Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A letter to parliamentarians on abortion

To: Mrs Helen Shardey
Mrs Andrea Coote
Mr David Davis
Mr John Lenders
Ms Susan Pennicuik
Mr Evan Thornley


Dear Mrs Shardey and Members for Southern Metropolitan Region,

As a resident of Caulfield and pastor of a local church, I am writing to express my great concern over the proposed changes to the way abortions will be conducted in Victoria.

Abortion is not simply a medical procedure like any other procedure: it is a life and death decision after conception has already taken place. Consequently, abortion can be one of the more distressing experiences which women can experience. It can be an extremely painful decision to terminate the life of one's own child, and in my years of pastoral experience, including a period working as a pastoral carer in a maternity hospital, I have observed that the emotional pain of abortions are deep and can endure for many years.

Many thousands of abortions are performed in Victoria each year, and only a tiny proportion of these are due to rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. I believe just about everyone in the community - except the commercial abortion providers - would agree that the number of abortions is too high.

It is deeply distressing that the proposed changes to abortion laws in Victoria will make it easier for medical practitioners to sign off on abortions, without ensuring that the woman receives adequate support, such as counseling or provision of information to ensure 'informed consent' and that she understands the options available to her.

When abortion rates go up after these laws are brought in, the community will not consider that the Government has acted honestly in assuring the electorate that their intention was not to increase the abortion rate.

I am particularly concerned that abortion clinics - which exist solely to perform abortions, for profit - will only give token attention to counselling and equipping women to give their informed consent. The new laws will make this situation worse, by lowering the bar of consent for abortions (to varying degrees in the three options). The financial interest of such clinics in the termination of the unborn makes them the least suitable group to take responsibility for signing off on the procedure, especially in the case of late-term abortions.

I strongly believe that it is necessary to retain the concept of risk of harm to the mother, and if this is removed in some cases (such as in the first two trimesters) then it would be disastrous to remove this principle up to full gestation.

In the case of late-term abortions, I am particularly concerned for health professionals, who spend great efforts in some cases to save the lives of the unborn, and to nurse premature babies to life and health, and at the same time are asked to terminate the lives of other unborn children who are equally viable as living human beings. At 9am they may be operating in utero to save one life, and at 10am terminating another life by dismembering or 'euthanasing' a late-term, viable foetus, also in utero. It is, I believe, cruel and inhuman to encourage a system where medical professionals are both killers and saviours of the lives of the unborn, especially if we remove existing ethical protections for them in this work - such as ethics panels to assist in making these onerous decisions.

I believe that many people in the community consider that once a foetus reaches the later stages of development, they are no longer simply a part of the body of the woman, but are regarded as a living human being and a future child with individual characteristics - albeit legally not a person and still dependent upon their mother whilst in the womb. The practices, widely encouraged by hospitals, that mothers of still-born infants would name their child, hold a funeral service for him or her, retain images or impressions of the footprints or hand prints of their deceased, and cuddle the baby's body - all to assist with their grieving - are clear evidence of this perception. These practices have been introduced based on long experience with caring for the trauma of parental grief. If anything this grief can be more conflicted and complicated when it is the woman who has made a choice for termination.

In the light of such community understandings and practices surrounding the death of the unborn - which the Law Reform Commission's report took no account of - I am deeply concerned about the idea that late-term abortions might be solely at the discretion of pregnant woman, even if assisted in this decision by one or two doctors. Women need more support that this, and there is more at stake than the woman's right to choose about what happens to their bodies.

I remain deeply sceptical and concerned about the proposed changes, and ask the government not to accept changes which reduce abortion to simply a woman's choice, without regard for the rights and dignity of the unborn, or for the deeply troubling ethical issues associated with the practice of aborting late-term foetuses. I also reject the idea that we as a community should be taking steps which will make abortions more frequent, and grant less respect and dignity to life of the unborn.


Mark Durie
Vicar, St Mary's Caulfield

Friday, August 15, 2008

Melbourne's Water Troubles

The Pacific has now moved out of its La Nina weather pattern, which is associated with wetter conditions over Eastern Australia. Although rain has been falling recently, Melbourne's water supply conditions have worsened after a dry Autumn. The catchments have been so dry that the winter rains are not running down into the reservoirs in anything like their usual fashion: the thirsty ground is just soaking up the water.

The climate gurus say that we are now in a ‘neutral’ weather pattern, and another La NiƱa could develop in 2009, which would bring back the drought.

Over the past twelve years, Melbourne’s water supply has been dropping by about 5% a year. There have been two years when our water supply dropped 20% in a single year (1997, 2006). For this year our water inflows seem to be a pattern similar to 1999 and 2002, the years when the water supplies dropped by 10%. On the other hand, there has only been one year in the past twelve with an increase of more than 5%.

If we don't get above average falls in the next three months, and are unfortunate enough to have another year in 2009 like 1997 0r 2006, Melbourne’s water supplies could drop down to 10% by Christmas 2009. I suppose that at that point, the water in our reservoirs will just be mud.

I am no expert on long-term weather trends, but just based on recent years, there would seem to be at least a one-in-five chance that Melbourne will have no water at all in two years’ time. On the other hand an increase in reservoir supplies of even 10% seems a very remote possibility indeed.

In any case, within five or so years we will have run out of water, based on recent patterns. BUT the good news is, Victoria is planning a water desalination plant, which will produce 150 billion litres a year. This is due to start construction in 2009, with water on tap by January 2012. Still, questions abound. Will it be finished on time? Will there be any water left in our dams when it starts up? Will 150 billion litres be enough? This water is supposed to supply parts of Gippsland, Philip Island and Geelong, as well as Melbourne If, say, 100 billion litres comes to Melbourne, that is only 6% of total reservoir capacity, which is about what we have been short each year on average. So even with this extra water, it might take us a hundred years to fill up the reservoirs again! We would also still be highly vulnerable to a sequence of dry years. We can look forward to decades of water shortages.

Then there is the cost factor. Once the desalination plant is built, the main running cost is electricity. The price of power will definitely go up, as oil prices spiral upwards and the government implements a carbon tax. Although the Victorian Government has promised that the cost of water will no more than double after the desalination plant comes on stream, it seems more likely that cost increases will be much greater than this.

There are some ‘known unknowns’ here. Perhaps our decade of drought will be broken, and we will have a decade of rain, and all will be fine for a few more decades. On the other hand, perhaps power costs will shoot up, water consumption will rise, the drought will worsen, and we’ll be trucking in water from the Northern Territory or dragging in icebergs from the Atlantic! No doubt our planners are hoping for wet years ahead.

Prayer seems a very wise policy. And a water tank.