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Babette Francis

I feel sorry for Professor Neil Rees, hapless Chairman of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, who was given the unenviable task by the Victorian Government  of drafting a new law  to decriminalise  abortion.  On such a controversial issue   he would  be unable to make everyone (or even most people)  happy with whatever he reported, but in  regard to what is important to a mature age lawyer,  his legal "legacy",  it is unlikely that  even posterity  will be kind to him.  Whatever  posterity that is not aborted, that is .....
I did warn Professor Rees when he came to see my husband, Charles Francis, AM, QC, and me as part of the consultation process for his Report, that he would not want to be remembered like the judges in the  infamous 1857  Dred Scott v Sanford  US  slavery case, who found that blacks were property and not entitled to the rights of US citizens.  The judges decision read, in part:   

"Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen?........We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them........" 

But  Professor Rees  did not heed my warning  - his Report, offering three  options,  A, B and C, each worse than the preceding one,  implies the same kind of  invidious distinction  - the  child in utero  is  an inferior being,  has no rights vis-a-vis its mother, and is referred to as a fetus. His report does not even recommend banning the horrific practice of partial-birth abortion, now illegal in the US.

Interestingly, in  current  media civility, fetuses   are referred to as "the unborn child"  when the mother wants the child and an operation is  performed to preserve the child's life or limbs, as in a recent case in Melbourne  where a baby was operated on in utero to loosen amniotic bands  constricting her limbs.  Such civility annoys  feminists    who regard the human  fetus as belonging to a lesser species, which metamorphoses into an "unborn child"  in media parlance when its unenlightened mother is happy about her pregnancy. There is no  civility towards the fetus  in Professor Rees' Report  which appears to be singing  to the pro-abortion "Emily's List" choir, a group of ALP 'wimmin' dedicated to promoting abortion.

There are other  parallels between   'academic' discussions on  the status of  negroes a couple of centuries ago,  and the status of fetuses now  - some  'scholars' then defined negroes as three-fifths human, or maybe it was three-quarters, eerily reminiscent of today's discussion about gestational limits on abortion when the fetus  'becomes' more human in the second and third trimesters. Rees' Report did not recommend gestational limits  - Option C implies that a "fetus" can be aborted at any time prior to birth by the decision of  its mother and a co-operative doctor. 

Unlike feminists,  pro-life ladies take pleasure in their cooking skills, and Tanya O'Brien, spokeswoman,   Tell the Truth Coalition,  who attended our consultation with Professor Rees, having heard that he remembered Charles Francis offering him a cup of coffee when he was a young lawyer,  decided to bake some muffins for the occasion.  The muffins were delicious, but the ploy did not work.   Professor Rees' Report could have been written by the abortion industry because it rejected every commonsense recommendation, e.g. that women be given full information on the physical  physical and mental health risks of  abortion, and that there should be anti-coercion legislation (as in the US)  to protect pregnant women from bullying by boyfriends  or family. Professor Rees claimed he didn't have any "hard evidence" of coercion, although he was given  Melinda Tankard Reist's "Giving Sorrow Words"  and Anne Lastman's "Redeeming Grief", both  books citing cases of coercion.  Furthermore,  he had the evidence of Charles Francis  and barrister Michael Houlihan on coercion in some of the cases in which settlements were obtained  for women who sued  abortionists. 

As Archbishop Hart, Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne,  commented  in his press release   on Professor  Rees' Report:  "...The Commission rejected recommendations  for making supportive counselling available, requiring an independent medical opinion  or reporting adverse events......the Commission's Report is anti-choice and anti-women because it shows no commitment to women having access to accurate information.....the only person  who would be required to provide information would be the abortion doctor, who in many cases is the very person whose livelihood  depends on their willingness to perform abortions...."

"Women's autonomy" runs through the Rees Report, like a medieval chant,  providing  the rationale for rejecting the most basic health recommendations that would be mandatory in any other surgery e.g.  providing to women considering abortion  ultrasound pictures of what is being operated on.

However, it is science,   not religion,  that has made Professor Rees' Report outdated before it was even tabled in Parliament in June 2008.     While the local abortion industry was advising him  there were no physical or mental sequelae of abortion, he overlooked the study by  Dr. David Fergusson of New Zealand  (self-described  as a pro-choice  atheist) published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, January 2006. Fergusson found  that abortive women were one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer mental illness:  "Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders."

Professor Fergusson has challenged the New Zealand government to do more research:
"If we were talking about an antibiotic or an asthma risk, and someone reported adverse
reactions, people would be advocating further research to evaluate risk. that would be the responsible course of action.  I can see no good reason why the same rules don't apply to abortion."

But research on the adverse effects of abortion  would interfere with "women's autonomy"...... 

Adding legal credibility to the Fergusson study, a New Zealand judge in June 2008  agreed with the claims of  Right to Life New Zealand that abortions are wrongly approved on mental health  grounds.  According  to the governmental agency, the Abortion Supervisory Committee,  of the 17,934 abortions in 2006,  98.9% were approved on mental health grounds.   Justice Forrest Miller issued a review of the data from the Committee and said there is reason to doubt the legitimacy of the claims that the abortions were needed for psychological concerns

On the other side of the world from New Zealand, in March 2008 (at the same time Professor Rees was finalising his Report) the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists  issued a warning that  women are not being sufficiently warned of abortion's potentially devastating psychological effects: "Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information".  The Royal College recommended updating pamphlets given to women to include details of the risks of depression, stating  "The College has undertaken a literature review .....which includes the recommendation that a full systematic review around abortion and mental health is required".   Professor Rees' Report   rejected any warnings being given to women  - this would  interfere with their "autonomy", nor did his Report suggest any further research was required.   

The report from the Royal College came at a time when Britain  heard from Emma Beck, a
30 year-old artist, who wrote  "Living is hell for me" after aborting her twins. Beck hanged
herself  on February 1st,  2008 leaving a suicide note:  "I should never have had an abortion. I see now I would have been a good mum. I told everyone I didn't want to do it, even at the hospital. I was frightened, now it is too late. I died when my babies died. I want to be with my babies, they need me, no-one else does."

Beck's doctor  told the  inquest  it was known she was being pressured into an abortion by her boyfriend.   Information on this case was provided to Professor Rees, and it is difficult to understand why he did not regard this as evidence of coercion. His Report also ignored studies from Finland and California showing increased risk of suicide by women who had abortions compared to those who gave birth or were not pregnant.

The final coup-de-grace to Professor Rees'  Report comes from the new 3-Dimension technology developed by companies like Phillips Healthcare, which will enable parents to see an lifelike picture of their unborn child.  Described in a Herald Sun article (20/6/08) as "A womb with a spectacular view", the technology involves a belt worn across the mother's abdomen and ultrasonic  waves transmitted to create a real-time picture which can be projected on to a screen or wall.  Parents can see the details of their developing baby, and the pictures can be enjoyed by grandparents and other family  members.  It will become increasingly difficult for the abortion lobby to claim the infant in utero is "just a clump of cells" when it appears on screen   with a beating heart, bouncing around,    sucking its thumb, and laying claim to our intelligence and emotions as a small human being needing our protection.

Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of  Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN