There’s a peculiar story in the newspapers today based on a study by Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh, and if you frequent Club Troppo, John Quiggin’s blog or other economics blogs these names will be familiar to you.
Almost 700 mothers delayed giving birth so they could receive higher baby bonus payments that took effect from July last year, a study has found.
This story spawned a disgusting hatefest on news.com.au and similar forums, with all the usual suspects getting an airing: bogans, young single mums (Boo!), plasma TVs, dole bludgers, “natural selection”. You know the sort of thing. Like this gem from “Bruce”:
Disgusting. When will Australian mothers show some class? Caesarian’s [sic] beacause they are lazy [naturally, Bruce gave birth to all his children himself, so he’s right across this subject] and now crossing their legs for taxpayers money … I truly pity the children of these creatures.
Ha-ha, this would be the first time in history that the welfare mothers have kept there [sic] legs closed …
Gans and Leigh both blog the Baby Bonus story in more detail, here and here. They’re too civilised to indulge in the kind of crude banter referred to above, of course, but even for Gans the urge to make a passing reference to “a plasma TV” is too great.
Among the stentorian tones of the economists and the spittle-flecked rage of the news.com.au wingnuts, “Pidge of Brisbane”, who is over 60, put her hand up and quietly said:
I wish someone could tell me how you hold back a baby that is ready to come out.
Thank you, Pidge of Brisbane, for pointing out the bleeding (and pushing, and yelling) obvious. If my reading of the news reports and the original report (PDF 245KB) is correct, you’ll see that the “delayed” births were heavily weighted towards elective caesareans or induced labours. I believe there are ways to delay labour medically, but if it’s a full-term baby which is ready to come, it’d be a hell of an intervention and I don’t see many doctors in our busy and understaffed hospitals agreeing to it for a non-medical reason. In short, they’re talking about babies being “delayed” but these are still pre-term babies.
If, in fact, these babies are just being allowed to be born closer to the time when their mums’ bodies make this imperative, then who exactly is being harmed? I’m not much of a naturist when it comes to the birthing issue - loved the epidural, thanks - but I think the natural process of birth is simply being pushed to one side in favour of, yes, an over-medicalised definition of the process. If you have scheduled an elective caesarean or other procedure before your “due date”, and you then decide to delay that elective procedure, then you are merely … well, following the course of a normal pregnancy. If you can imagine such a thing.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the newspaper. Here’s Gans’ summing up of the problem as he sees it. This follows very closely the conclusion of the report itself, which touches briefly on the hypothetical possibility that physical harm might result but makes it very clear that the focus of the report is with the disruption of the hospital system and economic management, not with ZOMG Mothers killing their babies:
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