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However it's discussed, abortion is the deadly price of choice

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Wednesday, 21 July 2004

The setting was a women's health conference in Canberra a few years ago. The speakers had talked about abortion as a "fertility control strategy", about removing the "embryonic implant", about pregnancy as oppression. The status of the foetus was "irrelevant", they said.

A woman rose in the audience, clearly agitated. She was, she said, "facing a conflict between her politics and the reality of removing quite well-formed foetuses from women". Working in a Sydney abortion clinic for the past year, she felt no one was facing what abortion was really about, she had difficulty advocating for it, she felt it violated women's bodies too. And it was one thing to be pro-choice - it was another to deal with dead babies every day.

The reaction was swift. She was told she had no right to express such doubts, that she was merely the provider of a service, that her personal feelings shouldn't come into it. The woman left the room. I didn't see her again.


How times have changed.

On August 8, ABC TV's Compass program will screen the British documentary, My Foetus. The film shows new 3-D ultrasound imaging of the foetus in the womb at nine, 12, 18 and 23 weeks, sucking their thumbs, jumping, tumbling. It also shows an abortion taking place, fetal remains being rinsed through a sieve, and pictures of 10, 11 and 21-week-old aborted foetuses. All the while, throughout the 24-minute film, is the pregnant film-maker Julia Black, her protruding belly like an exclamation mark, underscoring what it is all about.

Lest this be considered a pro-life conspiracy, Black has impeccable pro-choice credentials. Abortion is the Black family business. Dad is Tim Black, head of Marie Stopes International, Britain's largest abortion provider. Julia earned her stripes with an abortion at 21.

She would have grown up with the pro-abortion mantra: "No foetus can beat us." She may have heard about the 1985 rally in Spain where fresh foetal remains were held up to a cheering crowd of 3000 and other such events. Now she rubs pro-choice faces in these remains, using graphic images that UK pro-lifers have been arrested for showing. The reassembled body of a 21-week-old foetus lies alongside a tape measure.

"I decided to include images of aborted foetuses in my film because, however shocking, repulsive and confrontational they are, they represent the reality," Black told The Observer newspaper in the UK.

"When I interviewed a doctor about the unpleasantness of performing late abortions it was difficult to listen and not believe it was morally wrong," the Herald Sun quoted her. That doctor describes pulling babies apart piece by piece into a bucket between his legs.


Strangely, Black, while seemingly fearless, stops short of a more representative portrayal of the procedure only filming a four-week abortion. Most women don't even know they're pregnant then. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends against abortion under seven weeks.

But the film still packs a powerful punch.

Britain's Daily Telegraph journalist Lauren Booth, a pro-choicer who has also had an abortion, recoiled when watching the film: "My hand flew to my mouth in shock. I swallowed. I didn't want to say it but the word 'murder' came to my lips."

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This article was first published in The Australian on 12 July 2004.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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