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Time for Queensland to enter the 21st century

By Paul Walter
Created 27/08/2009 - 14:06

Time for Queensland to enter the 21st century
by Paul Walter [0]

The issue of a young couple (21 and 19 in the girl's case) living in Cairns, northern Queensland, charged under an old law for procuring a pharmaceutically induced termination of pregnancy using an (illegally, why?) imported RU486 dose, has created some controversy, when the couple were charged, a year after the termination itself.

This is partly due to the severity of sentences. Up to seven years in gaol are in store for the young woman, three years for the male for obtaining the medication off-shore.

The Queensland Premier and Emily's Lister (ie, feminist social progressive), Anna Bligh, seemed uncomfortable in discussing a question relating to the event on last week's Q & A, dwelling on the peripheral issue of the importation and self-administration of medication rather than in relation to the "choice" issue raised by an audience member. But George Brandis expressed surprise that the thing had ever reached the stage of charges being laid.

We can guess Bligh's responses and subsequent (in?) actions are related to the supremacy of the social conservative right Labor faction in that state and elsewhere, including from Bligh's remark that she doubted that legislative change would get through parliament, despite indications that the public is amenable to change on this sort of situation in particular.

The issue says as much about politics as termination of pregnancy as a stand alone morals issue, which is a shame.

I digress.

Much conversation has occurred at different media platforms since the issue came to light and much of this resembles previous debates between pro choice and right to lifers over many decades.

Old shibboleths concerning "forcing abortion on women" and "murdering babies" or "denying adoptees a chance" on the one hand, and charges of religious intolerance and closed-mindedness and authoritarianism on the other, have been hurled back and forth.

In the meantime, the issue has sparked unrest in the Queensland medical fraternity. Despite this, the Bligh government has only been willing to "tinker around the edges", according to one report, of the old legislation. This is against the likelihood of withdrawal of services in women's reproductive health services because of what are seen as legal anomalies. No doubt, for doctors, there is the added worry of liability issues, given what has happened to the young couple. It should be said, of course, that no doctor has been prosecuted since the late 1980s, when a doctor was cleared of a charge.

The point for Right to Lifers is that, according to their beliefs, usually derived from particular religious interpretations of scripture, an embryo or then, foetus, is "human" from the moment of conception: any attempt to procure miscarriage deliberately is regarded as the murder of a person.

I personally do not do doubt their sincerity as to this, as with their objection to euthanasia. They express the fears that derive from a slippery slope argument that proposes that what can be applied to one category of humanity can then apply eventually universally, later.

That is, if we permit killing of the unborn, or terminally ill people as that may apply, we are setting a precedent that will allow for other categories later and perhaps universal murder dislocated from law and justice, on the whim of the power in charge, rather like the Dark Ages.

Therefore, I also get their drift as to employment of resources to cover for laziness, promiscuity, ego and the like.

God knows we live in a self absorbed enough society already, where people will squander vast monies at times on personal toys while millions of people elsewhere starve to death, for example. Given the more grisly nature of late trimester abortions we can sense a fear of cruelty also founded in good intentions.

But a blogger at Andrew Bartlett's blog, Kate Marsh of Children by Choice, made the point that not even 1% of terminations occur after twenty weeks.

And this brings us back to a problematic; whether or not an embryo is "human" at point of conception or not, even till perhaps even well after birth, as the philosopher Peter Singer has apparently suggested.

Right to Lifers tend to believe that the unborn is alive from the very earliest cell exchange, a view which precedes, one could add, much medical investigation concerning reproduction since antiquity.

Pro Choicers suggest not. The Cairns couple procured RU486 based termination at a rather embryonic eight to nine weeks, when foetal growth is still at a very early stage and one would not find consciousness, by the lights of many.

My view is that there is a semantic confusion between "abortion" in its most negative, "laden", and controversial sense and what I would describe as "retrospective contraception", particularly involving RU486. Pro Choicers who do not share a theological viewpoint that coincides with many Right to Lifers as to what constitutes and defines the "human", are on less safe ground preventing choice for termination of pregnancy in the early stages, particularly by non surgical means, or addressing such people in what seems to be very emotive and loaded terminology, as "murderers".

Yet some pro lifers would suggest that embryos and foetuses are in the same boat as many racial already-born also-"others" in third world countries who die as unconsidered "collateral damage" through war or neglect, for the support of our comfortable, unheeding lives,

I wonder what other Webdiarists think on the issue.

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