17th March, 2016

DAVID ADAMS

RAISING THEIR VOICE IN SUPPORT OF THE UNBORN: Pastor David Rock (left) and supporters of the Infant Viability Bill

Inspired by the example of Christ as “humanity’s advocate”, Baptist pastor David Rock is among a growing number of Christians across Victoria who have thrown their support behind a new private member's bill to reform the state’s abortion laws.

“I believe our current abortion laws devalue not only women and pre-born children but our whole society because it defines life on subjective terms rather than it being of an absolute value,” he told Sight.

Introduced by Democratic Labour Party MP, Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins, the Infant Viability Bill would restrict abortions to under 20 weeks.

It also mandates that all infants born alive after 20 weeks of pregnancy be cared for with the intent to save the infant’s life if possible and that medical professionals offer practical support to women who, in the later stages of their pregnancy, present in distress. Medical professionals and facilities found to have breached the new laws would face penalties but mothers would not.

The bill would roll back legislation introduced in 2008 under which abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks but can still be carried out at any time after that if two medical practitioners sign off on it.

Dr Carling-Jenkins, a Christian who was attracted to stand for the DLP partly because of its whole-of-life pro-life stance, said the move restrict abortions to under 20 weeks would bring Victoria in-line with “the rest of the world”.

“We have the worst abortion laws in the world here in Victoria and in Tasmania. It will bring us in-line with what’s roughly the international standard and it brings us in-line with the new research into neo-natal care and viability and it also brings us into line with the research around fetal pain.”

With regard to the latter she said research has shown that from 20 weeks gestation, babies can feel intense pain, “so, increasingly, abortions after 20 weeks are being seen as barbaric”.

Dr Carling-Jenkins said that between 300 and 400 babies are aborted in Victoria each year when the mother is in the late stages of pregnancy – as much as 37 weeks pregnant – and that “at least half of those babies are perfectly healthy” with decisions to abort based on “psycho-social reasons”.

The bill received its first reading last year and will be tabled in April before it is debated in May. Dr Carling-Jenkins said Christian support for the bill had been “absolutely fantastic” and that a number of churches and parishes from across denominations had taken up petitions calling on MPs in both houses to support the bill. “It’s become a very grassroots movement...” she said.

As well as signing petitions, Dr Carling-Jenkins has also called on people to consider contacting their MPs, particularly if they have a personal story to tell with regard to the issue of abortion.

While the Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy has said she would not support the bill, Dr Carling-Jenkins said she was optimistic it would pass, given both the State Government and Opposition have said they would allow their members a conscience vote.

As well as having the support of a growing number of Christians around the state, the bill also has the support of the Australian Christian Lobby. Dan Flynn, Victorian state director of the ACL, said the bill aimed to "land on common ground", noting that even among those who are generally pro-choice, many people still believed that when a pre-born infant reaches 20 weeks, "everything should be done to protect that child".

"I think it will strike a chord with many people are who generally pro-choice but feel very uncomfortable about the idea of a late-term abortion," he said.

Mr Flynn said while the ACL" doesn't support abortion at all", "we're looking at this legislative proposal on its merits and it will achieve significant reduction in abortions late term and for that reason we support it".

Meanwhile, campaigning in support of the bill continues for Rev Rock, lead pastor of Church by the Bay in Portarlington, and a growing group of Christians from the Bellarine Peninsula and Geelong region.

He believes that just informing people about what the current law is an important step in finding support for the new bill.

“If I said to the average Australian citizen that everyday there is a Victorian citizen that is left in a medical facility to die with no treatment who is in a life-threatening situation, people would be horrified,” said Rev Rock, who first started campaigning on the issue of abortion in the lead-up to the Victorian state election in 2013.

“And yet that is happening every single day in Victoria. And that’s for the babies that survive an abortion, let alone the babies that are, in inverted commas, successfully aborted.”

He noted that Jesus “upheld the significance of all life”. “While this bill may not do that in an absolute sense, it is far more congruent with the absolute value of every life than the arbitrary dismissiveness of life we see reflected in the current legislation.”

Correction: A line that said the "Infant Viability Bill would restrict abortions to under 20 weeks, except in cases of medical emergency" has been corrected. The bill does not provide for abortions in cases of medical emergency after 20 weeks but for the delivery of a live child.