Time to imagine a society with less abortion, and churches as inclusion zones
The Queensland Parliament passed changes to the abortion law in Queensland yesterday to move abortion from being dealt with under the Criminal Code in Queensland to being dealt with as a health issue.
The change came after a public debate in which both those opposed to abortions and those proposing the change felt deeply misrepresented by the other side. The legislation, which allows abortion for any reason up until 22 weeks, and then abortion in consultation with two medical professionals who must consider “all relevant” medical considerations — the health, psychological and social factors — surrounding the decision. The ‘and’ is important in this sentence because it does seem, at least in the mind of the legislators, to rule out last minute decisions around sex selection and other specters raised in the debate by those of us opposed to the changes.
Women now have this right, in Queensland.
Some of the facts that emerged in the debate are that there were 14,000 abortions in Queensland under the previous status quo, less than one percent of abortions in other states happen after 22 weeks, and most of these involve apparently complex medical and ethical decision making around the life of the mother or the viability of the unborn child — where a move from the criminal code to the realm of medical ethics and morality appears to help families navigate tragic circumstances.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, one of the leading proponents of the law change, suggested this whole debate would’ve been over a long time ago if men were capable of bearing children, she said:
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“The right of women to control their own reproduction, their own bodies, is such an important part of equality in our society. To prioritise the rights of a fetus above that of a woman is something that I find offensive. Because the logical conclusion to that argument is that a woman should be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy.”
The fundamental problem with the approach these laws take is not that they balance the rights of mother and baby in favour of the mother, it’s that they essentially assume the unborn baby has no rights at all (despite the Human Rights Law Reform Committee report suggesting that the unborn baby does have some rights that need to be considered).
The challenge for those of us who are morally opposed to what is now legal is to consider how we might see a reduction in the number of abortions in Queensland rather than an increase, and how we might see that occur not through protest or politics (the new laws also create exclusion zones around clinics that provide abortions).
The challenge is to imagine how we might do that with love, and by creating new support structures within our community and the wider community to reduce the demand for abortions by increasing the plausibility for mothers and fathers of carrying a pregnancy to term, and raising a child in a safe and secure environment.
The modern imagination, especially around moral and ethical issues, has often been constricted to fighting for what is good and right to be enshrined in legislation. There is an outpouring of grief amongst the Christian community in Queensland today that our lobbying was not more effective, that the vote was lost, but this is an opportunity for us to harness that collective grief — and our love for the unborn child and their parents, and our neighbours — and to redirect that towards securing positive change in our society.
The government, worried about the pro-life response to these laws has created exclusion zones to protect vulnerable women — our response must be to consider how we might create inclusion zones to support those very same women, and their partners, and their children.
The Inclusion Zone
If our doctors and mothers considering abortions must now consider the health, psychological wellbeing, and social factors behind the decision to abort — or facing mothers in our society — then we should be too; in such a way that an alternative path is more plausible and desirable. If the desire for the changes to abortion laws before that is about a felt inequality in our society around the burden pregnancy places on women, in particular, we should be considering how to share that burden more equally.
This might mean volunteering in, or creating, pregnancy support services — of which many exist in different parts of our city and state already. But it might also mean thinking not just about how we structure our church community in ways that support parents through pregnancy and afterwards — providing a ‘village’ in which to raise a child; it must also mean modeling grace to one another when talking about ‘unwanted’ pregnancies so that we are not feeding the social pressure that leads pregnant women, especially those without a partner supporting them, to abort.
We must own that part of the pressure that single women feel to abort is because of a society that we Christians had a hand in shaping, a society that shamed women who fell pregnant outside of a traditional family structure, where that stigma still lasts so that the law changes in Queensland were seen as a victory against that tradition.
This might mean hearing Jackie Trad’s argument — not about the rights of the fetus, but about how this is seen as necessary to tackle inequality in our society.
How Churches can respond
We might consider where we can act not just politically, but in our own workplaces and spheres of influence to support social changes that allow mothers and fathers to share the burden, and career costs, of parenting equally; we might push for changes to superannuation laws that see payments shared between couples, so that the risk of exiting the workforce to give birth and care for a child is reduced and the reward maximized.
We might preach, teach, and model what it looks like for fathers to be examples to their children by pitching in to share the burden of domestic duties and to take responsibility for lowering the mental load a mother is still expected to carry in our society, and even to take responsibility for an unplanned, or unwanted pregnancy where the social shame or stigma is often placed on the shoulders of women.
We might run parenting courses in our church communities alongside Playtime (at Creek Road), or playgroups around the state.
We might continue to model, in our communities, that children are a good gift from God — that children do have equal rights with their mothers and fathers; that they are equally a part of our community with all the dignity and respect that comes with that.
There’s much to be done — but we must not lose hope that a change in the law represents a fait accompli when it comes to the number of abortions that take place in our state, and we might see this as an opportunity for us to offer the sacrificial, costly, love of Jesus to our community as we take up the challenge to love our neighbour — born or unborn — as we love ourselves.
Lobbying politicians about abortion laws was the easy part — it’s easy to talk the talk; the challenge now is to walk the walk; to put our time and money where our mouths have been.