By now you’ve probably heard Eminem’s new song featuring Ed Sheeran, ‘River’ – a heartbreaking confession of a string of regrets. Among them is his remorse for forcing a woman to have an abortion. He talks about his ‘baby’ and ‘that I really woulda’ loved your smile’. He also describes that ending the life of this baby is just ‘one more lie to tell an unborn child’.
What other lies are we telling unborn children and their mothers? Our society tells young, pregnant women that they’re not ready for this baby – that they’re not strong enough or smart enough to raise a child. Our society tells the unborn that they’re not valuable and they’re not worthy of the most basic human right; the right to life.
Just like Eminem’s baby and the mother of that child, we believe that the unborn and their mothers deserve so much better than abortion. You can do this. We don’t want anymore mums and dads hurting because of this irreversible decision.
In 1981, Dr Michael Harrison from the University of San Francisco, California was faced with a difficult decision. A 20-week baby had been diagnosed with severe kidney disease caused by an obstruction of the urinary tract, a condition that was certainly fatal. With no other possibilities for medical intervention, the child’s mother agreed to venture into unknown territory and take a chance with the only procedure that offered any hope of survival for the baby – open foetal surgery.
Having never been attempted before, this involved a caesarean-like operation to partially expose the baby, remove the obstruction, and then return him to the uterus to continue developing for the rest of the pregnancy. The use of muscle relaxants to safely cut open the uterus without inducing pre-term labour, and a chemical solution to replace lost amniotic fluid, allowed for a successful surgery and subsequent continuation of the pregnancy, with the baby continuing to grow.
Unfortunately, kidney and lung damage, which had already occurred prior to diagnosis and surgical repair, was so severe that the baby did not survive after birth, but the attempt at pursuing treatment signalled the first step into the incredible world of foetal surgery. Doctors had shown that it was possible to operate on an unborn child. Within the same year, Dr Harrison went on to successfully treat baby Michael Skinner, who suffered from a similar condition. He became the world’s first survivor of foetal surgery.
Foetal surgery is not without its risks, especially as there are two patients – both the baby and the mother – and so careful consideration on a case-by-case basis is essential. Keeping this in mind, the option to surgically treat an unborn child is a growing reality, offering hope to babies diagnosed with life-threatening conditions or facing the prospect of severe disability if treatment is delayed until they are born. The development of foetoscopic surgery, in which probes and cameras are used to perform the procedure rather than making an open incision, has improved the safety and results of these remarkable procedures.
Today, foetal surgery treats a variety of conditions including congenital diaphragmatic hernia (in which abdominal organs are pushed into the chest cavity, preventing lung development), heart abnormalities, and the removal of tumours. The most famous example is spina bifida, a condition in which the baby’s spinal cord protrudes unprotected from its back, and frequently results in permanent leg and bladder paralysis as well as brain abnormalities. Traditionally spina bifida has been repaired in newborns. A study comparing the outcomes of children who underwent foetal surgery, as opposed to treatment after birth, found that foetal surgery had a significantly lower risk of death and decreased need for later neurological treatment. These children also showed higher rates of independent walking and a greater ability to care for themselves. Excitingly, foetal surgery for spina bifida was performed in Australia for the first time last year at the Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane.
As our medical technology exponentially improves, so too will the success rates and applicability of foetal surgical techniques. Increasingly, new foetal treatment centres are opening around the world, and the growing frequency of success stories in the media is an uplifting testimony to the fact that many illnesses which may once have been considered a death sentence for the unborn child finally have a therapeutic option. See here for a recent example!
The science is undeniable – an unborn child is a human being. You can call it a foetus, a pre-born human, a Homo sapien or a baby, but they all have the same implication. Why then are we working so hard to perform groundbreaking surgery on some babies but for others we don’t give them a chance at life? Equality begins in the womb, and we want equality for all.
“Hi. I am a 21 year old young woman who was wondering if you could possibly help me…
I am possibly pregnant and kind of terrified, because my parents will be enraged.”
There are some moments in your life that stick with you forever, and I think this will be my moment. Emily* was the first person who ever contacted me about an unplanned pregnancy. She was from New York and she messaged me at 2am her time. She was scared and alone. I was scared too. I was scared that she would get in contact with Planned Parenthood (America’s largest abortion provider) before I could connect her with an organisation that would support and empower her in the journey ahead.
In a world that offers us so many choices and so many people to guide us in these choices, pregnant women aren’t being offered this same level of support.
Athletes have trainers, students have teachers and an apprentice has a master (yes, I’m looking at you Yoda and Luke Skywalker). But who do all the Emilys of the world have?
Abortion clinics that profit from women’s abortions are not in a place to offer independent counselling. A woman deserves to have people to guide her through what may be the most difficult moment in her life. In a society that says to young mothers that they can’t cope with pregnancy, she needs a voice that says ‘Yes, you can!’
Jennifer Gurry, CEO of Diamond Women’s Support, based in Bella Vista, says “at Diamond we don’t think any woman should face an unplanned pregnancy alone. We passionately believe in the potential of every woman and we are committed to providing a holistic care approach to women facing an unplanned pregnancy.”
Zoe’s Place executive director Helen Bell echoes Jennifer’s comments saying, “if you’re feeling unsure about what to do, call Zoe’s Place if you live in Newcastle or Hunter Region! But know that you have plenty of time to make this decision. Take your time to find out all the information you can about each of your options. Whatever choice you make, you are not alone. We are here to support you.” Although sometimes challenging, Helen says that “seeing a woman fall in love with her unborn child” makes her job worth it.
Linda Smyth, executive officer of Sara’s Place says, “women are amazing. I have the privilege of witnessing modern day heroes. They have no cape. The world doesn’t know their name. But they are the world to their children. It’s not about how many people know your name but that you are known to those that matter.”
These centres are having a remarkable impact in New South Wales. Jennifer estimates she’s assisted approximately 1000 women during her time at Diamond Women’s Support and Helen reports Zoe’s Place is expecting five more babies to be born in the next six months alone.
These incredible women spend their days offering pregnancy counselling, post-abortive counselling, training volunteers, providing ongoing support to volunteers, marketing their services, organising fundraising events, office administration, teaching parenting classes, speaking in high schools, providing ongoing support to new mums and the list goes on.
Perhaps the most surprising part of all this is these organisations do not receive any government funding (unlike abortion clinics!) meaning that they rely entirely on the support of volunteers and generous donors to continue their work in being a supportive voice for women both during and after pregnancy.
So what can we do to support them?
If you’re amazing at organising events then put on a fundraising dinner (or movie or high tea or fun run) to raise money for them. If you’re a skilled knitter then make baby booties and hats as presents for pregnant mothers. This is your chance to use your wacky and marvellous skills to brighten someone else’s day!
Contact one of these organisations and volunteer for them! Also liking their Facebook page or following them on Instagram is incredibly helpful in spreading the word about them (links below)
As mentioned before, these organisations do not receive government funding and they offer their services to clients free of charge. Because of this, they do require generous donors to support their amazing work.
I don’t know what happened to Emily and her baby, but I do know that I did everything I could to help them. It made me wonder, how many Emilys are there that didn’t hear all their options before making a decision? As a woman, I want other women to feel empowered and I hate the idea that society is telling young women that they must choose between themselves or their baby. We can love both!
Many people say that “abortion is a women’s issue”. Is it?
The short answer is yes…but no. The idea that abortion is solely a women’s issue is an argument rooted in isolation and naivety. Yes, abortion involves women, their bodies and their lives but this does not mean it is an issue that does not concern men. Sorry to say it, abortion concerns men too. It concerns the man who would have been the father. It concerns the father of the woman who is having an abortion and it concerns the men that make up 50% of the population who pays tax to fund our health care system. So in short, yes, men are included in the embryonic equation.
This does not mean that men need to start analysing ovarian content and take up a career in midwifery (but if you are thinking of this career, it’s awesome, trust me) but it does mean men need to start getting involved with the conversation of how they can practically help women experiencing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. Abortion affects more than just the woman, it is relevant to everyone and therefore men are imperative to the pro-life movement.
But how does a man have a conversation about a topic that they will never go through?
And this is where the pregnancy support centres come in!
Pregnancy support centres are what their name suggests – centres for pregnancy support. These centres provide an avenue for men to be involved with the pro-life movement in a meaningful yet non-intrusive way. The centres can act as a mediator during pre-abortion counselling whereby men can express their feelings in a compassionate way, without being perceived as disrespectful.
While the incredible team of women behind these centres do wonderful work in helping other women from all walks of life, there be some advantages to men being involved too.
From speaking to the women who run these pregnancy support centres, it’s incredibly common that the woman is there because she is having issues in her relationship and therefore does not feel prepared to have a child. To see other men caring and helping at a women’s health centre is symbolic of men being able to care in the first place, in a society that stereotypes men as having no emotions at all. It also allows for greater diversity within support centres as well, which leads to better work place environments and a larger variety of ideas and opinions. Even if you are a man who is on the fence about abortion, no one at pregnancy support clinic is asking. You would just be helping women who ask for help, which is a basic tenet of decency. If you are a man wanting to assist in such situations, these support centres will be able assist you in assisting, sort of like an “assist-ception”!
So here are our top three ways for men to get involved in supporting pregnancy centres:
Organise a fundraising event for them – fun runs, movie screenings and raffles are always popular
Ask them what they need help with – repainting the walls, running a dad’s group, making up gift packs for expecting mums
Spread the word – follow them on social media, tell other dads
It is a great place to start and I strongly encourage any man to help these agencies. It will make a man out of you.