Speaking Up

It has almost become a cliché, but the saying is still true that the most unsafe place to be in Australia is the womb, given that with a population of 20 million there are 100,000 abortions each year.

There is hardly a priest or counsellor who has not had to help women cope with the psychological, emotional and spiritual problems that often result from having had a pregnancy terminated. Thirty years ago aggressive feminists said that this was due to unhelpful Judaeo-Christian socio/religious conditioning, and as such it would cease to be a problem when the Church’s influence on society had waned.

Today, however, the daughters and granddaughters of the baby-boomers still need healing, in spite of the now negligible influence of Christian moral teaching in the community at large. A vast proportion even of those who are most gung-ho about their ‘terminations’ at the time eventually experience a haunting sense of emptiness and guilt of a kind that is not as easily explained – or explained away – as the feminists imagined. On top of that, the psychological theories and accompanying mind games (disguised as ‘treatment’) employed by many secular therapists are ultimately doomed to failure, because their goal is to increase the patient’s ability to live ‘in denial’, when at the most basic instinctual level otherwise good people who have not killed off their consciences cannot forgive themselves for having killed their offspring at the foetal stage of development.

These issues gained a nation-wide airing last month when Tony Abbott, federal Minister for Health, presented a lecture in Adelaide entitled ‘The Ethical Responsibilities of a Christian Politician’. Typically, the main points that Abbott made were not picked up by the media, who mightn’t have reported the lecture at all had he not used the Government’s role in funding abortions as an example of an ethical problem for a Christian health minister.

Abbott said, ‘Even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year …’ He then spoke about the perception that abortion is ‘the easy way out’ and commented, ‘If half the effort were put into discouraging teenage promiscuity as into preventing teenage speeding, there might be fewer abortions, fewer traumatized young women and fewer dysfunctional families.’

Abbott continued: ‘Why isn’t the fact that 100,000 women choose to end their pregnancies regarded as a national tragedy approaching the scale (say) of Aboriginal life expectancy being 20 years less than that of the general community? No-one wants to recreate the backyard abortion clinic (or to stigmatize the millions of Australians who have had abortions or encouraged others to do so) but is it really so hard to create a culture where people understand that actions have consequences and takes responsibilities seriously? … I am regularly challenged over the Government’s policy on the detention of boat people. “How can you live with yourself as a Catholic?” … When it comes to lobbying local politicians, there seems to be far more interest in the treatment of boat people, which is not morally black and white, than in the question of abortion, which is. Oddly enough, no local Christian has ever asked me how, as a Catholic, I can preside over a Medicare system which funds 75,000 abortions a year.’ (The entire lecture can be found at http://www.tonyabbott.com.au).

Tony Abbott is a politician to watch. Some see him as a future Prime Minister of Australia. A conservative and monarchist, Abbott had a Catholic education, studied Economics and Law at the University of Sydney and then Politics and Philosophy at Oxford. He even spent time in Sydney’s Roman Catholic Seminary before becoming a journalist and then entering politics. He speaks openly and naturally about his Christian Faith. But as a former rugby player and boxer, Abbott is also tough, and he doesn’t mince words in parliamentary debate. The first minister to be ejected from the House since 1961, his ability in firing spontaneous colourful insults across the chamber invites obvious comparison with that other master of the art, former Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

When the press reported Abbott’s Adelaide lecture, politicians of all kinds ducked for cover, or at least damned him with feint praise. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Federal Treasurer Peter Costello – an evangelical Christian who has made no secret of his ambition to follow John Howard as Prime Minister – to have said that Abbott ‘was expressing personal views, and not the government’s, when he said the abortion rate in Australia was a national tragedy.’ He went on: ‘Abbot is a devoutly religious man and we respect his views for that and he was giving a personal statement on Christian views in relation to abortion.’ Costello said abortion was a ‘delicate area and there were big passions and terrible choices that people faced over it.’ With Australians going to the polls later this year Costello said ‘Let’s not try and turn elections on issues like that. They do in the United States, you know.’

In nailing his Christian colours to the mast Abbott has been prepared to accept ridicule from those (including the anti-church Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham) for whom adoption rather than abortion is a dirty word. When he was 19, Abbott’s girlfriend of the time became pregnant. They decided not to get married; both were practising Catholics and abortion was ‘not an issue’, so the baby was given up for adoption. On numerous occasions Latham has publicly attacked Abbott for ‘walking away’. Yet, as journalist Miranda Devine pointed out, ‘The irony is that if Abbott and his girlfriend had aborted their unborn son instead of adopting him out, Latham wouldn’t have any ammunition … It’s unlikely Latham would attack anyone for having an abortion because of the great paradox of modern times: abortion is a sacred cow and adoption is stigmatized. Yet much good came from what must have been a painful process for Abbott and his girlfriend. A 25-year-old man is alive today. His adoptive parents received the precious gift of a child.’

Abbott has never seen his son, but in a now famous interview he said, ‘If you’re in a situation like that, there is always the possibility that one day you might get a knock on the door from a stranger who says ‘g’day dad.’ And it would be a pretty – it would be quite an interesting thing to have happen. It would certainly be, yeah, a very powerful and emotionally wrought moment.’ The interviewer said to Abbott, ‘What would you say if you, if there was the knock on the door you referred to, what would you do or say? How do you think you’d feel?’

Tony Abbott replied, ‘I suspect the first thing I would do is dissolve into unmanly tears.’

David Chislett is parish priest of All Saints’, Brisbane