Last week I was asked and agreed to do an interview on the proposed abortion legislation in Queensland. I intended to say some of the things I’d said in an interview on abortion that appeared in the Catholic Leader – that the issue of abortion and the experience of it are always very complex, but that certain things at least are clear. As it turned out the piece had a tone and focus that I didn’t intend. That was chiefly because it focused upon the Premier and Deputy Premier in a way that personalised the issue.
I rang the Premier to explain that my concern was not with her personally but with the issues before the Parliament and with certain inconsistencies in the Government’s position. I made it clear that I had no intention of setting up a situation of “the Archbishop versus the Premier and Deputy Premier”, still less “Church versus State”. I emailed the Deputy Premier to say the same thing. The Deputy Premier went on Facebook saying that she disagreed with what she called “the Church’s views on a woman’s right to choose”.
Here the language is slippery, making me (or the Church) seem anti-woman, which is a common stereotype. In fact, the Church’s position is genuinely pro-woman. Women are damaged by abortion, which is a short-term solution leading often to long-term trouble. It’s also true that many women choose abortion because they feel or are made to feel that they have no other choice, when in fact they do; but the other choices are not presented to them.
To speak of a woman’s right to choose prompts other questions about rights: What of the rights of unborn children, or do they have no rights, no real human status? What of the rights of the spouse or partner of the woman considering an abortion? What of the rights of society to a guarantee of the right to life as the foundation on which all other rights are built? What of the rights of conscience?
During the interview, the journalist mentioned new technologies which can detect disabilities and so lead to a decision to abort. He also raised gender selection in that same context. I couldn’t disagree with what he was saying, because eugenics is part of the complexity surrounding abortion. The journalist mentioned the eugenics of Nazi Germany, and again I couldn’t deny the historical fact. It was unfortunate that the Deputy Premier said that “we have reached a new low…when women who have an abortion are compared to Nazis”. That wasn’t the point. The real point is that the legislation proposed in Queensland can open the door to the kind of eugenics we’ve seen before and are seeing in other parts of the world now. It has to do with law and policy, not the individual women who decide to have an abortion.
The fact is that abortion is already available in Queensland. The proposed legislation will dramatically extend the range of circumstances in which it’s available and potentially diminish the rights of conscience. That’s why I say that the claim that the legislation is about de-criminalisation not abortion is false. This legislation is certainly about abortion and all that it entails.
Predictably I’ve been attacked by those who say, How dare you speak about abortion like this when you’re up to your neck in dealing with the sexual abuse of children? Dealing with child abuse as intensely as I have in recent years (and now through the Royal Commission’s final hearing into the Catholic Church) has made me more aware than ever of the need to protect the vulnerable at every point of the journey from womb to tomb. There’s a link, I can now see, between abortion and child abuse; and a Church which has been strong in defence of the unborn has to be no less strong in defending the young and vulnerable whenever and wherever. The same is true of the State, which is why I say to those proposing this legislation, “Wrong way, Go back”.