10 Abortion Questions

10 Abortion Questions with Debbie GarrettReal Choices Australia

Source, The Area News, Griffith, 16 Nov, 2011

ABORTION is an issue that has had the nation divided for decades and outraged church and women’s groups alike. Executive director of not-for-profit organisation Real Choices Australia, Debbie Garratt, will visit Griffith next week to discuss how women too often go through with an abortion without having all the information. The organisation was founded in 2007 to market the gap in information about the adverse effects of abortion. Mrs Garratt herself fell pregnant at age 17 and went on to complete several university degrees and achieve a successful career. She believes many women feel forced to have an abortion because of social pressures. She answered 10 questions about how she, and her organisation, are trying to change that.

1. What are your views on abortion? Do you think it should be legal?
My concern is that women lack the information about the adverse effects of abortion. National and international research shows 70 per cent of women have an abortion because they feel like there’s no other alternative and 94 per cent of them have it for psycho-social reasons like relationships, finances, lack of support. It’s a surgical solution to a social issue. In Victoria last year, 328 women underwent lateterm abortions and 178 of them were for psycho social issues whereas most of the general public believe women have abortions for medical reasons. I don’t think legalising abortions has been helpful to women in any way.

2. If you think it should be illegal, what should the punishment be for women who go through with it?
Women were never punished before, the only difference is now they don’t have to state a reason why they’re getting an abortion. I would never advocate that women need to be punished but I think we need to look hard at communities where women feel forced to choose.

3. Do you think there are adequate services available for women who fall pregnant accidentally?
No there definitely aren’t and you find that in every community. I was talking to a GP in Gippsland recently who told me that when women come in who’ve got pregnant accidentally, he has nowhere to send them except maybe Centrelink or a clinic. Around 50 per cent of pregnancies are unintended and 60 per cent of those occur in women who were using contraception at the time. People are learning about protection but they’re not learning there’s a failure rate. We’d like to see in every community that there is somewhere women can go because abortions are very available but the alternative is not. We encourage centres or local community groups, and that can come under the banner of church groups, where the primary focus is people working with women who are trained with up-to-date information and who never coerce.

4. A lot of people disagree with sex education in schools because they think it gives the students the wrong idea. What do you have to say to that? How could we better lower teen pregnancy rates?
Kids need good sex education in schools. There is a substantial amount of evidence, and we agree with the evidence, that sexual activity is healthier and more beneficial if kids wait until later in life. We focus more on the dynamics of relationships and sex decision making than the physicality of sex when we go to schools. We talk about abstinence in the context of it being a challenge for students. There are ways they can work towards delaying sexual activity. But students will ask about condoms or the pill and we’ll give them the information. Obviously the safe sex message has failed miserably. Kids don’t understand that it’s a risk reduction, not a fail-safe method. We’re not better off encouraging protection over abstinence because the evidence shows that it is healthier for young people to wait. The way people see sex is as an activity, notnecessarily something they can catch STIs from. So we teach them.

5. The idea of forcing a woman to watch an ultrasound of her baby before undergoing an abortion has been floated; do you think it’s a good idea?
I think women should have the option. In many other procedures, like breast enhancement, doctors make people look at the before and after pictures – so if we do that for cosmetic surgery, why not abortions? We can’t force women to look at an ultrasound – they can close their eyes. Most clinics actually tell women to look away when they’re doing the ultrasound. If it’s that distressing for them to look at, what does that say about what is going on? It’s taking away a woman’s right to be fully informed.

6. Do you think there is ever a time when abortion is justified? What about rape victims, drug addicts, or incest situations?

I think you need to be very careful making blanket statements about those situations. There are many children alive today who were conceived through rape and would be highly offended to think they shouldn’t be here. There have been studies done overseas about women who were pregnant by rape or incest and some of them chose abortion while some chose adoption. There was not one woman who chose to continue the pregnancy that had regrets about it, but there were several women who had regrets about having an abortion. I think it’s more about the messages these women get and the support they have to raise the child. So I don’t think you can just go and make exceptions for those situations.

7. Have you ever come across women who have discovered they are carrying a child with a severe disability, or a terminal disease? How do you help them?
I’ve spoken to women during pregnancy and post-abortion who have been told their child has a terminal illness and they’ve had a termination because of that problem. I’ve personally known someone whose child was diagnosed with a disability, who was told at 18 and 22 weeks that she was selfish to continue the pregnancy, and her baby was born perfectly healthy. I counselled a woman who chose to continue her pregnancy despite knowing her baby was terminally ill and she and her husband got to spend five hours with that baby – which was the amount of time that he lived. She said it was the most rewarding thing they did. Many women in that situation who are post-abortion struggle with the fact that they knew their baby would die and there was nothing they could do to stop that, but by having an abortion they participated in the death. They couldn’t grieve.

8. You say you help women who did not feel fully informed about their abortion, what are some of the psychological impacts they suffer? What more should clinics do for women?
There has been some fantastic research come out of the US about the adverse mental health effects of abortion. It says up to 10 per cent of mental health issues in our community are a result of abortion. Both men and women are impacted because it is often thought to be the decision of the woman. Women often suffer severe psychological trauma after an abortion, especially if they were not fully informed. Around 80 per cent of them are at increased risk of post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, depression. These are not small things, they’re very significant. Often an abortion can be so destabilising, the woman can’t work, can’t look after her family, can’t get on with her life. I think women need to be given individual counselling before making that decision. Women can call a clinic at 9am, have an appointment at 10am and an abortion at 12 and there’s no other service in our health system that is as easily accessible as that. There needs to be some sort of waiting period.

9. We’ve come a long way since women were forced to carry out backyard abortions at great risk to their health. Do you agree that the safe option should at least be available for those who are going to do it anyway?
Most illegal abortions were actually undertaken by doctors, not in people’s backyards. That’s a bit of a myth. And the deaths as a result of illegal abortions mostly dropped because of the advent of antibiotics, not legalisation of abortion. The issue has become so politicised we’ve forgotten to care about the women who are doing it. If we take the option of abortion away for everyone, we take away the issue of completely divorcing the idea of sex from reproduction. The majority of women think contraception is foolproof when it isn’t. We need to look at how our society is selling sex as a recreational activity.

10. Considering there are so many instances of child abuse, neglect, and children on welfare; and abused children so often go on to abuse others, would abortion not have been a better alternative in some situations?
The fact is that the majority of children whoare abused don’t actually go on to abuse others. People are not aborting unwanted babies, often the people who have these children never considered abortion. Legal abortion, when it was first introduced, was sold as a way to end all the welfare problems, to stop child abuse. But rates have actually increased. By allowing abortion, we have devalued women of the right to bear children and have created the idea that children are disposable. It’s like saying a child who is living with a disability would have been better off being aborted, despite their contribution to society. It’s simply not applicable to say that if these people had chosen abortion, these problems would not have happened. “By allowing abortion, we have devalued women of the right to bear children and have created the idea that children are disposable.”

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