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Andrew Bolt

SOME time today, (29/09/98) a shattered woman will sign a deal which challenges one of the most dangerous myths about abortion.

"Ellen", mother of two, from an outer Melbourne suburb, is creating legal history.

The Royal Women’s Hospital and a gynaecologist have agreed to pay her undisclosed damages — mainly for allegedly not warning her abortion could cause her psychological harm.

Ellen’s lawyer, Charles Francis, QC, believes it is the first such case in Victoria and could trigger similar claims. And several counsellors say it is about time. Ellen’s case indicates that abortion can plunge unsuspecting women into an ocean of grief. "Nobody has wanted to believe this," says Anne Lastman, a Glen Waverley counsellor and founder of Women Hurt By Abortion.

Ellen’s case is disturbing because in many ways it is so ordinary.

In June 1990, she realised to her horror that she was pregnant. She was already exhausted and stressed from caring for her toddler, who had medical problems.

In her statement of claim in the County Court, she alleges that her doctor advised her to have an abortion at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Two weeks later, she alleges, she was "counselled" there by a trainee social worker.

Ellen refuses to be interviewed under a confidentiality agreement with the hospital.

But her statement alleges that the social worker did not question her decision to have an abortion, despite her fragile emotional state.

Nor, allegedly, was she given proper psychiatric or psychological tests, or adequately warned an abortion might affect her emotionally.

This tends to be borne out by the Pregnancy Advisory Service pamphlet handed to her at the hospital.

It admits abortion leaves some women feeling "flat or depressed" for a few days, but says this is just due to hormonal changes. Most controversially, it goes on:

"Nor is there any evidence to suggest that women who have had a termination suffer from any long-term psychological effects."

A spokesman last week told me the hospital stood by this statement.

This is what the pro-abortion lobby has passionately argued for years. But it is not always true.

Take Ellen. On July 6, 1990, she went ahead with her abortion.

Medically, it was bad enough. But what has crippled her since then has been a black depression.

Not even the birth of a second son could help. She just saw her lost baby in his face. Her grief was so paralysing, her husband gave up work to nurse her.

It now seems Ellen is far from alone. Nearly 30 women have this year sought help from Women Hurt By abortion to deal with depression and shame.

"They come to me with their nightmares, with their grieving, with their crying," says Mrs Lastman, a trained counsellor and mother of four who never got over her own abortion.

She said the women were not warned that their abortion could leave them so depressed.

"Instead, abortion is now so accepted as the norm that women who do suffer are dismissed as people who must have had problems before." Several religious counselling groups such as Open Doors also report dozens of cases of distress.

Canberra writer Melinda Tankard Reist, who also works for anti-abortion Senator Brian Harradine, says more than 250 grieving women responded to her small newspaper ads asking for first-hand accounts of abortion experiences.

There was Melissa, for example, who wrote: "Wherever my child is, I hope that he understands that it didn’t mean that I didn’t love him. I did, but I made a terrible mistake.

"I hope that when I die that I will see him. Wherever I end up, I just wish that I could hold him and hug him."

Of course, responses like this can be dismissed as exaggerated, unrepresentative or unnecessarily confronting. Ms Tankard Reist, who is compiling a book based on such accounts, knows she will be dismissed as just pro-life fanatic.

After all, most Australians tell the pollsters they support abortion. It is accepted that about 100,000 procedures are performed each year.

A landmark four-year study of abortion, called We Women Decide, by Adelaide academics and the Adelaide Pregnancy Advisory Centre also found that for most women abortion was neither a positive nor negative experience.

But other experts are not so sure. Professor Philip Ney, a leading Canadian child psychiatrist, published a survey of studies, on abortion and found surprisingly that many women were left devastated by guilt or grief.

This is not to say Australia’s busy abortion clinics should be closed.

But perhaps practitioners should warn patients that abortion may feel as traumatic as — well, frankly —ending the life of their child. In fact, under the High Court’s 1992 Rogers vs Whitaker ruling, doctors are obliged to warn their patients of a "material risk" inherent in the treatment.

This is what Ellen alleges her doctor and hospital failed to do — although neither of the defendants has admitted to any wrongdoing.

So will her case now force abortionists to warn women of the pain of abortion? Clearly there is a need.

Even We Women Decide attacked the quality of abortion counselling.

But these are high explosive, ideological and legal booby traps.

Most abortions in Victoria are legal under the Menhennitt ruling only on the excuse that they save women from serious mental harm.

So where does that leave practitioners if they now admit abortions can destroy a woman’s happiness?





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