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What choice does 'pro-choice' really support

By Rachael Patterson - posted Monday, 29 November 2004

The abortion issue has been buried. Mind you, it is not dead and buried. Just buried.

Not long ago John Howard and Peter Costello expressed significant concern about our falling birth rates. Have “one for your husband, one for your wife, one for your country” Costello told us. “Go home”, they instructed, “and do your patriotic duty for your country”.

Both Howard and Costello now want to avoid considering one of the principle causes of Australia’s low reproductive levels, abortion. They are apparently untroubled by the 100,000 abortions that occur in Australia each year or by the fact that every third or fourth pregnancy ends in deliberate termination.


One of the terrible facts about abortion, something these politicians have ignored, is that in many instances it is the woman herself who is the victim - a victim of male selfishness, societal expectations, pressure or financial hardship.

Although Howard does not want to entertain the prospect of significant law reform, there are other initiatives in this area that the government should consider. The maternity payments implemented in this year’s budget are a good start but more can be done.

High school sex education courses, for example, should be reformed. Recent figures in Victoria indicate an increase in the number of abortions performed on teenage girls. Why has this happened when these girls know all about condoms and the pill?

At 14 I remember being taught at school how to put a condom on a banana. Even though I attended one of the best and most academically rigorous girl’s schools in Sydney, not once did any of my classes touch on abstinence or the emotional issues involved in sex and relationships. It may very well be that this is one of the reasons our sex education courses have failed so spectacularly.

To ease the financial strictures on women, extra funding in addition to the maternity payment should be made available by the government to support women who couldn’t otherwise afford to keep their babies. A radical but helpful initiative, for example, would be to waive the HECS fees for young mothers entering tertiary study and to provide them with free or subsidised childcare on university campuses.

Most women studying or working in Australia on visas don’t have access to social welfare or Medicare assistance. When they fall pregnant many are forced to abort because they simply can’t afford to have a child. These women don’t have many options: abort, raise a child on little or no income, or abandon work and tertiary study to return home. We ought to be compassionate in offering greater financial support or at least a limited form of welfare to help them through.


Almost as important as welfare is the need for a change in attitudes. Unfortunately young mothers are still discriminated against. Many report getting “funny looks” when in public and the view that young mothers have children in order to receive more welfare is still shockingly prevalent. Instead of being spurned, young mothers ought to be praised. As a society we should be telling them that they are brave and asking them what it is that we can do to help.

It should not be the case, as it seems to be, that it is socially more acceptable for a young woman to abort than to carry her baby to term.

It is also of concern that adoption is no longer considered to be a viable alternative to abortion. Women seem to think that it will be too hard for them to give up their babies once they give birth and that it is simply better to abort. It is a shame that this attitude is so prevalent. There is a real demand for newborn infants by couples wanting to adopt but very few are available. In 1995, for example, only 71 children under the age of one who were born in Australia were adopted by a non-relative.

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This is an edited version of an article first published in the Canberra Times on November 17, 2004.

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About the Author

Rachael Patterson is a Lecturer in Law at Deakin University in Melbourne. Her areas of expertise include ethics and legal philosophy.

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