Thankfully, Australian politics is not warped by hateful debates about abortion in the way America’s is. And so, Troy Newman, you can bring your ideas and bombast here, but leave the hate and rancour at home, writes Julia Baird.
When Australians see an opportunity for self-congratulation, we usually take it. And so it is that we regularly thump ourselves on the back for the fact that we have not imported two of America’s most controversial, potentially lethal policies: broad access to guns and narrow access to healthcare.
But women have long been grateful for a third; that our politics here is not defined, warped and made uglier by hateful debates about abortion in the way America’s is – where almost every election, every candidate, in some way deals with it.
Much of the relentlessness of the reproductive debates in the US is due to the likes of the prominent, pugilistic American anti-abortion campaigner Troy Newman, whose visa was denied by the Australian Government this week.
Federal Labor MP Terri Butler had written to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton arguing his visit should be cancelled in the interest of public safety. She wrote:
I am very concerned that his presence in Australia will incite some to harass and intimidate women accessing reproductive services and those professionals offering them at medical clinics.
There is a real risk that Mr Newman’s conduct may cause discord within the community and disrupt the ability of women to access lawful reproductive medicine.
Newman has threatened to sue; legal issues may be now addressed in our High Court. But the cultural issues are stark.
First, inciting violence in the name of anything is wrong. Let’s be clear: Mr Newman does call for people to be killed (and for laws to be changed so this can happen). In Their Blood Cries Out, he and his co-authors call for God’s judgment – in this life – on those who bear “bloodguilt” for abortions. They write:
In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes, in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.
They then go further – saying the “lawful execution of the murderers” is “commanded by God in scripture”.
Is it not then possibly open for some to interpret this as a personal directive?
In 2003, after a man was executed in Florida because he had murdered an abortionist, Newman said in a press release that he should have been able to submit a defence “that claimed that the killing of the abortionist was necessary to save the lives of the pre-born babies that were scheduled to be killed by abortion that day”. He continued: “There are many examples where taking a life in defence of innocent human beings is legally justified and permissible under the law.”
(Scott Roeder, who killed abortionist George Tiller in 2009, claims to have been encouraged by Newman, although Newman quickly denounced the murder.)
Does this not have potential to be a form of terrorism?
Second, America also has a strong bias toward seeking the opinions of men when it comes to women’s bodies. This is not something we need to encourage.
In 2012, research group Fourth Estate found that men were quoted 81 per cent of the time in media stories about abortion. Organisations were allocated 7 per cent of the quotes, and women only 12 per cent. Which is ridiculous, and patently skews the debate. The study – which included 35 national publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, also found men quoted in 75 per cent of stories on birth control, and women 19 per cent.
There was a similar slant in stories about Planned Parenthood, which is precisely what Mr Newman wanted to talk about here at a Right to Life convention in Melbourne.
Mr Newman wrote on his Facebook page:
It is clear that the pro-abortion crowd does not want anyone to hear the truth about Planned Parenthood’s illegal actions.
What is true is that we don’t want to hear bile or divisive words.
But I can assure him, given this thing called the internet, we know about his activism and the hidden cameras and smear campaigns against Planned Parenthood, which provides health care and family planning to millions of American women.
We don’t need to hear it because we, culturally, have already agreed on basic rights to contraception, sexual health care, and family planning.
But we also don’t need to hear it because that kind of viciousness will fester and be futile.
Third, Australians have already decided abortion should be legal and safe, and not a decision made by the government.
A survey by the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010 found 87 per cent of respondents supported first trimester abortion and “a majority of respondents indicated that doctors should not face professional sanctions for performing abortion after 24 weeks’ gestation”.
Support appears to have strengthened in the past two decades.
(A 2003 study from Katharine Betts from Monash University – which cited the Australian Social Survey of Social Attitudes – found 81 per cent of Australians supported women’s right to choice and only 9 per cent definitely did not.)
Of course there is room for further discussion. Many Australian laws are unclear and outdated; there is an argument that we should introduce a single, clear national law on abortion.
But the debate has been had here.
So, as much as Mr Newman may posture, storm, and post videos of him yelling at female airport staff on Facebook, begging his followers to make it go viral, and whatever the consequence of any lawsuit, the verdicts of the vast majority of Australians is clear: you may bring your ideas, your provocation, your bombast here. But do not bring hate and rancour and do not encourage violence.
The fact that there has been comparatively little of this in Australia is something to be proud of.
Editor’s note (October 2, 2015): Update: The High Court has rejected an appeal by anti-abortion activist Troy Newman against his deportation from Australia. Justice Geoffrey Nettle ruled the Department was justified in revoking Mr Newman’s visa over fears his visit would pose a risk to the community.