Melbourne Anglican Diocese supports the decriminalisation of abortion

Props to the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne! The Bendigo Advertiser reports that they have put in their submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission‘s examination of the possible decriminalisation of abortion.

And the Church is in favour.

An all-woman taskforce from the state capital’s diocese has made a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which is reviewing abortion laws.

In it, the taskforce has said abortion remains a serious moral issue, but it should not remain a matter for criminal law.

“In our view, public acceptance of the reality of abortion, including acceptance of the practice among women of diverse religious communities, indicates that a change in the law is timely.”

At least some Church leaders in Victoria have responded positively to the submission, citing the risks of illegal abortion and the need to “stand in the shoes” of women with unwanted pregnancies or who are making the decision for medical reasons.

In an encouraging move from a feminist point of view, the Archbishop appointed an all-woman panel to prepare this submission. From the Age:

The seven-woman committee — including an obstetrician, a medical ethicist and a theologian — was appointed by Archbishop Philip Freier, “who felt men had said enough”, one member said.

The submission went a little further than just citing back-alley abortions as a reason to decriminalise:

From a theological perspective, there are three main positions presented in relation to unborn life as human life. One is the absolutist position which argues that human life begins at the moment of conception. Although some individual Anglicans may hold this view, it is neither taught by the Anglican Church nor are members required to hold this view. At the other extreme is the pro-choice perspective that says women can do what they like with their own bodies. Our consensus view is the gradualist position which argues that while the embryo/foetus is fully human from the time of conception, it accrues moral significance and value as it develops.

While we believe that the destruction even of an early embryo is of moral significance, we believe the moral significance increases with the age and development of the foetus. The significance increases gradually over time, in parallel with its physical development. As a pregnancy advances, more powerful moral reasons are required to allow the destruction of the embryo/foetus. It is more serious to consider destroying a foetus at 28 weeks than at 10 weeks. We would want to see this distinction noted in any legislative provisions, though we would counsel against a legislated absolutist end-point after which an abortion could not proceed.

The panel accepted that if a practitioner refuses to perform or assist in termination of pregnancy, they should be required to refer the woman to someone who does. They also asserted the necessity for increased availability of contraception, with attention paid not just to information and education but also to affordability.

Yes, I’m picking out the good bits, because I’m feeling positive today. There are bits in the submission that set my pro-choice teeth on edge, but I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself. The full text of the submission can be downloaded from the Diocese website.

Now, I subscribe to the wholly pro-choice perspective that the Church rejects, but I still can’t help thinking that this submission has the potential to facilitate huge steps forward. The Anglican Church is one of the big three Christian churches in Australia – Anglican, Catholic, Uniting – and this leaves the door open for even orthodox Anglicans to move away from an absolutist forced-birth position.

The Uniting Church didn’t prepare a submission for the Commission. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne continues to oppose women’s reproductive rights wholeheartedly.



Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, law & order, religion

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8 replies

  1. I attend an Anglican church (in Canada), though I don’t explicitly identify as an Anglican. I’m struggling to wrap my philosophical brain around what’s being said with the idea that there’s a moral difference between aborting a 10-week fetus and a 28=week fetus, and that the morality of it is a temporally progressive issue. That strikes me as something that most Christians (equivocal Anglican “middle of the road”ers included) would not agree with, because it doesn’t theologically fit with the distinction of “have soul” vs. “don’t”, murder vs. not.
    I think it’s a really positive move, overall, because at least it’s shifting the dialogue enough to acknowledge that the strict anti-choice position is *not* the default Christian stance. There’s nothing biblical that unambiguously states that life begins at conception, but most Christians I’ve spoken with about the issue are actually unaware of that, and they’ve assumed that they have to choose between “believing the bible” and “supporting reproductive rights”. The Anglican church discussion here in Canada around the blessing of same-sex unions followed a similar pattern, and while it’s been *extremely* divisive in a lot of ways, it’s also moved forward a conversation that had been stagnant and dancing in circles for years previously, and certainly changed the minds of a few people.
    Purtek’s last blog post..The Opt-Out Privilege Card

  2. Wait . . . I’m really confused. Abortion is illegal in Victoria? I thought that abortion was legal throughout Australia. Well, I knew that there were “restrictions” and there had to be a “reason” for said abortion, but I always thought that was a non-enforced thing.
    Cara’s last blog post..What the Treatment of Jamie Lynn Spears Says About Us

  3. One argument I’ve heard as to why 28 weeks is different to 10 weeks is the development of higher brain functions, which kick in sometime around 26 weeks. In some countries, such as Britain, it is legal to turn off life support for people who have lost higher brain function, because it is considered that they no longer have personhood. So, by this logic, before 26 weeks (approximately) a foetus also does not have personhood.
    This is probably something that I would consider personally if I had an unwanted pregnancy that was that far advanced, BUT it does not stop me from being in the absolute pro-choice camp with Lauredhel. Fact is, life support systems are machines, but women are PEOPLE, and we should only have to act as life support to a foetus if we consent to doing so– and that holds regardless of whether we’re talking about 10 weeks or 28.

  4. One argument I’ve heard as to why 28 weeks is different to 10 weeks is the development of higher brain functions, which kick in sometime around 26 weeks.

    Beppie: While the issue is controversial, I wouldn’t completely rule out any possibility of fetal pain after the viability point. It’s the point at which I would personally want to be sure that my fetus had a general anaesthetic before a termination that involved more than induction of labour, if I were to find myself in that position.
    That’s nothing to do with the issue of decriminalisation, of course.

    Wait . . . I’m really confused. Abortion is illegal in Victoria? I thought that abortion was legal throughout Australia. Well, I knew that there were “restrictions” and there had to be a “reason” for said abortion, but I always thought that was a non-enforced thing.

    Cara: Decriminalisation is about removing abortion completely from the Criminal Code(s). Abortion is currently criminal unless it fits the criteria for an “allowable” abortion – criminal by default.
    The law differs slightly or substantially from state to state. Even in WA, where we now have relatively “liberal” laws (abortion is available in first trimester without having to prove a medical or psychiatric indication), there are still restrictions like two doctors having to be involved, abortions after 20 weeks having to go before a committee for approval and only being available in the case of severe fetal defect or severe medical condition in the woman, and so on. There is also minimal access to abortion services in rural areas.
    Children By Choice has a fair bit of information on Australian abortion law and practice.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Tagged! A Roar for Powerful Words

  5. I think it’s a really positive move, overall, because at least it’s shifting the dialogue enough to acknowledge that the strict anti-choice position is *not* the default Christian stance. There’s nothing biblical that unambiguously states that life begins at conception, but most Christians I’ve spoken with about the issue are actually unaware of that, and they’ve assumed that they have to choose between “believing the bible” and “supporting reproductive rights”.

    Purtek: exactly! This opens the door for people to move away from that black-and-white stance.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Tagged! A Roar for Powerful Words

  6. Uniting Church views about this subject can be found here in a media statement. I have no idea why the Uniting Church synod of victoria and tasmania did not make a submission to this inquiry. Perhaps it might be worth sending them a letter.

  7. What really bugs me (having been raised Catholic) is that anyone thinks they can make a moral decision on my behalf. If I’ve been compelled by law, family or social stigma to do (or not do) something, I haven’t made a moral decision. I’ve been a sheep.

  8. I have no doubt the men in the Vatican have worked out that the more Catholics breed the more Catholics there will be so there religion will remain POWERFUL. It’s more about control in a numbe of ways than it is about embryos. Hence they have invented philosophies that align – hence their stance that abortion is a sin. The US have a group called “Catholics for a Free Choice” and I think they should establish some representation here because there is no way that all Catholics agree with the Vaticans on the subject of when life begins. It’s fairly rare for abortions to be provided after 10 weeks and most women would know whether they want to proceed with a pregnancy or not. While there might be a few who would be swayed by the baby bonus or the guilt trip they’re put on for considering abortion, it would not apply to the majority. I don’t think women should be pushed into making any particular decision one way or the other and need to be supported in their decision whatever it is.

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