Monthly Archives: December 2013

Premier Denis Napthine has reignited the debate over women’s reproductive rights

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Common sense should dictate that the issue of abortion be left to pregnant women to decide. But when the history of women’s fight for the right to abortion is considered, it’s no wonder it’s still firmly in the hands of wheeling and dealing politicians.

In the state of Victoria, abortion has made the headlines for the last two weeks with the Independent and balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw  plotting the removal of a section of the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act which makes it mandatory for doctors who are conscientious objectors to abortion, to provide a referral to another medical practitioner without an objection, thus giving the woman a chance to see another doctor who can help her with her decision.

In 2008 The Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act which allows for a registered medical practitioner to perform an abortion on a woman who is not more than 24 weeks pregnant and allows for termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks only if the medical practitioner believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances; and that she has consulted at least one other registered medical practitioner who also reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances.

But it’s Section 8 of the act that Independent MP Geoff Shaw and several other Coalition and Labor MPs do not support and it deals with the situation where a woman requests an abortion and the doctor has a conscientious objection to abortion. In this case the practitioner must refer the woman to another registered practitioner whom the referring doctor knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion. The other provision in contention is the allowance of terminations up to 24 weeks’ gestation.

The Premier Denis Napthine was one of the 32 MPs who voted against the decriminalisation of abortion in 2008, mainly because he did not agree with these two most controversial provisions. And in an article in The Age last week, Mr Napthine was reported to have said: ”My personal view was that 18 or 20 weeks would have been a better number, but I respect that was a decision of the Parliament.” So five years after the decriminalisation of abortion law in Victoria we have the Premier Napthine, not so respecting of the parliament and saying that he would consider any attempt by balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw to overhaul the state’s abortion laws.

Such a move by the Catholic, Dr Napthine is both personally and politically motivated as the Coalition government needs the support of the balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw. According to the Opposition leader Daniel Andrews: ”Denis Napthine will do anything and everything in a grubby deal with the independent member Geoff Shaw to hang on to the premiership and to hang on to government. ”Regardless of your view [on abortion] this should not be the subject of a secret backroom deal,” he said.

Abortion should not be a plaything for politicians hungry to hang on to power.

Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 6.57.24 PMIn today’s Sunday Age Dr Jo Wainer, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University faculty of medicine, nursing and the widow of abortion campaigner Dr Bertram Wainer, wrote about the long, dangerous and difficult campaign  undertaken by Bertram to change public awareness, to ensure women who needed to end a pregnancy could do so with safety, dignity and affordable care. Jo Wainer concludes her opinion piece:

Section 8 requires health professionals, including doctors who preference the wellbeing of the foetus over that of the woman, to tell her so and give her information about another doctor she can see who will treat her as a person capable of making her own morally sound decisions. It is a small thing to ask.

But it is no small thing to those who seek to overturn the contentious sections of the 2008 Act of Parliament. I don’t have a real problem with anyone having an abortion – women have a right to choose whether to mother or not and there are plenty of reasons that this may not be in the best interests of the mother, or the child she may bring in to the world. Motherhood can be hard, constant and never-ending. Single mothers have a very hard time with pensions a thing of the past, and society largely prejudiced against them.

But where there is a real problem is with late-term abortions.  One very public example of this occurred in January 2000, when a 40-year-old woman was referred to the Royal Women’s Hospital by her general practitioner. The woman had been told that her 31-week-old fetus might have skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism). Arriving at the emergency department in a state of great agitation she threatened suicide and demanded that her pregnancy be terminated. The abortion was subsequently carried out with the woman delivering a baby girl with dwarfism.

This was an awful case. Today people with dwarfism are to be found in all areas of life. They are parents, teachers, engineers, musicians and social workers. As I was thinking about this case of late-term abortion, I remember reading Defiant Birth : Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics by Melinda Tankard Reist.

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In Defiant Birth, the author tells the stories of women who were told they shouldn’t go ahead and give birth to their babies because of a perceived disability or imperfection. These brave women went ahead and had their children anyway, many of whom died shortly after birth. But they were born in the belief that the life they shared, even for a short while, was worth it.

Abortion is complex but made more so by politicians and lawyers, when really it should be up to a woman and her doctor. But with most issues in the world today, simple resolutions to problems don’t seem possible anymore.



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‘The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka’ by Claire Wright – a review

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 8.57.20 PMThis post is timely for it is now 159 years since the famous uprising known as the Eureka Stockade. The story of the massacre in Ballarat on December 3, 1854 after police and soldiers broke the miner’s stronghold  is one of Australia’s great stories, but according to Claire Wright, author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, the story we learned as children neglected half of the participants-the women. Continue reading

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The high price of power

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Borgen is a gripping TV drama series where 40 year-old politician Birgitte Nyborg becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. The production is packed full of political intrigues and deals but it’s the effect that her new powerful position has on her  home life and her relationship, that grabs my undivided attention.

I bought the box set of the first season and watched an episode every night. In the early scenes, I was delighted to watch a happy and playful Birgitte and her husband Philip, parents to their two children- and all of them apparently comfortable with Birgitte’s surprise ascension to power. But although I enjoyed the friendly domesticity, I had to wonder how long it would last.

Philip is a lecturer and each night after work  he tackles the domestic chores, tends to the needs of his children and the challenges of their school activities and home work. Philip jokes about having sex with the new Prime Minister but this rarely happens as Nyborg is forever late home or called in to settle some political deal or other. Through each densely drama-packed episode I remained cautiously optimistic that Philip would prove to be mature; a man who could bask in the success of his wife, and not become sullen and needy and childishly seek attention elsewhere. However, well before the end of the first season, it was clear that my optimism had little basis and the foundations of the happy home were fast crumbling away,

After too many long evening hours alone with his children, and his son who was now bed wetting and clearly missing his mother, it was clear that the idyllic relationship was not going to last. By the end of season one, Philip was heavily engrossed in an affair and the divorce papers were waiting for the unhappy Prime Minister to sign.

However, I did not find this separation and impending divorce convincing. Would a couple who were seen as so delightfully together in the earlier episodes  really have been driven to divorce? Why couldn’t they get someone to help with the domestic chores if that was the problem. But then it wasn’t just the domestic workload that was the issue. Philip couldn’t cope with his wife’s success and like most men he really needed a wife to mother him as well as his children.

As I watched the disintegration of their relationship I had to wonder how a man could leave such an attractive, clever and highly successful woman with whom he had two much-loved children, for a younger woman. But then the new model will no doubt make a fuss of him; she’ll laugh at his jokes, she’ll boost his flailing ego and she’ll mother him.  This  is what the morose, and formerly capable and dependable Philip needs and sadly what most men expect and demand. But I am still surprised and rather disappointed for I was hoping for a better outcome. As the second series plays, poor Birgitte, beautiful and powerful though she may be, is desperately unhappy as Philip and his new love and the children spend quality time together.

I continue to be gripped by season two, now shown on SBS on Wednesdays at 9.30 pm. I’m sure there will be better times for Birgitte, but I would have liked to have seen her partner able to support her in her new life. But let’s face it – few men are up to this task.

And of course his desertion for another woman meant for more drama on which such a program depends.

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