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No amount of hand-wringing can bring dead babies back after an abortion

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Wednesday, 22 September 2004

In his lament last month for all the poor abortion doctors who aren’t sure whether they could be in trouble for aborting babies almost up to birth, Dr Lachlan de Crespigny left out one little detail. He writes about the abortion of the 32-week unborn baby at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH) as though he is merely a concerned commentator, an outside medical observer of the event. But it was by his own hand the deed was done.

Dr de Crespigny administered the fatal injection, which ended the baby girl’s life. Why didn’t he declare that? Surely readers of his articles painting abortion doctors as innocent and ethical, have a right to know? He has set himself up as judge and jury in his own case without disclosing a conflict of interest. Why the secrecy? Dr de Crespigny is described on the Amazon books page as the author of Forever on Trial, which “considers the highly contentious and emotive issue of late abortion”. The book’s advertising goes on to say that de Crespigny performed the abortion.

The Internet is hardly a place for secrets, so why the cover up with the Australian press? Dr de Crespigny was also identified at a Senate Estimates hearing in June 2002 as the doctor who did the abortion. Evidence provided to the State Coroner shows that the abortion was done on a woman who was driven by shame and cultural stigma.


In my view, the evidence shows she was in no state to give informed consent. Just before midnight in February 2000, in Dr de Crespigny’s private Lygon Street office, he injected potassium chloride into the baby’s heart. Four hours later, after an induced labour, the baby was recorded as "stillborn" and named Jessica by her mother Minh (a pseudonym). Minh was not offered treatment to relieve her mental state. Instead, she was relieved of her baby.

The “Request for Fetal Reduction” form states: the procedure has been explained to me in detail by Dr…” But the doctor’s name is missing.

Evidence to Victorian Police assisting the Coroner indicated Minh’s mental state was such that the fetus she was carrying had become “grotesque and monstrous” to her and that “the pregnancy was shameful and guilt-ridden”. In her culture, the mother is often blamed for having a baby with a deformity - they think its “bad karma”. De Crespigny claims the fetus had been “diagnosed” with dwarfism. But the genetics counselor said the ultrasound was “…suggestive but not diagnostic of” dwarfism and that the baby could just be small but normal. "The baby doesn't look small," said a nurse’s note after the abortion.

Jessica's mother did not want to continue her pregnancy. She didn't have to. Labour could have been induced - either way she had to deliver the baby - and a live baby delivered. RWH’s own legal advisor, Mr John Snowdon, said: “in theory, at least, the option of vaginal delivery of a living baby was available, with a baby to then be separated from the parents if that was their wish.”

Where does RWH draw the line? What if Jessica had been a week from birth? Or even a day from birth? After all, as philosopher Peter Singer points out, there’s no real difference between a very late abortion and infanticide of a newborn.

De Crespigny claims “Australians do not need the threat of criminal prosecution to force them to respect fetal life”. Dr David Grundmann in Queensland - known for his “cranial decompression” method - has admitted aborting babies at up to seven months gestation.


In the Northern Territory, “Baby J” was aborted at 22 weeks and cried for 80 minutes. Not much respect shown there. Clearly something more is needed than the “anything goes” free-market approach to abortion De Crespigny seems to want. De Crespigny may think he is “Forever on Trial”. But the baby is forever dead. Baby Jessica and her mother were the victims of a medical system which should have found a better way. And no amount of self-serving posturing by Dr de Crespigny will change that. 

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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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