I must confess to a certain amount of trepidation in writing this blog as it’s on one of “those” topics – you know, the ones that tend to generate a high level of emotional response no matter what “side” you come down on. I’m referring to abortion. The last time I wrote on this subject was October last year in which I asked the question, “Are Pro-Lifers Really Pro-Life?”. You would have thought I’d committed the unpardonable sin in writing this blog because I asked what I believe to be four very fair questions in making sure that those who say they are pro-life genuinely are:

  1. Are they pro-life or pro-birth?
  2. Are they pro the life of women too?
  3. Are they pro-life in other areas of life?
  4. Are they concerned about the damage they do to the Christian faith?

But in this blog on abortion I want to highlight a piece of legislation that was introduced into the Victorian State Parliament by The Democratic Labour Party’s Dr. Rachel Carling-Jenkins in October 2015.

The Infant Viability Bill is the first formal attempt at pro-life legislation in Victoria in decades, and the first legislative attempt to remedy the abortion law reforms of 2008. Under this Bill:

  • Abortions would no longer be allowed from the 24th week of pregnancy.
  • Infant viability will be promoted and supported (all infants born alive from the 24th week of pregnancy onwards, including as the result of a medical emergency, must be cared for with the intent to save the infant’s life if at all possible)
  • Mothers who are at least 24 weeks pregnant, who present in distress to their doctor must be offered practical support, for example a referral to a pregnancy support service offering holistic care (such as counselling, social and other support as needed)
  • Mothers will not be criminalised or face any penalties.

The Infant Viability Bill 2015 is set for debate and vote in the Victorian Legislative Council today (May 25, 2016) and so by the time you read this you will most likely know the outcome. I believe this is a very fair and measured bill that seeks to find some common ground between pro-life and pro-choice advocates, especially as Victoria has by far the most liberal abortion laws in Australia. At the time of writing numbers appear to be close in the Upper House.

Right now there is a huge disparity in abortion laws in various Australian states. For example, in Queensland and New South Wales abortion is a crime for women and doctors. It’s only legal when a doctor believes a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger.  In NSW social, economic and medical factors may also be taken into account. In the ACT abortion is legal and must be provided by a medical doctor. The other States fall somewhere between these two extremes. I believe Australia needs to have some consistency in abortion law that protects women and also the unborn child. The safety and accountability of two doctors agreeing that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered by pregnancy, or for serious foetal abnormality, or in the case of an emergency. There should be some special restrictions particularly for under 16 year olds (as is the case in WA) and should be very restricted after 24 weeks.

But with the Infant Viability Bill 2015 in mind it’s vital to get some insight into why a woman would seek a late-term abortion. Doctors Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport of the University of California released the results of some very interesting research on this in 2013.

They found that women aged 20–24 were more likely to have a later abortion than older women. They also found that later abortion recipients experienced logistical delays such as difficulty finding a provider and raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, which compounded other delays in receiving care. Most women seeking later abortion fit at least one of five profiles: They were raising children alone; they were depressed or using illicit substances; they were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence; they had trouble deciding and then had access problems; or they were young and had never carried a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks.

It’s important to understand that a total ban on late-term abortions will disproportionately affect young women as well as women who find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. That’s why point three in the legislation is so important – that doctors must offer practical support such as referral to a pregnancy support service offering holistic care. There are excellent organisations that do wonderful work of supporting women who find themselves, for whatever reason, with an unwanted pregnancy. Pregnancy Counselling Australia is a good place to start as their experienced counsellors connect callers with resources and appropriate services where further assistance is required. Emily’s Voice also offers helpful information and a referral list of organisations in all Australian states. If you live in another country try a Google search to find the help you need.

Pro-lifers have been in the news quite a lot recently, firstly with the Melbourne Fertility Clinic and its failed bid to have anti-choice protesters stopped from harassing patients and staff.  Then last weekend Troy Newman, head of US pro-life organisation Operation Rescue, was barred from entering Australia after a Member of Parliament raised concerns that his extremism “would cause significant harm to our community.”  Mr. Newman was due to begin a national speaking tour for Right to Life Australia in Melbourne on Friday night, but had his visa revoked by the Immigration Department and has since been deported.

While I am not for abortion in any and every situation, I believe it is an issue that needs a compassionate, well thought through Christian response.  I find myself struggling with some of the message and method of pro-life groups.  Here are four questions that I’m asking myself about this:

1. Are they pro-life or pro-birth?

In other words, is a pro-life person anti-abortion and FOR the birth of every baby?  If so, are they doing anything to support the mother’s choice to keep the baby if she decides not to go ahead with an abortion?  If not, they are pro-birth and not pro-life.

While affirming the Roman Catholic Church’s pro-life stance, Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation of 2013 recognised the importance of not simply being pro-birth, “On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”  It’s a great question.

People that want babies to be born but don’t lift a finger to help them or their parents are just like the religious people Jesus condemned, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).  If we’re really pro-life we need to offer far more than rhetoric, demonstrations, marches or counseling.  We need to role up our sleeves with practical help and finance and lift more than a finger to help out.

In their defense, The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (the group that protests outside the Melbourne Fertility Clinic) do offer help to women who decide not to abort.  But a quick Google search shows numerous reports of harassment from the protesters.  One woman who was supporting a friend says, “I walked with them past protestors outside a termination clinic.  It was threatening and intimidating.  Abortion is a difficult decision without the pressure of strangers, some whose intentions are malevolent.”  Another woman was told not to get an abortion to which she replied, “I’ve got cancer!”  That didn’t seem to subdue the protesting group though.

2. Are they pro the life of women too?

While I believe we should certainly be concerned for unborn babies, we should equally be compassionately concerned for women who, for whatever reason, find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.  Abortion law reform campaigner Professor Lachlan de Crespigny puts it this way, ‘‘these are incredibly vulnerable women. They might be victims of incest or domestic violence; they may have gone through a traumatic marital breakup or the death of their partner; they could be drug-addicted or people who just presented late, not knowing they were pregnant; or young girls hiding their pregnancy.”

According to Emily’s Voice, 97% of abortions are performed to protect the psychosocial (mental, emotional and social) health of the mother.

International research shows women will still seek abortion, even if it is illegal.  Surely we don’t want to return to the days of backyard abortions?  Do pro-lifers really want that?  If not, what is their solution?

3. Are they pro-life in other areas of life?

One of the contradictions I’ve noticed with some pro-lifers is that they advocate for saving babies while also supporting capital punishment and the right to bear arms.  A statement regarding Troy Newman declared he “has never advocated violence against abortion providers or facilities and has instead adamantly encouraged pro-life activists to work through the legal, legislative, and justice systems to bring abortionists who are breaking the law and harming women to justice.”  Mr. Newman said he had been misquoted and yet in his book, “Their Blood Cries Out,” he states, “In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people … The innocent blood of the New Covenant in Christ has the power to atone for all the innocent bloodshed from the beginning of time to the end, and to purify the whole earth — the land. Rejecting that innocent blood is to reject the only standard that is effective against innocent bloodshed, excluding the lawful execution of the murderers, which is commanded by God in Scripture.

While the Hebrew Scriptures do command the execution of murderers, they also command the execution of children who curse their parents (Leviticus 20:9); a woman who displeases her husband because she can’t prove she was a virgin when they married (Deuteronomy 22:13-20); and a person who works on the Sabbath Day (Exodus 31:14).  It’s interesting to note that God gave mercy to the first murderer, Cain, and Jesus did the same for the woman caught in adultery.  For more on this read my blog, Why the death penalty is wrong.

4. Are they concerned about the damage they do to the Christian faith?

Pro-life protesters that continuously and openly harass and intimidate patients and staff, including blocking footpaths, following them, shouting at them, taking photos and videos, and even striking them, hardly give Christians a good name.  David Kinnaman in his book Unchristian put it this way, “Many outsiders … believe Christians have a right (even an obligation) to pursue political involvement, but they disagree with our methods and our attitudes … they claim we act and say things in an unchristian manner; they wonder whether Jesus would use political power as we do; and they are concerned that we overpower the voices of other groups.”

For this reason the Church is often seen as conservative and negative.  We become known for all that we’re against rather for what we stand for.  The church is often perceived as being “anti from a distance” without compassionately listening to people’s stories or engaging with them.  We also become known for focusing on one or two issues (gay marriage and abortion) while ignoring other issues completely, such as the plight of the poor, the homeless and the asylum seeker, care of the environment, adoption and foster care for children in need, the predicament of the persecuted church (and other religions) and fighting for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

Christians need to learn to engage in the right way.  We are called to share the good news of forgiveness, mercy and grace through Jesus: “Keep in mind that politics only gets you so far.  You change people’s lives most deeply by transforming their hearts, by helping them embrace a passionate, thoughtful, personal connection to Jesus.” (David Kinnaman)

Our actions should be merciful, respectful, gentle and careful especially towards those whose opinion is different to ours.  As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”  (Colossians 3:12).  Jesus put it this way: “In everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12).  That would be a great start for pro-lifers!

Last week Christie and I watched with fascination an excellent program on TV hosted by Jamie Oliver.  I’d heard about this controversial show and some of the feedback that had occurred when it was aired in the UK.  On this program Jamie demonstrated how badly battery hens and chicks are treated in British egg farms.  During one scene he showed how cute fluffy male chicks are deprived of oxygen and literally suffocated to death.  As the camera panned around the audience many were in tears at the senseless horror they witnessed with their own eyes.

During the program the stark truth dawned on many in the studio audience – and I’m sure on many of us watching in our homes:  this mistreatment of hens is going on all the time to provide us with meat and eggs and we weren’t even aware of it!  But now, thanks to Jamie Oliver, we are aware and we can do something about it!  Things are already changing in the UK and I would imagine some hard questions will be asked in Australia too – and rightly so.  Matthew 6:26 reveals that God cares for his creation including the animal kingdom.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal …”

As I continued to watch Jamie’s presentation I started wondering about what other horrors are allowed to go ahead unhindered even in our “civilized” society simply because people are unaware of what’s going on.  We are aghast at the treatment of hens, but what about the treatment of innocent babies in the womb who are terminated in their thousands right here in Australia?  What if society were similarly exposed to a program that demonstrated how cruel an abortion really is?  Of course it will never happen – it would simply be too horrific to watch.  But if we speak out for chickens shouldn’t we also speak out for vulnerable babies rather than pass laws that seal their doom?  After all Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?