by Dr Pieter Mourick AMThe continued protest by the right to life religious fanatics in Englehardt Street, Albury, has been tolerated by this community for far too long.
The majority of Australians agree that women should have the right to access a legal termination of an unwanted pregnancy (85%), compared to the minority of 8% who do not agree with Australian law (Katherine Betts, People and Place vol. 12, no. 4 2004 page 22). All of those protesting in Englehardt Street are included in this extreme minority of 8%.
Even 72% of Catholics agree that a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion.
The protesters claim that they are “a peaceful, prayerful presence”, and claim that termination of an unwanted pregnancy “endangers the physical, and mental wellbeing of the mother, father and all those who are involved”.
Let’s examine some of their claims.
The protesters could pray at home, or any other public place (an alternative offered to them by the Albury City Council), but insist on praying like vultures on the vulnerable women attending the clinic.
They force their inaccurate, alarming and unwanted pamphlets upon women as they try to enter the clinic, assuming they know the circumstances of their visit, in order to “change her mind”. They show vulnerable women a pink plastic foetus, saying: “this is your baby; you are going to kill your baby”!
They profess to be “sidewalk counselors”, but have no qualifications other than their extreme religious views. Their comments could hardly be called “counseling”.
A strict Catholic Albury doctor said to me: “despite personal views about abortion, the protesters in Englehardt Street are assaulting women at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives”.
I believe it is unforgivable to intimidate any person in public on the day of their intended appointment, when any counseling should have been offered privately days before. An offer was made to the protesters to refer all those women who wanted to have counseling to a qualified counselor, but this offer was rejected.
Subjecting women to the protesters’ extreme personal views is the most likely cause of increasing woman’s anxiety and guilt, and there is no evidence that any actually change their minds after listening to the protesters.
The protesters ambition is to close the clinic and to make termination illegal again; both of these will not happen, so their efforts are futile.
The dishonesty of their pamphlets needs to be challenged:
- “Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer”; there is no evidence to support this claim (www.ranzcog.edu.au Termination of pregnancy, a resource for professionals)
- “Pelvic infection increased after an abortion”; again, RANZCOG clearly states that this is not correct, especially compared to the risks after a birth.
- “Infertility and ectopic pregnancy increased”; again, international studies show no increased risk.
- “Higher rates of cerebral palsy”; this outrageous claim is also not true.
- “Future mental health problems”; to quote from the RANZCOG website: “The overwhelming indication is that legal and voluntary termination of pregnancy rarely causes immediate or lasting negative psychological consequences in healthy women” (Page 25).
The protesters do not disclose that the overall risks of an early, legal termination of pregnancy in Australia is over 100 times safer for the mother’s physical health than the risks of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy. Mortality since 1979 from legal termination is less than 1:1,000,000, compared to the maternal mortality in Australia after having a birth which is 100: 1,000,000 (Consultative Council of Maternal and Perinatal Mortality Committee).
The protesters do not care about a woman’s dignity or her legal rights; all they care about is their own fanatical personal opinions. They do not care about the reasons why women choose to have a termination; they only care about humiliating them and invading their privacy.
- Some women attend for the management of a failed, wanted pregnancy. Imagine their distress when they are told “you are killing your baby”?
- One woman came by taxi from her nearby town to avoid anyone knowing about her pregnancy. The protesters called out aloud to the taxi driver, “She is going to kill her baby”.
- Women who have a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, understandably do not want to keep the pregnancy.
- Women carrying a Mirena intra-uterine device (commonly used for heavy menstrual bleeding); are told by protesters, “there are better ways than this”! How dare any stranger offer unwanted medical advice to another person!
So, how long can the broader community of Albury Wodonga and surrounding districts tolerate the harassment and intimidation by this tiny group of fanatic, religious extremists? This group has not been denied their legal right to protest outside the clinic, but they do not have a moral right to make judgements about another person’s choice.
The protesters show no respect for people who have different opinions from theirs; where is their Christian compassion for another person’s distress? Do we live in a democratic country or not?
The community may understand the passion of their supercilious conviction, but shaming, intimidating and harassing vulnerable women is not helpful to their cause. In fact, the result is community mockery and derision.
The actions of this fanatical, patronizing group of people, brings discredit to their church and to Christianity.
It is time they stopped their weekly protest and time that they started to mind their own business instead of everyone else’s.