As a brief hiatus from my bodily integrity series, I would like to share you with a letter that I will be sending to key people within the South Australian parliament. I will keep you up to date on any responses I receive.
Dear South Australian politician
I am motivated to write to you by my deep compassion and concern for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society – the unborn. 20% of South Australian pregnancies end in abortion (1). This is hardly the epitome of “safe, legal and rare”. I urge you to consider the following proposals; to act to reduce the number of abortions occurring in our state and to support women who struggle with being pregnant under difficult circumstances.
1. That the South Australian legislation on abortion be amended to decrease the gestational limit on abortions to 20 weeks. In South Australia in 2011, 94 abortions took place beyond this point (1). The current gestational limit of 28 weeks is in place to protect those foetuses capable of being born alive. However, this does not reflect advances in medical care and technology, which can now preserve the life of the premature infant as early as 22 weeks gestation (2). A 2009 Swedish study found a survival rate to one year of 70% for infants born at 22-26 weeks gestation (3). The limit of 20 weeks is proposed to allow a margin of error for potential miscalculations of gestational age, which can have an inaccuracy of two weeks (4, 5, 6).
2. That the South Australian legislation on abortion be amended to remove the criteria of physical and mental abnormalities. That an abortion is allowed on these grounds only is discrimination against those with such handicaps, and relies upon an unknowable judgement on the quality of life that these foetuses would experience, were they allowed to be born. The latter is starkly illustrated by the fact that 95% of foetuses diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are aborted (7), despite the evidence that such individuals are able to lead happy and fulfilling lives (8). Furthermore, this has also failed to keep pace with advancements in medicine and technology, with interventions available for many congenital conditions, such as heart defects (9, 10) and spina bifida (11).
3. That legislation protecting infants born alive after abortion attempts is introduced, mandating that these infants receive the same level of medical care that would be given to a wanted infant born at the same gestational age. From 2001 to 2009, sixty-five infants who died in the neonatal period (within twenty-eight days post-birth) were born alive following an abortion, making up an average of 13.9% of all neonatal deaths (12-20). (Figures from 2010 onwards were not reported separately from other neonatal deaths.)
4. That a pregnancy support payment be introduced. This payment would be a small supplement to cover costs such as dietary supplements, doctor’s visits and time taken from work, and would be available to pregnant women until birth.
5. That a childbirth leave payment be introduced for women in paid employment who do not have access to maternity leave. This would apply from the 36th week of pregnancy until birth. It would be equivalent to the minimum wage, in line with the federal paid paternity leave scheme. This payment would be applicable regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy, or whether or not the mother intends that her child should be adopted. In the case where the infant is to be adopted, the payment should extend two weeks post-birth to compensate for ineligibility for the paid parental leave scheme.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. If you feel that any of these issues are inappropriate for the state level, but would like to take them further, please discuss them with your federal counterparts. For further discussion, or if you share my concerns and would appreciate further input, I would be delighted to hear from you.