by PETER GRACE
AUCKLAND — The dramatic 2008 failure of pro-life action in Victoria is a warning to New Zealand’s Catholic bishops, says Australian pro-life and family activist Babette Francis.
Mrs Francis, who was in New Zealand in early November, told NZ Catholic that feminists and their supporters ran a carefully planned campaign in the Australian state to achieve the decriminalisation of abortion. Their campaign was called “A Road Map to Abortion Law Reform”.
Pro-life groups might have stopped them — were it not for disunity.
“It’s a warning to [Bishop Dunn] and to all the bishops in New Zealand,” Mrs Francis said.
She said that in 2007, Australian Catholic, researcher and author Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, and Fr John Fleming, edited a book called Common Ground?
This book of essays was based on research from the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, Adelaide, which found, when they did a survey, that most people wanted abortion to be available for the hard cases, but thought there were too many abortions and that women needed more help and counselling.
“So based on this research, Dr Tonti-Filippini, working with an Australian Labor Party pro-life politician called Christine Campbell, developed a strategy that they would not oppose decrimininalisation — but they would move for amendments.”
But other pro-life people opposed that strategy, Mrs Francis said.
“We said it’s very important to retain abortion as a criminal offence and give protection to doctors and those others who did not want to be involved, particularly medical students, who are bullied by their professors and so on — and their institutions are saying, ‘You have got to do so many abortions, or observe so many abortions, to get your qualifications’.
“All of us opposed this decriminalisation thing. It wasn’t that we ever wanted women to be prosecuted. But we did think it should be there as a deterrent to doctors.”
The pro-life people opposing the Tonti-Filippini strategy were shut out of significant meetings, at Church and political level.
The Dr Tonti-Filippini strategy went down in flames, Mrs Francis said, with not one amendment being passed.
“And we have got the second worst abortion law reform act in the world, second only to China.”
The pro-life disunity wasn’t so much the pro-life groups, but the pro-life organisations and the Church’s Respect Life Office, she said. “And I can’t blame the bishop, Bishop [Peter] Elliott. . . .
“So this is a warning to your bishops. Do not compromise.”
One of the problems in Australia, Mrs Francis said, is that the women who worked on that “road map” were recruited by an organisation called Emily’s List.
Emily’s List is a political action committee founded in the United States in 1985 that aims to help elect women who are pro-abortion to political office.
“They recruit women, and they support them all the way through pre-selection through election to parliament — but they have got to be committed to abortion without any exception; and affirmative action . . . and childcare subsidies for women. . . .”
The problem for pro-life groups, Mrs Francis said, is that their members tend to have larger families. “We have more children and women are involved in homemaking and child rearing and we regard that as our priority, so we are not as focused on careers as pro-abortion women.”
Pro-life women don’t get into politics as easily or as readily as Emily’s List women can. “Because they either are childless, or they have one child and they put it into childcare from an early age, or they’ve aborted all their children,” Mrs Francis said.
“Democratic senator Lyn Allison said she was pregnant at 17 and had an abortion and she said that, ‘If I hadn’t had that abortion I wouldn’t be a senator’. So that’s the sort of Devil’s Bargain you have to make.”
Pro-life people had learned that they had to be far more active in politics.
“And we achieved that in the next elections when they threw out the Brumby Government, which was responsible for the Act.
“And Maxine Moran, who had tabled the bill in Parliament, she was defeated and we got far more pro-life MPs
elected. . . .
“We learned from that to target pro-abortion politicians.”
Although it’s not easy, there are things family people can do, Mrs Francis said.
“They can join political parties and attend branch meetings. . . .
“They should join party branches and become active in the structure. . . . They can certainly do that and use their influence there.”
People had to get into the political system, Mrs Francis said. “That’s where the decisions are made.”
• Mrs Francis was the keynote speaker at the Voice for Life national conference in
Wellington from November 5 to 6.
by PETER GRACE