Senator Fielding "supports a woman’s right to abortion on demand"?

Such was the claim of Wendy Lovell in Parliament yesterday:

Another article in the Herald Sun of 26 September, one that I was a little surprised to read, reports Family First senator Steve Fielding as saying he supports a woman’s
right to abortion on demand, and quotes him as saying: ‘Some of these issues are never yes and no’, he said. ‘I’ve always said it is informed consent. It’s a very difficult decision. In the end it’s their decision’. I think he is right, it is a very difficult decision for any woman who chooses to access these procedures.

I must say I also found this claim surprising. Had I voted for a pro-abortion politician?!

Not being a reader of the Herald Sun myself (I prefer to read journalists who write with intelligence, even if they are wrong), I was unaware of this story. Here is a snip from the original story in the Herald Sun:

Senator Fielding, 47, said in a wide-ranging interview that he believed it was a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

“Some of these issues are never yes and no,” he said. “I’ve always said it is informed consent.

“It’s a very difficult decision. In the end it’s their decision.”

The position appears to be at odds with his party’s official policy which says: “Family First opposes abortion and shares the community’s view that the number of about 90,000 abortions in Australia each year is too high and should be reduced.”

But the very next day there was a clarification, also published in the Herald Sun:

Senator Fielding’s office responded by issuing a clarifying statement, saying he had been misinterpreted.

“Senator Fielding supports Family First policy, which opposes abortion,” it said.

“Senator Fielding is against abortion and he believes it is important that women have the support they need during difficult pregnancies.

“The focus for Family First is ensuring pregnant women have all the resources and support they require.

“Senator Fielding recognised that some women may in the end decide to have an abortion, even if extra support is offered.”

That didn’t satisfy the Victorian DLP MLC, Peter Kavanagh, but I reckon if you look at the way the interview was reported in the Herald Sun, you will see what happened. Note how the journalist prefaced Fielding’s statement with his own interpretation of what Fielding said, namely: “Senator Fielding…said…that…it was a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.” Fielding denies that this was what he said, and I agree. Taking the reported words at face value, he speaks simply of the need for “informed consent” when a woman is making a the “very difficult decision” to have an abortion – a decision which is, of course, always the woman’s decision under the current laws. In other words, he was calling for more information to be provided to women making this choice. Which is of course what the “clarification” issued the next day said.

I do think it was a bit unfair – even dishonest – for Ms Lovell to claim Senator Fielding as a supporter of the pro-choice cause in the light of this. See where bad journalism leads?

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0 Responses to Senator Fielding "supports a woman’s right to abortion on demand"?

  1. Anonymous says:

    There is that saying- Is that the truth or did you read it in THE HERAID SUN?

  2. Peregrinus says:

    Your analysis of the Herald Sun coverage of Senator Fielding’s position is spot-on. I don’t think it is entirely fair, though, to say that it was “dishonest” for Ms Lovell “to claim Senator Fielding as a supporter of the pro-choice cause”. She doesn’t say that he supports a woman’s right to abortion; she says that the Herald Sun reports that he supports a woman’s right to abortion, and she admits that she was “a little surprised” to read that report. Her cautious presentation of the facts does indicate a degree of reservation, which is hardly to be expected if she is seeking to mislead. Perhaps her surprise should have led her to dig a bit further, and discover the clarification published the next day, but her failure to do that is hardly “dishonest”.

    The Herald Sun’s simplistic presentation of Fielding’s position may have been influenced by a conscious or unconscious pro-choice bias on the part of the journalist, but in fact this over-simplification is found on both sides of the abortion debate. All too often, those who do not favour the criminalisation of abortion are accused of being pro-abortion.

    For the record, Family First’s published policy on this matter states explicitly that it “wants women to have real and genuine choices about whether or not to have an abortion”. Now, you could read this as meaning that they want women to have real and genuine choices about whether or not to have an abortion for so long as state and territory laws allow abortion, a situation which Family First would also wish to change, but those final words are not in the published policy, and reading them in may be an act of wishful thinking rather than clear-headed analysis. Later in the policy document the legality of abortion is explicitly discussed; Family First “opposes legalising abortion, where abortion would be legal under any circumstances, regardless of the age of the unborn child”. It doesn’t appear that the party has a blanket opposition to the legalisation of abortion on any terms.

    The full published policy can be read here: I don’t have any difficulty describing the policy laid out here as a pro-life stance, but those who consider that a pro-life policy must involve the legislative prohibition of abortion and that anything else is pro-choice will, I think, have to conclude that Family First is a pro-choice party.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I looked at the link and the first words of the policy are “Family First opposes abortion …”

  4. Peregrinus says:

    Yes, they are. But “opposes abortion” doesn’t mean “thinks abortion should be illegal”. After all, we all oppose adultery, don’t we? But that doesn’t mean we think it should be a crime.

    Family First oppose abortion in the sense that they regard it as a social evil which ought, as a matter of public policy, to be discouraged, and they propose a range of measures to discourage it. But those measures do not include criminalisation, and in fact th policy does affirm that “women should have real and genuine choices about whether or not to have an abortion”. And there is nothing in the policy to suggest that FF sees abortion as fundamentally a matter of human rights. The only explicit reason they offer for opposing abortion is the harm that it can do to women.

    It seems to me that FF opposes abortion, in fact, in pretty much the same sense as they might oppose poverty, or homelessness, or unemployment, or exclusion. That opposition is, of course, a good thing. But it’s not a call for criminalisation, and FF don’t appear to see abortion as an abuse of fundamental human rights, calling for corresponding legal protections. In that sense, they don’t espouse what some would see as the core of a pro-life position.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I take your point Peregrinus, but I had seen the policy more of a recognition that abortion is in effect illegal in most of the country, yet we still have 80,000 abortions plus a year. So given there has not been success banning abortion – and Victoria and other states show there is no political will to do so – there needs to be an approach to provide alternatives or somehow reduce the numbers.

  6. Michael Webb says:

    The DLP would make it illegal and as a member of the Party I support that.
    There is need for legislation to make abortion illegal as it is NOT the same as say adultery. Abortion is far worse, it is the killing of innocent human life.

    Michael Webb

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