By Dr Toni Turnbull
Members of State Parliament will soon consider various recommendations made last year by the South Australian Law Reform Institute which include the appalling proposal to allow abortion throughout the entirety of pregnancy.
That shocking possibility will become a reality if State MPs remove gestational restrictions on abortion.
In three decades as a general practitioner, I have never seen or heard of any medical problem that could possibly justify the removal of gestational limits on abortion. That recommendation seems driven by ideology, not evidence.
I wonder if the legal minds at the Law Reform Institute are aware that each foetus is essentially fully complex by about 10-12 weeks, with such evident features as a beating heart and unique fingerprints. All systems essentially are in place. The little one gains no further complexity – only growth – and will become viable outside the womb by about 22 weeks.
Yet the proposal is to allow abortion up to 40 weeks! That recommendation, properly understood, must surely provoke moral outrage in the community.
Legal minds are perhaps also unaware that the risk of death to a woman from complications following abortion increases massively with every week from two months’ gestation and the likelihood of fatal complications from abortion after foetal viability is higher than if she had proceeded to delivery.
While I’m unsure if any of my patients would ever seek termination in the advanced stages of pregnancy, of this I am certain: such drastic action could not possibly enable anyone to better cope with whatever crisis may have provoked that response.
In my experience, healthcare and other professionals who support women patients are often told by them that abortion was the worst possible decision and is a matter of deep suffering and sorrow.
Doctors who are committed equally to the patient and her developing baby must offer the mother facing unplanned pregnancy with compassionate encouragement to brave whatever circumstances underlie the request for abortion, and to refer the patient to support services that will nurture mother and baby.
In the case of late-term discovery of foetal damage, we should do everything in our power to pull mother and baby through. But when healthcare fails, it remains much wiser when each patient allows nature to take its course, instead of seeking the destruction of her little one.
It is always better to provide tender loving care and the delivery even of a damaged, dying or dead baby – who may be held, named and loved. Palliative care for a sick or dying pre-born baby is better for everyone concerned and involves no regret.
But the immense physical and psychological problems including grief and loss reactions following termination (especially in the advanced stages of pregnancy) should caution MPs against legislating to achieve the Law Reform Institute’s disturbing recommendation.
MPs have much to ponder in preparation for debating the abortion question at some point this year.