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Shaw about that?

By Debbie Garratt - posted Friday, 9 May 2014

Victorian Liberal MP, Geoff Shaw raises some interesting issues with regard to abortion, engendering the usual hysterical outbursts from radicals only concerned about the availability of abortion, rather than safety and informed consent.    Mr Shaw has proposed several changes to current Victorian abortion law, which has allowed unrestricted abortion to women (and girls) of any age for any reason up to 24 weeks, thereafter on the approval of 2 doctors, since legislative changes in 2008.   His proposals include a ban on gender selection abortion, waiting periods and counselling for women considering abortion,  pain relief for unborn babies for abortion procedures,  a ban on the practise of partial birth abortion and mandatory resuscitation of babies who are born alive following abortion.

Described by the Herald Sun as ‘Geoff Shaw’s abortion shock’, there is nothing particularly new about Mr Shaw’s proposals, with many of them already legislated in line with the latest evidence in the United States.   

Partial birth abortion, a barbaric procedure which almost fully delivers a baby feet first before killing it by suctioning out its brain to facilitate removal of the head from the birth canal, is outlawed in 19 US states.  Whilst some could argue that other forms of abortion, including a dilatation and extraction whereby the live foetus is removed piece by piece with forceps inserted through the cervix is just as barbaric, the very fact that these procedures are considered horrific must give people pause to at least consider the concept of pain relief for these babies, if not the practises themselves.  


I wonder what research Susie O’Brien relies on when she states that ‘there is absolutely no need for pain relief for foetuses’.    Certainly not the same research that the NHMRC relied on when developing guidelines for animals, nor the same solid evidence base the United States relied on when legislating in 12 states that women be informed that their unborn can feel pain. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council have safeguards in place for procedures involving unborn animals stating, ‘Animals at early stages in their development, that is, in their embryonic, foetal and larval forms, can experience pain and distress.

Guideline3.3.10 covering analgesia for unborn animals says,

‘Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that foetuses have comparable requirements for anaesthesia and analgesia as adult animals of the species.   Approaches to avoid or minimise pain and distress in the fetus must be designed accordingly.’

One has to ask why the idea of pain relief for babies undergoing what must be incredibly painful experiences is considered a radical idea, especially when we allow this concession for animals.  

State Opposition leader, Mr Andrews is quoted as saying ‘no one that quite frankly has any decency would get involved with the legislation’s progress.’  I have to wonder how anyone with any decency could be happy with a state of affairs whereby unborn children are denied basic compassionate care in the form of analgesia, all because of fears that such humane processes might restrict abortion.


Mandating waiting periods for women considering abortion is a simple precaution to ensure that women have time to fully consider their options.  This is not unusual in other health care settings and there is no reason why abortion advocates should be alarmed about such a proposal unless they are concerned that some of these women may actually choose not to terminate.  Concerns that because this would require 2 separate consultations, it creates an undue burden on women have no validity in light of the current push toward broadening the availability of medical abortion, which requires a minimum of 2 consultations.   More than half the US states require a waiting period for women seeking abortion, and also mandate that she receives independent counselling.  Surely these safeguards are in the best interests of informed consent processes. 

Mr Shaw’s concern about gender selection abortion is in line with the general opinion of the public, however in a state where a woman needs no reason for an abortion, it would be impossible to regulate. 

Whilst Mr Shaw has not raised the issue of parental consent or notification for minors seeking abortion, in the US 38 states require some form of parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision.  Whereas in Victoria, your child cannot get a tattoo even with your permission until they are 18, they cannot get a fake suntan, they can’t even get a piercing without your consent until they are 16.  Yet your 15 year old can get an abortion and you need not even know about it.  Most parents are not comforted by this knowledge, they are horrified.  After all, there isn’t even a debate about whether a girl’s earlobe or skin is part of her body.   Arguments for bodily autonomy clearly only apply to abortion. 

Sadly myths about abortion continue to abound, with the media playing a significant role in misinforming the public and misrepresenting the public’s opinion.  In addition to Susie O’Brien’s uninformed statements on foetal pain,  she also tries that, ‘it is only in the rarest of circumstances, and usually because of medical abnormalities, that abortions are performed after this time’, (12 weeks). 

I know this is a deliberate misinforming, because I have personally corresponded with Ms O’Brien regarding the statistics of late term abortion.  In Victoria more than half of all post 20 week abortions are undertaken for psychosocial reasons.   This means on healthy babies, of healthy mothers.   State government bodies report on these figures in Perinatal Mortality and Morbidity statistics, with the majority of reports from the last decade available here.

When concerns about informed consent, pain relief for unborn children, waiting periods to ensure women feel truly free to make informed choices are considered radical attacks on abortion rights, we know that abortion advocates have truly lost the plot.  

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About the Author

Debbie Garratt is the Executive Director of Real Choices.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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