November 6 2016
In my teens I became active in the pro-life movement after the Victorian 2008 Abortion Law Reform Bill passed, legalising abortion up to birth.
I spoke at rallies, sidewalk counselled and advocated for life wherever I could. During this time I found the pro-life movement was mostly supported by civil-minded advocates, who were deeply concerned about the rising rate of abortion and wished to save life and support mothers.
Demonstrators on both sides of the abortion issue stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in June. Photo: AP
However, over the years, despite the movement’s positive intentions, much of the advocacy had become out of touch at the best of times, and extremist at worst.
An unrepresentative minority, who aggressively picketed abortion clinics, shamed distressed women and threatened eternal damnation, unsurprisingly failed to win the public debate.
At the same time vocal identities within the pro-life movement promoted a hard-edged political agenda. While attractive to some advocates, it turned the public’s mind to the dark days of backyard abortions and a theological rigidity – extremely unpopular among the Australian voting public.
As a result the movement shrunk, the narrative stiffened and the pro-life position was largely ostracised from the public debate, and in turn the rate of abortion continued to rise.
The focus of modern pro-life advocates should not be about criminalising abortion and certainly not about demonising or shaming women. It is about lowering the rate of abortion by addressing causational issues and promoting alternatives. Improving women’s access to quality healthcare, progressing adoption pathways, de-stigmatising single motherhood and improving access to crisis pregnancy support are all positive ways to lower the rate of abortion and promote the value of life irrespective of age, race or gender.
As a pro-life woman I personally do not support abortion, but I recognise that the best way to champion life is to determine the issues that lead to abortion and seek to address these at the source.
A similar evolution has begun within the domestic violence movement. An assembly of largely well-intentioned anti-violence organisations, family support networks and high-profile victims has shaped the national debate – pinning the blame entirely on men, and as a solution channelling resources into bureaucratic, educational and advocacy programs designed to blame, shame and hopefully ensure men refrain from family violence.
However, despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars from the public and private purse, the statistics continue to rise. More recently the tenor of the debate has intensified, with sportsmen and media identities making off-the-cuff comments and experiencing weeklong media infernos – often fanned by old foes keen to settle scores, or politicians eager to scoop up political capital.
This type of trivialisation and grandstanding does a great disservice to thousands of men, women and children who are affected by family violence every day. As do key protagonists who wittingly redirect the narrative towards sectional interests, and in some cases use family violence to promote anti-family, anti-father and anti-men’s rights agendas – ultimately betraying the community’s goodwill and the victims they claim to represent.
The current domestic violence debate cannot just be about who is to blame, who can advance their political or social agenda and who gets funding.
Domestic violence campaigners must recalibrate their focus to include broader causational issues, while working with law enforcement and community organisations to lower the rate of offences and increase crisis support.
Poverty, mental illness, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, community or religious attitudes, child custody rights and violent pornography all contribute significantly to family violence, but most don’t rate a mention by many prominent advocates and organisations, who seem more comfortable in promoting old-fashioned gender debate.
Increasing rates of abortion and domestic violence are not healthy indicators for any society. However, banning all abortion and condemning all men will not solve the problem. Advocates must provide positive solutions that address the cause of problems to successfully carry the public debate, change behaviour and change culture.
Stephanie Ross is an anti-family violence advocate and director of Kookaburra Care.