News from Tasmania’s Mercury newspaper:
Dr Paul Hyland, who operates private clinics in Launceston and Hobart, said anti-abortion campaigners regularly targeted patients outside the Hobart practice and he supports abortion law reform that includes a ban on protests near clinics that perform the procedures.
Dr Hyland said protesters who targeted abortion clinic patients crossed the line between free speech and harassment.
“This is a minority in the community who want to force their views on others, it’s not freedom of expression,” he said.
Dr Hyland said it appeared pro-life campaigners, in a tactic he labelled “devious”, were booking false appointments at the clinic so they could plan protests for times when patients would be attending.
“They stand on the footpath opposite holding placards and pictures of fetuses and some patients are intimidated when they walk out or walk past. [The protesters] say prayers and offer forgiveness about guilt and shame,” he said.
The Reproductive Health Bill that passed Tasmania’s House of Assembly on Tuesday seeks to move abortion from criminal law into health law, and would prohibit protests near abortion clinics.
Despite Dr Hyland’s claims about abortion clinic protests, the Australian Medical Association’s Tasmanian branch maintains there is no such issue of concern in Tasmania.
The AMA is against the inclusion of the access zone restriction contained in the Bill.
“The AMA stands by our view, made in our submission, that we are not aware of (protests) being a problem,” said AMA Tasmania president John Davis.
Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne told State Parliament on Tuesday that the access zone restriction had been included in the Bill to protect women from being exposed to people who wished to shame or stigmatise them.
She said prohibited behaviour in the access zone around a clinic would include vocal protests and silent vigils.
For starters, I’m not sure it’s very accurate to call prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, ‘protests.’ Protests are loud and intended to change public opinion or government policy. Vigils aren’t.
Pro-choicers see abortion as a civil liberty — even if some pro-choicers are willing to restrict other civil liberties to protect this one.
Pro-lifers see abortion in life and death terms. It’s not just semantic to suggest that prayer vigils aren’t the same as protests. The ‘protesters’ outside clinics aren’t there to score a political point, much less to shame women. They’re there to save lives. Sometimes — rarely — they do save a life. Placard waving and shouting abuse doesn’t save lives. So I’m a bit dubious when I hear pro-life vigils described in those ways.
I went to one of these ‘protests’ once, while I was studying media and politics. The protesters had attracted the opprobrium of a local newspaper, as well as Melbourne University Student Union’s Farrago. I decided to see for myself, interview a few protesters and clinic staff, and parse the newspaper articles.
The protesters were silent. They made eye contact with passers by, and offered literature, but they never initiated conversation. They spoke only if they were spoken to. They told me they never numbered more than five, and there were always more women than men. One person was assigned to do nothing but pray (silently) for the duration of their vigil.
I think I received first class honours for my efforts. But more importantly, I learned how media reports sometimes don’t correlate with reality. Not even vaguely.
Back in October, I commented on a weird, counter-intuitive ad which used children’s hopes and aspirations (of all things!) to sell abortion rights.
Here’s the sequel! To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Roe vs Wade, America’s Center for Reproductive Rights has produced an ad which is even weirder.
Watch and wonder:
I kind of get what they were going for at the concept level. Kind of. But even then, someone should have seen that the idea trivialises abortion. On top of that, it plays right into a pro-life talking point. Cue Jill Stanek: Of course creepy cads love abortion.
But as bad it was at the concept level, this execution is even worse. I laughed towards the end, mistaking the ad for a parody. For a moment I expected the guy’s exaggerated muttering into his whiskey glass to culminate in him sprouting a devil’s tail and horns.
The ad has proved itself a hit, but not in the way its producers intended: it has gone viral through the pro-life community. No wonder!
Crossroads Australia arrived in Melbourne yesterday — at a McDonald’s restaurant in Broadmeadows, to be precise.
The Crossroads initiative started in 1995 at the excellent Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. It has been replicated in many other Western countries in the years since. Young adults commit to “pro-life walks” across their countries: to raise the profile of the pro-life cause, and in reparation for sins against life.
Crossroads made its debut in Australia this summer, starting in Brisbane in December, and ending in Melbourne tomorrow. One of the walkers, Daniel Mount, I know well — his brother is a few years behind me in the seminary.
Danny expresses the walk’s twofold purpose very well:
I am walking Crossroads because I believe life begins at conception. I want to protect the innocent babies in the womb because they deserve all the rights and dignity of a new born baby. I believe that by all the graces gained through prayers and sufferings offered up, we will change hearts and minds and bring the end of abortion throughout the world.
In other words, Crossroads is both secular and spiritual. A modern awareness raiser, and a traditional pilgrimage.
Daniel has been walking (except for a few days over Christmas) since 15 December. Another friend, Paul Nulley, joined the pilgrimage last Sunday, when it passed through his home town of Canberra. Paul was ordained a deacon a few months ago, and he is due to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn later this year.
Remember Danny and Paul in your prayers, and the other walkers. If you’re near Melbourne, you can join them at St Augustine’s for 10:00 Mass tomorrow morning. From there, the group will walk up Bourke Street to Parliament House. “A prayerful walk along the footpath” — not one of those disruptive protest marches along the street,* which also have a place, but which serve a different purpose. A prayer vigil will be held at the steps of Parliament House from midday to 1pm.
An open invitation is also extended to join the Crossroads after party. 7:30 Saturday night, at the Thomas More Centre, 35 Whitehorse Rd, Balwyn. RSVP: Phyllis Restall, 0402 004 112.
I hope the Crossroads walk across Australia has benefitted the participants, and bears fruit. I hope it’s done again. It’s part of a more spiritual, less confrontational expression of the pro-life movement which has developed of late.
Congratulations to the participants and organisers. God bless your apostolates.
Father James Martin SJ is one of America’s most prolific Catholic priests, and his thoughtful contribution to the public discourse does a lot of good.
I admire him for his committment to ‘small-c Catholicism,’ especially in the context of the US culture war, which at its worst would conflate Catholicism — and indeed, the Gospel — with right-wing ideology.
But sometimes I think Fr James straddles the partisan divide at the expense of clarity. His column on the US vice-presidential debate is a case in point:
Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden are obviously serious about their Catholicism. Can anyone doubt that? They also offer a kind of Rorschach test for U.S. Catholic voters. Mr. Ryan is a Catholic who is clearly opposed to abortion and not so clearly in support of programs that would directly help the poor. Mr. Biden is not so clearly opposed to abortion and clearly in support of programs that would directly help the poor. They represent, in a sense, two distinct types of “Catholicisms” alive in our country today. It’s a big church, as an elderly Jesuit I know likes to say.
Their commentary last night (and beforehand) also points out that no one party fully embraces the entirety of Catholic teaching. And for those of you who would say that abortion is the only “intrinsic evil” that is at issue in this campaign, I would point you to Blessed John Paul II’s great encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which he speaks of a great many intrinsic evils, many of them often overlooked today, including “whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit.”
That is spurious. The Democratic platform explicitly endorses intrinsic evil in the form of free access to abortion on demand. Nowhere in the Republican platform will you find an explicit endorsement of intrinsic evil in the form of subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, etc.
Fr James wishes to avoid “the murky waters of politics,” and claims only “to point out the impossibility of ascertaining who is the ‘better Catholic’” between Biden and Paul. Well and good. Who are we to judge the better Catholic? Moreover, a case can be made against reducing the presidential election to a referendum on abortion. But I repeat it’s nothing short of spurious to attribute moral equivalency to the Democratic and Republican party platforms.
I choose my words carefully:
Spurious (adj.): not being what it purports to be; of a line of reasoning apparently but not actually valid.
Closer to home, here’s a timely clip of Saturday’s anti-abortion rally in Melbourne. I wasn’t there, but I applaud everyone who was.
And another, from Youth For Life:
This picture has swept the Chinese media and outraged hundreds of millions of China’s citizens. It shows 25-year-old Feng Jianmei, lying in a hospital bed with the remains of her seven month old fetus.
Feng and her child were the victim of China’s one-child-policy, which licensed government officials to forcibly administer an injection to induce a late-term abortion. I have pixellated the image because it is graphic, but I invite readers to click on the image, which will open an unpixellated version.
I hesitated when I was faced with the same decision. But I gritted my teeth and clicked the link. What shocked me was not the grisliness of the foetal remains, but the graphic revelation that a seven month old human foetus is not “just a clump of cells,” but a child.
The unpixellated image is not, I think, offensive. But it is startling. Its publication has already caused the suspension of the family planning officials who beat Feng and killed her child. It may well — I hope and pray — reignite debates around the world about the ethics of late term abortion, and the nature of abortion itself.
On the other hand, I suspect much of the Western press will censor the image. After all, editors of The Age deemed this image too offensive to print:
I doubt that the casualties of forced abortions will receive the sort of uncensored coverage which victims of other violent crime now attract.