These are serious cases as the story of a young mentally handicapped Italian girl illustrates. Laura, 13, from Pozzallo in Sicily, had been placed in the care of social services after being removed from her destitute mother. The juvenile court appointed the family doctor as legal guardian.
Laura got up to mischief with a local boy and, faced with the prospects of the mentally ill girl giving birth, the doctor chose the abortion for the girl under his legal care. Because of her mental condition, she is unable to make a choice herself. The decision to abort was supported by Laura’s mother and the social worker in charge of the case.
The Vatican condemned the decision as a “Nazi horror” but applauded when Judge Daniela Di Sarno ruled that the girl would give birth.
Should it be legal?
Abortion is the killing of the unborn human fetus to end a pregnancy. It has never been specifically legislated as unlawful in Australia.
The question of when human life begins has traditionally been seen as central to the abortion debate, but it is doubtful that this question can ever be fully resolved. Some philosophers prefer to consider what it is that makes it wrong to kill a human being, then having defined this, see whether these reasons still logically apply to an unborn fetus.
Some philosophers go so far as to argue that not only the fetus but even the newborn infant has no intrinsic right to life. This is interesting in that one of the strategies pursued strongly by anti-abortionists is the attempt to represent the unborn fetus as no different to the newborn child, with the implication that they consider the rights of the newborn child as self evident.
On the side of legal abortion, the highest profile banner is that of the ‘Pro Choice’ group, who draw considerable moral support from the feminist movement. The most public opponents of abortion have been the ‘Right To Life’ group, who draw a strong support base from within the Church.
Up to what time should a termination of pregnancy be allowed?
A baby girl in the North Territory lived for 80 minutes after being born alive during an abortion at approximately 22 weeks. A distressed midwife, with no instructions from an absent doctor, kept the baby warm and checked her every 10-15 minutes before the baby’s heartbeat slowed after an hour and she died.
Evidence was given to the Coroner that the baby was at first thought to be 19 weeks but may have been 24 weeks.
Coroner Greg Cavanagh refused to describe the baby as a foetus, aborted foetus, or non-viable foetus. He said she had been a baby girl during her brief life and the fact that she was born unwanted ” should not be allowed to diminish her status as a human being.”
He said ” The old, the infirm, the sick, the terminally ill are all entitled to proper medical and palliative care and attention. In my view, newly born unwanted and premature babies should have the same rights.”
The Coroner conceded the baby would have died because of its prematurity but he stressed that protocols should be urgently put in place in the NT to ensure babies that survived the abortion process be assessed by a doctor.
The emotive issue – known as the Baby J case – has raised again the abortion issue in Australia. Some states permit abortions up to 21 weeks. Others, on medical advice, permit terminations until 24 weeks.
Anti-abortion groups such as the Right to Life organization passionately oppose any terminations.