Justice for Zoe threatened by ideology

Cross-posted from The Telegraph

BRODIE Donegan was eight months pregnant when she was mowed down by a drug-addled driver, high on methadone and valium, near her Ourimbah home. Her unborn child died.

The baby girl, Zoe, was stillborn because the placenta that sustained her with oxygen was ruptured by the force of the impact which pinned her mother against a tree for three hours on Christmas Day 2009.

Zoe’s heart was still beating when Brodie arrived at hospital, but by the time doctors performed a caesarean section, she was dead.

Brodie, partner Nick Ball, and their two year old daughter Ashlee were left to hold their two kilogram baby girl, perfect except for a cut on her lip from resuscitation attempts.

“She was still warm and she looked and felt and smelt like any other newborn, “ Brodie wrote in a victim impact statement to the court 15 months later. “She just was not breathing.”

The driver served just nine months in jail for the grievous bodily harm to Brodie, whose spine, pelvis, hips and foot were fractured.

But there existed no criminal charge for police to apply over the death of the 32-week foetus Zoe.

Under criminal law, Zoe had never existed, except as an appendage of her mother’s body.

“You just get to list the baby with the injuries,” says Brodie, 33, who has tried valiantly for almost four years to achieve legal recognition that her daughter’s life mattered.

Zoe’s Law, due before NSW Parliament on Thursday, would “recognise the existence of the foetus of a pregnant woman that is of at least 20 weeks gestation” and allow an offender to be charged with grievous bodily harm to the foetus, not just to the pregnant women, which is the current law in NSW.

The private member’s bill, authored by Brodie’s local Liberal MP on the Central Coast, Chris Spence, specifically exempts “anything done in the course of a medical procedure,” such as abortion, or anything done “with the consent of the pregnant woman”.

But it has become the latest battleground in the abortion wars, as trigger-happy activists itch for a fight in a new conservative era.

They believe Zoe’s Law is a “slippery slope” towards restricting abortion. They are terrified it represents a “conceptual change” which would see the foetus regarded as a person in its own right.

To their consternation, Brodie is unreservedly pro-choice, and wants nothing to do with the abortion debate.

But she and Nick knew their daughter existed because they held her and grieve for her to this day.

They were also obliged under state and federal laws to give Zoe a name, apply for a birth certificate and death certificate, and hold a funeral; they were eligible for the baby bonus and parental leave, as is every parent of a foetus which dies from 20 weeks gestation.

“It’s strange to plan a funeral for a baby [whose death] no one is going to be charged for,” says Brodie.

Brodie never wanted to be dragged into the abortion debate when Christian Democrats leader Fred Nile took it on himself to introduce a form of Zoe’s Law, without her permission.

“We didn’t want our daughter’s name on something that had to do with abortion.”

So she asked Spence to craft a bill to override Nile’s attempt.

Spence’s argument is logical, dispassionate and persuasive. His bill is morally neutral on abortion.

Yet the opposition has been so ferocious he was forced last week to delay the bill and Brodie has found herself pitted against the full might of the feminist lobby, with NSW MPs and organisations such as the Women’s Electoral Lobby, Family Planning NSW and Destroy the Joint, combining to defeat the law.

“We are so hesitant to go near this because of the [feminist] lobby,” says Spence. “They’ve built this nucleus to protect a woman’s right to choose and then they’ve put a 100km exclusion zone around it. Anything that breaches the exclusion zone will be shot down.”

The abortion lobby needs to find a new way of framing their argument rather than just shutting down the debate. And it doesn’t get much lower than denying a grieving mother justice for her child.

By Miranda Devine

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