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The whale in the room

By Debbie Garratt - posted Friday, 11 July 2014

This morning I watched the 7am national news reporting on a beached Humpback whale on the Gold Coast. The news piece lasted just short of 10 minutes. As the waves rolled in, the whale looked like it might swim back out to sea; people cheered and then groaned while one of the hosts kept asking 'does it hurt the whale?' The whale had been beached for 37 hours and there were dozens of people on the ground working to ensure its survival.

I don't know a lot about whales, so these efforts somewhat bewilder me, however before I'm drawn and quartered for not liking animals, I own 2 dogs, I have a mainly native garden which is a haven for hundreds of native birds, I don't own a cat for that reason, and I recycle. I like animals. I do my bit to care for the environment.

The bewildering aspect of it to me is that a single whale takes up 10 minutes of my news watching time yet when figures about late term abortions of viable healthy babies are released, nobody wants to talk about it.


Earlier in the week I wrote this piece following the long awaited release of Victoria's Maternal, Perinatal, Child and Adolescent Mortality report. This report details the deaths of any child during pregnancy from 20 weeks gestation and after birth, up to the age of 18, including those deaths from pregnancy termination. In this report we learned that for another two years in a row, late term abortions for psychosocial reasons have outstripped those for congenital abnormality.

In 2010, 191 physically healthy mothers were provided with a surgical solution to their social, economic, relational or psychological problems with the death of their healthy unborn child, only weeks from birth, or in the case of many, at a time when they could be delivered alive and viable. In 2011 the same solution was provided to 183 women, with one of these women being over 37 weeks gestation. Yes, that is 37 weeks; a gestation which is considered practically full term with full term pregnancy defined as anything from 38 weeks. A further 10 women were given terminations at between 28 and 31 weeks in 2011.

In 2000, the public were outraged following the termination of a 32 week old unborn child at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. The woman apparently presented as suicidal demanding the termination of her unborn child suspected of having a form of dwarfism. The fact is that there is zero evidence of a mental health benefit stemming from termination, and in any other setting where a person presents as suicidal demanding the removal of their own body part (not the body of their child), they would be medicated and counselled through the psychiatric crisis, not rushed to surgery.

Similar outrage and horror was felt at the tragic death of a healthy baby boy who was accidentally terminated instead of his less healthy twin brother (who was subsequently terminated in a further procedure) in 2011 at the same hospital. At the time I questioned why it was that this was even making the news when healthy babies were aborted by the dozens every year in Victoria. Assuming the twin baby boys whose lives were lost and reported on are included in the 2011 figures, we can now see that in the same year the deaths of a further 9 unborn babies past viability, at least one close to term passed by us unannounced.

What of their mothers? What circumstances drive a woman to feel that her only option is termination as opposed to delivering her child and making a choice at that time to either parent or not? What drives the medical profession and radical women's groups to believe that offering a woman the death of her unborn child is an adequate solution to her circumstances, especially in the face of the evidence of risk to the woman's physical and emotional health following a late term abortion? In fact the evidence demonstrates that a history of mental health problems is considered a risk factor for future mental health problems if a termination is undertaken.

The majority of the general public do not support abortions at this late stage of pregnancy, and in fact many do not support abortions at even earlier gestations for many psychosocial reasons. It is possible to end a pregnancy without ending the life of a woman's child.


My response to this call for free abortion was labelled by some as both radical and anti-woman because I suggested that we should do more to address women's real issues, such as drug addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, economic issues and lack of parenting support and education.

If asking questions about why we are not addressing the real inequalities women experience when faced with adverse circumstances during pregnancy is considered radical it is no wonder that women continue to feel such pressure toward abortion.

When the media is more interested in a single beached whale when the lives of women and their children are being torn apart, in some cases for the children this being literal, there is something very wrong with our world.

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About the Author

Debbie Garratt is the Executive Director of Real Choices.

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All articles by Debbie Garratt

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

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