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Cooling-off on abortion

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Thursday, 27 October 2005

The reaction of abortion advocates and profiteers to Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike’s plan to provide counselling and a cooling-off period for women considering late-term abortion is predictable. They say the plan “trivialises a woman’s decision”, it’s “knee jerk” and “insulting”.

But what’s really insulting is denying women information relevant to their health and wellbeing. Late-term abortions carry serious risk of physical and psychological complications. Women have a right to know: no one benefits when the facts are missing.

Pike’s move is sensible, logical, woman-friendly - and overdue. It’s one step towards protecting vulnerable women who feel pressured into the waiting arms of an abortionist.


For close to a decade I have been collecting the experiences of women devastated by abortion. They would have liked independent counselling - separate from the abortion provider - and a cooling-off period. Fortunately, Pike has not allowed her pro-choice views to cloud the need for these provisions, at least for some women.

While late-term abortionist David Grundmann - the man who is consoling women with his sharp instruments - claims women are given all the facts, (The Age, October 14, 2005) he is refusing to publicly disclose the methods he uses.

What is also trivialising is to tell a woman, “The best we can offer you is to eliminate your unanaesthetised viable - or almost viable - unborn child and then present you with a birth and death certificate”. Late-term abortion is a trade in human misery: the exploitation of vulnerable pregnant women who haven’t been helped and given alternatives. Think of the Melbourne and Sydney women who gave birth to their aborted babies at home in the toilet following incomplete late-term abortions. Or the mother of “Baby J” in the Northern Territory: the baby who cried for 80 minutes before dying.

Fellow abortion travellers, Emily’s List, claims women are already given “balanced and accessible” counselling by their doctors. Sushi Das, in The Age, says most clinics and hospitals performing abortions “also provide counselling by professional staff”.

There’s plenty of evidence to show the opposite - the lack of professional and non-directive counselling available to pregnant women. Too often it’s only there to satisfy evidentiary requirements, rather than to properly explore women’s real issues and needs or to disclose physical and psychological risks or examine alternatives. Why aren’t these aspects considered essential reproductive rights also?

Many women are coerced by others, bullied and railroaded into an unwanted abortion. A surgical procedure is no answer to the emotional, social and financial problems which they so often carry alone. The cooling-off period can buy them time to find help and the support they need to continue their pregnancies, which are already nearing the end.


My only criticism is that Pike’s changes do not go far enough. It is unfortunate that women whose babies may have a suspected abnormality do not get the benefit of the new requirements. As my new book Defiant Birth reveals, these woman are also under pressure to eliminate their babies quickly, due to institutionalised prejudice against the disabled and under-resourcing of services for them.

Most are given worst-case scenarios for their child and rarely are they referred to support groups. Abortion for suspected fetal abnormality places women at greater risk of post-abortion trauma.

Melbourne woman Natalie Withers, who shared her experience for Defiant Birth, was not prepared for what she would go through with the late termination of her daughter who was diagnosed with heart and other problems. Natalie says she had “massive reservations” about an abortion but wasn’t given time or space to air them.

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Article edited by Natalie Rose.
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First published in The Age on October 18, 2005.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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