children such as dressings and toileting needs, let alone transport to therapy etc.). We need to provide respite care, counselling, support for siblings - we need to provide a COMMUNITY! And at the centre of community (the Bendigo bank tells me) is U, yes you. Now right at this time I certainly can't provide respite care, but I can plan to in the future. Right now I have very limited funds, but I can let a Politician know I'd prefer reform of the carers allowance etc. to another tax break. I don't have any nearby friends and neighbours with severe disabilities, but I can show support to organisations that do care for those with special needs. It may appear that I have gone off on a tangent here, but these actions change society, these actions respect life, these actions support families in choosing to keep a disabled child rather than abort. I want to clarify that I DO NOT sit in judgement on those who have made that heartbreaking choice, even given my beliefs on this issue. I believe lack of support is a core contributor to that choice and to take that leap of faith would be difficult enough for those with a strong faith in this social climate - to take that leap when you DON'T have that faith, that is nothing less than a miracle.
  6. Attack the anti-child culture. Don't join in the Mummy whinge fest that occurs so often at playgroups, on playgrounds and in the school car park. I'm not talking about crying on a girlfriend's shoulder, we all do that, I am talking about the "whose got it toughest" competitions that are so often the theme of conversation among parents. When people talk about how hard parenting is (and it is, I'd be a fool and a liar to deny that!) try and balance the conversation by tactfully testifying to the POSITIVE aspects of parenting. Also, discipline your children. Do this for their sake, but also for the sake of society. Honestly the default behaviour of many children seems to be "Brat", is it any wonder people don't want them around? Kid's have bad days, we have all dealt with the tantrum in the supermarket, but if this becomes the rule rather than the exception, we as parents need to step up. Parenting skills can be learned through many resources (I personally recommend the No Greater Joy ministries as one resource and the Growing Families International organisation also has may good ideas) don't be afraid to equip yourself, consider it your gift to your kids, and to society! Make it a part of your mission to remind the world that children ARE in fact a blessing.
  7. Foster a positive attitude toward adoption. Adoption is often dismissed as an alternative to abortion because of the social stigma of "giving up" one's child. While past traumas of the stolen generation in our own culture and the Magdalene girls in Ireland are very real and need to be remembered and learned from, not all adoption situations should be painted with this brush. There are times when this is the most generous, loving, thoughtful course of action a mother can take. We now live in a day of open adoption where communication can be agreed upon between the birth and adoptive families. We also live in a day of unprecedented levels of infertility - no child should be unwanted anymore.
  8. Advocate for adoption. It is inevitable, sadly, that the population of children needing a home will explode if the abortion laws are ever revoked. At the moment our system is not set up for the influx. A report into international adoption was tabled in federal Parliament in November 2005, few if any of the recommendations in that report have been implemented yet, but that is a whole other post. What concerned me is an appendix in this report that detailed some of the difficulties faced in domestic adoption
    "The committee [writing the report] received evidence that there is significant interest in local adoption, but people do not pursue it and examine inter country adoption instead because the chances of a positive outcome are so low."
    Now, you only have to read the rest of the report to realise how difficult and costly international adoption is in Australia, this is a worrying situation. The report recommended a separate inquiry into local adoption, to my knowledge no further action has been taken in almost three years. Maybe it is time we wrote to our state and federal members and asked why? Maybe we need to get FAMILIES and child welfare back on the political agenda.
  9. Consider adopting a child yourself. I know not all families are able to do this, but have you honestly considered as a family your own ability to provide a home and a family for a child? What about in the future? Right now it isn't an option for us, but down the track..... who knows? It is not enough to say no to abortions, we need to provide homes for the children who need them - especially those with special needs.
  10. In the infamous words of Douglas Adams "Don't Panic". Looking back over what I have written, there is a lot to be done. But take a deep breath, pray and do what you can. After all, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" The first thing everyone can and should do is pray. If you do nothing else please pray. Pray for the decision makers, the mothers, the children, the doctors, the bio-ethicists, the philosophers and pray for us as a society. Prayers move mountains, perhaps they can move hearts too.

4 comments:

susanc said...

I'm medically trained...so on the abortion debate I sit firmly on the fence.
Having never been in a situation where it has come up in my own life I cannot cast judgement on other families who decide to end a pregnancy nor do I judge those who welcome known disabled children into their families. I hope that makes sense.
My older sister is profoundly retarded...from a traumatic birth, over forty years ago mind you. My only comment about growing up with a very special needs person is that it makes you different, in so many ways, if I HAD an older sister I would be a different person. Technically she is the eldest child but her mental age is approx eight. I had and continue to have a hard time having her as my sister. I love her, accept her 100% but I'd be lying if I said it isn't really hard work.
Secondly, my younger sister, at the age of 30 gave birth to a little girl who had undiagnosed Down Syndrome...she died at the age of 10 weeks following major heart surgery. :(
The point of telling you this is that having lived thorugh, and still with, these experiences I do not know what decision I might make if knowledge came my way about a disability.
I just can't say.
Being medically trained I know how late terminations are performed and it's not nice but maybe some people are just not equipped to handle some children.
I can't judge people for a decision I haven't had to make.
So while I was on the one hand horrified to hear the news about Victorias legislation, on the other hand decriminalising it may be the right thing in certain cases.
I understand those with strong religious beliefs struggle with this particular issue. But don't forget a lot of people out there are being placed in a very stressful situation they did not bank on when they tried (or didn't try) to get pregnant.
They need understanding and support for decisions that I'm sure are not made lightly and no doubt are decisions that stay with the forever.

I enjoy the thought provoking issues you have raised.

Susan :):)

TasJess said...

Thank you for your comments Susan :) I strongly believe women, families, who have faced this decision never make the decision lightly. I do not want to make them the subject of judgement and derision. While I am against abortion from a philisophical, religious and moral stand point, I do not believe you can make abortion illegal without considering the emotional, mental and physical welfare of those left to raise children with profound disabilities. Abortion reform must be accompanied by MUCH greater funding and support for carers and for the foster care system. I am very much with Ghandi in that I believe we must be the change we want to see - and that starts with loving and supporting, not with kicking those who are down. I do not believe all who are pregnant are equipped to raise the child they are pregnant with either, which is why I am a strong advocate of adoption and foster care reform. I do not want to over simplify the issue or demonise any involved, but I do think we need to stop and think of where this may lead and what this means to us as a society. There are so many facets to this issue, thank you for giving another point of view.

susanc said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you Jess that there needs to be an amazing amout of debate on a blanket issue such as legalising late abortion.

There is just no one stop answer that can possibly cover every issue for every family.
I have to say, and I admit it's a bit of a cop out, but I'm glad I'm not a politician having to make
these decisions for the wider community....
I've been thinking about all this since I commented which I think is probably one of the reasons you did your post in the first place....to encourage thought and discussion...

Susan :):)

TasJess said...

yup, that's pretty much why I posted. I also posted because I do not believe this is a subject where one can be complacent - lives are literally at stake. I also belive this is a subject that one can take a simplistic viewpoint on. You cannot call yourself a compassionate Christian if you insist someone birth their profoundly disabled child then leave them to raise that child with no support. You cannot advocate for the banning of contraceptive abortion then continue to create a social climate where women would prefer to risk injury or death rather than face the 'shame' of mothering an illegitimate child. If this gets some people to stop and think, then it's a good thing.