Monday, October 6, 2008

the hot topic of the week here in Victoria

The abortion reform legislation goes before the (Victorian State) Upper House this week and The Age continues to run it’s series of uncritical, clearly anti-abortion, “human story” style pieces that have been peppering the paper for the last couple of months.

The latest is all about little Thomas who was born at 26 weeks (a full 3.5 months early). Now six years old there’s a picture with his loving mother with the caption, “Thomas Sharples and his mother Deborah, who is disgusted by the idea of a 24-week termination”. With Deborah’s willing consent Thomas’s story has been part of the case delivered by Labour MP Marlene Kairouz against the Bill.

The story, no doubt supplied by the anti-choice lobby, is lazy and uncritical in its reporting of the facts. What was the cost of Thomas’s 3.5 months of post-natal hospitalization, much of it in NICU and ongoing special care? Not a mention. Has Thomas suffered for being kept alive ‘against all the odds’? The story glosses over his deafness and makes no other mention of the physical problems.

Thomas’s story does not address the issues of the Bill or the fact it is looking at abortion up to 24 weeks. At that stage of prematurity each day makes a substantive difference to likelihood of survival. While the medical advances in the past decade are increasing the odds for those born at 26-plus weeks gestation, there have been no significant changes for survival of 23 week old fetuses, which stays hovering at around 20%. It would be rare for the 1:5 who do survive to do so without blindness, deafness, brain damage, digestive problems, sleep apnea, heart irregularities and an inability to be fed naturally.

While I love a good survivor story and am not an eugenicist, the sloppy reporting does little to tell the whole story.

Catholic, and some other chrisitan, doctors or medical personal believe it is against their individual human rights to perform a termination on a woman who’s own life may be at stake if she continues the pregnancy. A strange lack of compassion in anyone’s book to choose a fetus that may have little chance of survival, over a functioning adult.

The Age continues to fail to bring it’s stories on this legislation back to the point which is to allow safe, legal access to abortions up to 24 weeks' gestation and remove unlawful abortion from the Crimes Act. While a small percentage of women may choose to go through an induced labour at 23 weeks for lifestyle reasons, the vast majority who seek a termination at this time is in response to the devastating news that their much wanted baby, if it was to survive birth, would have major brain or internal organ damage. I’ve met no woman who has been confronted with this to take the decision to terminate lightly. Nor has a single one of them forgotten what it was like to labour in vain and hold their child until it dies.

For those of us who support the final passing of this legislation, all we ask is that when for whatever reason, a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks, that it can be done so legally and safely. In short, that no woman die or be damaged from the consequences of an out of hospital abortion, or that she or the medical personal go to prison for pursuing an abortion up to 24 weeks.

What is so wrong with that?

"A number of people have asked me, 'Who speaks for the baby?' The answer, I believe, is that the mother speaks for the baby, and we need to respect that right, whether we agree or disagree with the decision they make."
Jeanette Powell, Victorian Nationals front bencher, speech to the Lower House. The Australian

Cross-posted at Health Philosophy Politics and Other Rants

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