Monday, August 3, 2009

For Eileen Dorothy (My Gran)

Recent news that the government provides funding to pregnancy counselling services who advertise their organisations as being non-directive, but refuse to provide abortion referrals, has been a good excuse for folk on both sides of the debate to dust off their polemics and give them a good airing.

The thing I find sinister is that pregnancy counselling has been singled out to receive its own medicare item number, when counselling for no other surgical procedure is deemed worthy of such an honour. In announcing this initiative, the Ministers, Prime and Health, stated, “Australia’s abortion rate is far too high.”

No doubt that Medicare number will allow a compilation of data, which can be polished up and worked into a nice graph, which the current Medicare numbers for the abortion procedure don’t allow, they remain politely unclear.

Based on statistical data compiled from both sides of my extended family it seems that as soon as it was possible to avoid having six children, one tended to avoid it like the plague. Of my ten Aunts and Uncles, five on each side, none of them was keen to repeat the experience. One of them became a Nun.

Catholic and poor, my maternal Grandparents had four daughters and two sons over a period of twenty years. In an attempt to terminate her fifth pregnancy my Grandmother drank gin and took a hot bath, which was rumoured to induce miscarriage. As a young woman, unable to imagine the shame and terror of seeking an illegal abortion during the 1950s, I found the story sort of funny. My austere old Gran knocking back a bottle of gin and soaking in a hot bath while elsewhere in the house her children fought each other over food. Rethinking it, aged forty, as she was, I feel profoundly sad.

Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, links the startling decline of crime in America during the nineties to the legalisation of abortion 18 years earlier. It’s not much of a leap to interpret the impressive display of graphs and statistics as saying that the sort of woman who sought an abortion was the sort of woman bound to raise a future criminal.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, counters the argument. The fertility drop caused by the pill, which was far greater, “… didn’t lead to a decrease in crime eighteen years later. In fact, that generation saw a massive increase in crime.”

Gladwell writes respectfully of Levitt “if we are to have an honest conversation about things like crime and abortion, we are obliged to consider those phenomena in all their dimensions.” And “It takes a certain amount of courage to make an argument like that.”

All the number crunching and theorizing doesn’t change the fact that every abortion is experienced by a woman who is scared, confused and sad and that what she chooses to do is nobody’s business but her own. Whatever her decision, it’s one that will take a certain amount of courage.

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