Abortion:

Rose Durey, Policy Officer, Women’s Health Victoria, writes: Re. “Bligh is right to resist abortion radicals” (yesterday, item 15). For Jim Wallace to state that the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria was undemocratic is blatantly wrong. The bill was subject to a conscience vote. Each MP voted according to their own beliefs and it could be argued that this was, in effect, more democratic than voting along party lines.

The conscientious objection clause of the Victorian Act that Jim Wallace refers to means that the views of the health practitioner are weighed against their professional duties and obligations to those seeking their services. The Act allows health practitioners the professional space to object to abortion without compromising the ability of women to make informed choices. Women rely on their health practitioners to provide them with information about all available options, including those that the practitioner themselves would not choose. The clause ensures this happens.

Queensland now has the opportunity to take the same steps to ensure that women, their partners, and their doctors can make decisions free from the threat of criminal sanction. If we look to Australian surveys (rather than the American surveys that Jim Wallace uses), public opinion is unequivocal.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2003) states that 81.2% of Australians agree that women should have the right to choose an abortion. Queensland laws (which date back to 1899) must be brought into line with current practice and community attitudes.

Abortion should form part of Queensland’s health services and women should not risk a jail sentence for what is, in other jurisdictions, regarded as a health procedure and regulated in the same way as any other.

Hannah Robert writes: There are so many problems with the piece on abortion by Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby that it is difficult to know where to start. But you’d have to say he’s being particularly cheeky rolling out this one: “For the first time a majority of Americans have told the Gallup opinion poll that they are pro-life”.

First, Gallup also tells us that 44% of Americans believe in creation (i.e. “God created Man in present form”), whereas the percentage of Australians citing they follow “no religion” is steadily increasing. So why is this figure relevant to a discussion about public support for abortion in Australia? Particularly when polls here show that over 80% of the population believe “a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion”.

Second, even if we accept the tenuous relevance of US statistics on public views of abortion, Wallace has plucked out a figure which seems to have been a statistical blip. Amy Sullivan from Time Magazine reports:

Now along comes a follow-up poll from Gallup and whaddya know, the much ballyhooed pro-life majority seems to have disappeared. The percentages of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are essentially the same (47% for pro-life; 46% for pro-choice).

Meanwhile, the positions they hold — a more useful indicator than the labels people choose for themselves — haven’t budged. A solid 78% think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.

So even though close to half of all Americans call themselves “pro-life” — many of those nonetheless believe in safe, legal abortion in some or all circumstances. A bit of a conundrum — which brings me to another pearler from Wallace: “[P]aradoxically Australians seem to support the right of a woman to terminate the life of her unborn baby but are nevertheless deeply uncomfortable with the practice.”

Yes Jim — this is the point! No one thinks abortion is a lovely, wonderful thing, and many of us feel that it is often a difficult, heartbreaking option to have to consider or pursue. But in some circumstances, it is better than all the other options, and the person best placed to make that heartbreaking decision is the woman in question — in consultation where appropriate with her doctor and partner.

It is frustrating to have to repeat this message over and over, but there it is. I’m not sure whether Jim Wallace will ever understand that, but I’m sure that Anna Bligh does – even if she lacks the political courage to enable Queensland women to make such choices safely.

Michael Bailey writes: After reading Jim Wallace’s article in yesterday’s Crikey in which he suggested that the passing of abortion law reform in Victoria last year was “undemocratic” I am convinced that he must have a very idiosyncratic understanding of democracy. In fact, it would seem to me that the passing of the Victorian abortion reform legislation would constitute the very essence of democracy.

Majorities were achieved in both houses of a democratically elected parliament with the votes to pass the bill coming from members of the ALP, Liberals, Nationals and the Greens. So, not only was it utterly democratic, it was that elusive holy grail of democratic practice, non-partisan democracy! Of course reality rarely perturbs the thinking of so-called pro-lifers.

Mr Wallace’s assertion that the Victorian law was “draconian and out of step with Australians’ thinking on abortion” was cunningly backed up by a poll that showed a majority of Americans identify as pro-life! Pity that Mr Wallace didn’t care to share any Australian polls which unlike America, the outlier among Western democracies on issues of faith and conscience, shows a consistent and overwhelming majority of people support access to abortion procedures in their numerous forms be they surgical, pharmacological, etc.

Justin-Paul Sammons writes: It is rather telling that Jim Wallace barely mentions women in his anti-choice rant. Apparently, in pregnancies the wishes of the pregnant women are completely irrelevant. Mr Wallace, taking control of women’s bodies and forcing them to have birth is a breach of civil rights. It is sickening that you seem to see women as nothing more than incubators.

Suncorp:

Steve Johnston, General Manager, Investor Relations, Suncorp, writes: Re. “Suncorp’s false dawn” (yesterday, item 24). While we are usually happy to let Glenn Dyer’s factual inaccuracies regarding Suncorp go through to the keeper, yesterday’s item needs to be corrected.

Suncorp’s full year dividends will in fact cost $455 million — less than half the erroneous figure of $920 million used by Mr Dyer to underpin his arguments. Cash earnings for the year (NPAT less goodwill amortisation) were 47.2 cents per share, comfortably exceeding the full year dividend payment of 40 cents per share.

Furthermore, Suncorp’s key capital ratios will remain well above regulatory requirements and its own internal targets following the dividend payment. We support what Crikey is doing but you missed the mark on this occasion.

Equal pay for women:

Eva Cox writes: Andrew Lewis (yesterday, comments) needs to really understand the statistics he criticises because my comparisons of the gender differences are based on ABS Ordinary Time Earnings, i.e. full time without overtime and shift allowances. (Much work to do to close the gap on women’s pay). So most of his comments are invalidated by his errors. His lack of understanding about work valuing under awards and public service rates is another blind spot.

Awards still contain substantial gender biases: look at the awards for aged care and child care workers vis a vis car park attendants! There have been some court cases in states and particular areas that have revalued the undervaluing in male majority vs. female majority awards, but this is slow and expensive. The question is why so many gendered assumptions about soft versus hard skills continue to affect pay. as the gap is actually increasing Therefore the over 50 workers issue is not even worth mentioning.

However, he does illustrate the common misreading of differences that feminists need to constantly rebut.

Anti-discrimination:

L M McIntire writes: Re. “Churches today, political parties tomorrow” (yesterday, item 16). Charles Richardson wrote: “anti-discrimination law requires the state to assume an omniscience that it does not possess: … the ability to set down which parts of an organisation’s doctrine are fundamental to it and which are disposable extras”.

Anti-discrimination activists can only too easily see the discrimination that affects them. They are activists largely as a result of being discriminated against because of the attribute which most defines their lives — be that ethnicity or sexuality or gender or religion or whatever. They see all their “doctrines” as fundamental.

Because they perceive the discrimination against them as so dominant in their lives, rarely are they able to understand that their assertion of freedom from all discrimination may have the effect of causing discrimination against others. Hence, for example, gay anti-discrimination activists can happily define the views of religious bodies in relation to having people who share their religious views teach their children as “disposable extras”.

They cannot understand that religion is as important to some people as sexuality is to gay activists. They cannot understand how such a person could possibly, in asserting his or her right to freedom of religion, define the gay person’s right not to be discriminated against in employment as a teacher in a church school as a “disposable extra”. Both see their own “fundamental doctrines” as more important, more worthy of state protection than the other. Both cannot get all the freedom from discrimination that they want.

This comment is not meant to support the maintenance of the exemption from discrimination law for churches. Its purpose is rather to highlight the problems of politicians and anti-discrimination boards happily assuming an omniscience that they cannot possess. Try changing the protagonists in the issue from gay activists asserting the right to teach in church schools and it’s perhaps easier to see that things are not so clear cut.

Richardson argues that “No one seriously suggests that churches should have to employ atheist priests”. But there is no logical reason in the argument against the exemption for churches that would justify such a conclusion.

Why shouldn’t an atheist be a priest if he or she wants to?

Malcolm Turnbull:

John Taylor writes: Re. “Malcolm Turnbull, my part in his Liberal conversion” (yesterday, item 4). Two things about today’s item by Greg Barns: 1. Could he please have it published in a mainstream publication (no slight on you blokes but it should be read by millions so that the truth will out) and 2. Will someone tell Malcolm to come out swinging when this sort of nonsense appears.

My reply, if I’d been Malcolm would have been: “Yes, of course, after what Howard did to dismember the Republican campaign, I wanted to join the Labor party, but having met with Hawke, Richardson and others and determined what a bunch of spivs, shonks and faction dwellers they were I ran a mile and joined the Liberal party.”

John Pilger:

Justin Templer writes: Re. “Reaction to Pilger award reveals Zionist lobby’s fear of dissent” (yesterday, item 14). I have always enjoyed Antony Loewenstein, if only as an entertaining foil against the overly influential pro-Israel machine. But in his latest writings Antony’s enthusiasm overwhelms his sense of even-handedness.

First, he attacks apparent attempts by Jewish leaders to heavy the Sydney Peace Foundation over its award of a prize to John Pilger, condemning the intolerance of debate of many Jews. But in the next breath he seems to condone Associate Professor Jake Lynch (director of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies) calling for an academic boycott against Israeli institutions for their complicity in the occupation of Palestine.

Debate has to go both ways, Antony.

Cataract operations:

Nancy Lee writes: Re. “Consumer advocate goes eye to eye with ophthalmologists” (yesterday, item 11). Please do not say cataract operations are overpriced. Due to failing eyesight I had both eyes operated on in the past twelve months under the auspices of Vet Affairs — The difference is amazing. I can see to read. and enjoy reading Crikey even if I am a woman and 85 years old.

Stats:

Dan Willis writes: John Taylor (yesterday, comments) is clearly not familiar with either the science behind sampling error or the intellectual rigour of our beloved Possum Comitatus. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that yesterday 58.26% of populist comments were made up on the spot, two days ago it was 44.19%, today it was 72.43% and tomorrow it could conceivably be 68.27%, depending on who writes in and how much research they did.

Peter Fray

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