Tony Abbott is an intelligent man. It’s important to keep that in mind,
because it makes some of his statements much less forgivable. While
other ministers could be accused of believing their own propaganda,
Abbott must know when he is talking nonsense.

Such as yesterday, when he claimed to be the victim of sectarian prejudice.
Yes, really: he referred to “a new sectarianism where somebody is
considered incapable of making an objective decision because they hold
ethical, philosophical or religious views.”

But how else do you make decisions? On the one hand, Abbott has to
argue that approval of RU486 is more than just a medical question –
otherwise there would be no reason to take it out of the hands of the
appropriate medical authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
But that surely means it is at least partly an ethical or philosophical
question, in which case Abbott’s views are a legitimate matter of
concern.

Abbott doesn’t want to admit that because he knows that on the ethical
issue in question – should abortion be permitted? – his views are in
the minority. No doubt they are sincerely held, and by his lights they
somehow count as “objective”, but they are not shared by most
Australians.

So far, neither side wants to admit
the obvious truth: that this really is a debate about abortion. The
opponents of RU486 are caught in a bind; if it’s a health issue, it
belongs with the TGA, but if it’s not, what else can it be but an
abortion debate in disguise?

It’s the supporters of the private members’ bill who need to be more
explicit about what’s at stake. A vote against RU486 is a vote against
legal abortion. No doubt Tony Abbot is perfectly comfortable with that,
but we shouldn’t help him pretend that the stakes are less serious than
they are.

Peter Fray

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