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Pro-choice filmmaker stirs the abortion debat -

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Pro-choice filmmaker stirs the abortion debate

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, to discuss the issues raised in that story, we're joined from London by the
filmmaker, Julia Black.

From Melbourne, we're joined by Dr Leslie Cannold, a Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy
and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

And in Sydney, one of the founders of the Women's Electoral Lobby, Wendy McCarthy.

Julia Black, thanks all of you for joining us, by the way.

Julia Black, there's no question your film demonstrates very clearly that images still have a great
deal of power to move people.

What were you actually trying to achieve with this film?

JULIA BLACK, FILMMAKER: I set out to make a film, I suppose, that moved the debate forward in some

I had the idea for the film when I became pregnant and thought here I am as a woman carrying a
foetus which is the heart of what at the abortion debate is all about.

It is whether as a woman I choose to go forward with that pregnancy or if I choose to have an

I've grown up in the abortion debate, discussing it all my life and I felt that it had become, it
was still very, very polarised and it hadn't moved forward and I was finding myself feeling
challenged about certain aspects of what pro-choice meant.

I wanted to make a film that did that, that took viewers on a sense of the journey around the
emotional contradictions that I was feeling and hopefully, as it has done, has stirred a lot of

It's making people re-defend, in a sense, why they're pro-choice and I think that is a good thing.

We need to refine our thinking.

TONY JONES: When you say refine your thinking and move the debate forward, where do you want it to
go to?

Do you have a sense of that?

After thinking about this for a long time, after making the film do you have a clear sense of what
outcome you would like to see?

JULIA BLACK: I suppose I want us to be in a position where we have had a very open and honest

What's been interesting, I think, from my film is from the arguments I haven't seen the
anti-abortion argument moved forward in any way.

In a sense what my film does is stops them in their tracks - OK, you say we need to look at these
images, so we're going to look at them.

You say we need to see the reality of an abortion, so we see that.

I still feel they've got a long way to go to convince people that abortion is wrong, abortion
shouldn't be a legal right for women.

What's been exciting is that the film has the opposite effect for the pro-choice movement.

It forces them to move forward, it forces them to say actually, yes there's a lot of us who are
pro-choice, who do want to engage with the reality of abortion, with the foetal destruction, which
I know has been criticised for its focus on that.

But I think it is important.

I think the foetus has become the property of the anti-abortion movement and, in a sense, I don't
know where I want the debate to go.

I know I want to have a clear defence as to why I'm pro-choice and when I know all the facts and
look at these images and confront the physical reality of the medical procedure.

So I haven't got a clear plan of where I would like the debate to go, but it is very encouraging
what's coming out of Australia.

TONY JONES: Wendy McCarthy you've seen the film, just today.

Where does it take your thinking in terms of this debate?

WENDY McCARTHY, FOUNDER, WOMEN'S ELECTORAL LOBBY: It doesn't move my thinking very much.

I think at one level it is quite an indulgent film and I guess all of us in a pregnancy, especially
a pregnancy that we're in love with after one we've dispensed with and I've been in that position
too, it is a good time to reflect on choices you might have made.

But I think one of the things that it does do that is useful, is it does help establish the idea,
which I think is one of the underpinning things about this, is that every abortion is an individual

Although we make policies about it and although we have class actions about it and although as
women we've pursued the idea that it is our right to choose whether to continue to carry that life,
that potential life, or whether to let it - or whether to dispense with it at that time, I think
that we have to remember that every pregnancy is different.

I would have found it much harder to have a termination of pregnancy after having a baby and I
think it is quite a different pregnancy because this one, obviously in Julia's case, the second one
was a wanted pregnancy and that's the track she went down.

I think the other thing is about confronting the reality.

In women my age who had terminations of pregnancy, there wouldn't have been an opportunity anyway
and many of us wouldn't have done it.

And, in fact, when we first started vacuum aspiration abortions in this country, at least 50 per
cent of women had no desire whatsoever to have a local anaesthetic which is what medical
practitioners wanted them to have, because they don't actually want to see.

They want to be asleep and not confront the reality.

Not everyone wants to see their appendix.

TONY JONES: Let's talk about some of the really gritty realities this film does confront and it is
particularly on the issue of late-term abortion.

There's an extraordinarily powerful scene of a doctor who performs late-term abortions and he
describes what he does - dismembering the foetus and parts of it dropping into a bucket between his

Do those sort of descriptions make you re-think whether there should be limits on late term

WENDY McCARTHY: I don't think it makes me re-think, but having said all of that, I still think it
is a useful film for all of us to have a look at, to remind ourselves that the thing that has been
an article of faith for women my age for a long time is worth re-examining and for that I agree and
I think it is a good film to show.

Nobody would ever pretend it would be other than hideous to be the person delivering and having to
dispose of a foetus at 20 weeks.

That is a tough call.

There aren't very many medical practitioners who can do it with dignity and grace and those who can
are sought after.

Of course there are also small numbers of pregnancy happening at that time and also remember the
reasons for those pregnancies are often about malformation of the foetus, but they're also often
for women who have been victims of perhaps not knowing they were pregnant until they were 15 or 16
weeks, perhaps rape, incest, all sorts of particular circumstances and just knowing that the moral
issue and ethical dilemma for them is that they cannot parent the child.

TONY JONES: All right.

Let me bring Leslie Cannold in here.

What do you say to what you've heard about Julia Black's reason for make the film?

Do you think there's a need for women to think again about these issues?

very particular story.

It is Julia's story, as she says.

She tells that story very well and compellingly.

It is such a particular story having grown up in the bosom of the pro-choice movement.

For most women, they come to their pro-choice beliefs from a different place.

They have to struggle a bit more to get to the point they are where they believe in the pro-choice

I guess my concern about the film is that there's this stress over and over again that we must face
the truth and the reality of abortion that has been hidden.

Now, it may be the case for some people they feel that they need to see those images to know
everything they need to know about a termination and that's fine.

I don't think those images should be suppressed.

The thing we also haven't seen on television and we really don't know about is the stories of the
women and the couples who had to make that painful decision to terminate and what Julia misses an
opportunity to do, which I think would have been so powerful, is that when she showed us that, say
18 or 21-week-old aborted foetus, she could have cut to the story of the woman or the couple that
had to make that painful decision to abort.

I think then we would have known the full reality of abortion.

Then we would have known everything we need to know to decide whether abortion is ethical and
should remain legal.

TONY JONES: Julia Black, what do you say to those criticisms first of all and then I'll broaden the
discussion a little?

JULIA BLACK: I think they're very valid criticisms.

I think I was coming to the film, as Leslie says, from a personal journey that I was going on.

I think we can't make a decision about the morality of late abortion without looking at the woman's
context, but I suppose from my point of view as the film maker these were things I thought through,
and it became very difficult, because it was becoming a very political film in a sense.

It didn't start out that way but that's how it was taking shape.

It was difficult to know whose story to tell because, as Wendy says, every woman has a different
reason and every woman choose abortion for a different reason - her life circumstances, her and her
partner's, emotional security, financial security, their ability to become parents.

So I found that really to begin including, I couldn't just include one woman's story because that
would in my eyes skew the balance of the argument, and then I felt I would be therefore trying to
really too hard to balance out the argument rather than - I felt the crux of the film is about the
emotional contradictions that do exist, not only for me, because I've talked to a lot of people
before making the film, during and after, who also feel, yes, I am pro-choice but I also feel
uncomfortable about abortion, so how do I marry the two?

So I think that's what I'm interested in hearing - is how do we go forward with that argument?

I think we can, and I think we can only do that.

WENDY MCCARTHY: I think that's the success of the film.

That's the success for me, that you do indicate that even though there's some sadness, there's a
lot of reflection in your story about two different pregnancies, there is an understanding that
still you believe that it is a woman's choice.

I think that's my experience.

It is certainly the experience of many women I've worked with in family planning in places where
there have been no regrets really about the first one and again, as Leslie said, not everyone wants
to confront that.

You do, but many people don't.

TONY JONES: I would actually like to direct the debate a little bit here.

I started talking to Wendy McCarthy about the late-term abortion doctor that you've included in the

You were very confronted by that situation, by what he told you about it.

Did it change your feeling, Julia Black?

Did it change your feeling about whether late-term abortion should be permitted, whether there
should be restrictions or laws or time limits, or whether those things should change?

JULIA BLACK: It threw me into a quandary about what I felt about it, to be honest.

When I am interviewing him there, as you can see, I am heavily pregnant.

So to me, the idea of what I'm hearing him saying - dismembering a baby and pulling it out in
pieces -- is obviously horrific.

But at the same time, it is easy to get caught up in that emotion.

And I suppose, how I'm working that through is exactly what Leslie says, is try to talk to women or
couples who find themselves in a situation of having to make that decision.

That's the thing.

I asked the doctor, for example, which I didn't include in the film, but to give me --

He had performed a late termination on a 14-year-old girl who had been raped, and she obviously was
wanting to hide the pregnancy because she also wanted to hide the fact that someone in her family
had raped her.

So I think we really do need to understand why abortion in the late stages has to exist, and not
get caught up in the emotion of. These are very beautiful 3-D images, but we have to look at it
within the context.

TONY JONES: Can I bring you back in here, Leslie Cannold?

That does demonstrate part of the point you were talking about there.

Do you have any moral qualms at all about the idea of when a foetus does or does not become viable?

DR LESLIE CANNOLD: Viability is a big concern of mine and I've written a whole book in fact
revolving around viability and the challenges it poses.

But it doesn't pose a concern for me in terms of my understanding about when abortion is ethical.

That's because I don't focus on the foetus.

So for the anti-choice movement and people who are against abortion, and I think this is part of
the problem with the film - it seems to take this idea on - is that everything we need to know is
based around the foetus, so if it's this age or that age or if it sucks its thumb or looks or acts
like a baby this is how we know abortion is wrong, because it makes it murder, it makes it wrong,
and you don't have no mention women at all.

So for me, it's about the woman and the couple.

Do they make the decision in a responsible way?

Do they understand that their foetus matters, that it's going to become their child, and that
they're going to have a particular responsibility for it?

Do they think about the decision?

Do they not treat it lightly, like it is a hair cut or having a tooth extracted?

If they do, then for me it doesn't really matter if it is at 18 weeks or 21 weeks, because I trust
that they have a good reason.

I trust them.

And I think at the crux of the people who oppose abortion, they talk about foetuses, but really at
the heart of it, it is a distrust of women.

It is saying women can't make these decisions in a rational and moral way.

TONY JONES: Let me ask you a general moral question, if you like, and it is a fundamental question.

Is there any point within the womb that you would say that a foetus actually has rights?

A right to life, let's put it that way.

DR LESLIE CANNOLD: I don't, but only because I find that a really counterproductive way of thinking
about it, because if we start talking about two sets of rights within one person's skin, we run
into what the abortion debate has become - this irreconcilable conflict.

And I'm very much like Julia - I would like to see the debate move forward.

I find it a very unproductive way to think about it.

TONY JONES: Wendy McCarthy, what do you think about that?

Science, of course, boundaries always change as to when a foetus is viable or not viable outside
the womb.

In 10 years time we might find doctors may be able to keep 20-week-old foetuses alive and viable.

WENDY MCCARTHY: We may well.

I would then think of Leslie's position and say we have to trust the woman to make that decision.

Even if the child is physically viable, the woman has to make a decision about what quality of life
that child can possibly have.

And if she doesn't really want it.

Then we get into really tacky stuff about children as commodities being traded for those who want
to adopt, and so on.

These are the other sort of ideas that go around.

TONY JONES: Or children or foetuses as individuals, which is a legal question that's being thrashed
out already.

WENDY MCCARTHY: It is, but I take the view that it is still the woman's responsibility, and it is
the woman who must make that decision.

And I actually believe in the capacity of women to make that decision.

I always have because I also know that they take the enduring responsibility for the child, and I
think that's something that we have to keep recognising.

I think the scary thing about the decision for late-term abortions for women is because the
technology is changing the pressure on them not to do it, even under the most extreme
circumstances, could easily reframe the debate, and maybe that is a useful discussion to have.

TONY JONES: We're nearly out of time.

I just want to go back to Julia, just for a final question.

Did it change your view about the right to life and whether a foetus at some point within the womb
does have a right to life?

JULIA BLACK: I believe the foetus does have a right to life.

Not from the anti-abortion point of view, but I think from talking to the doctor who I talked to,
who also does IVF treatment.

He said, yes, the first few cells have a right.

They don't equal that of the woman, and for him and I think for me, how I've come to understand it,
it is a sliding scale.

I don't know yet for myself where the point is that it becomes equal to the mother.

But I don't believe that the foetus doesn't have any rights at all.

TONY JONES: I'm afraid we're out of time.

It is a very complex discussion.

We could talk about it all night, I dare say.

I thank each of you for coming in to talk with us tonight - Julia Black in London, Leslie Cannold
in Melbourne and Wendy McCarthy.

Thank you.

(c) 2006 ABC |