The Curious Case of Tegan Lane

The Age this morning reports a curious case of a mother charged with the murder of her newborn baby – even though the baby’s body has never been found. The following is from the print edition of the story “Water polo player charged with daughter murder”:

Keli Lane was a 21-year-old water polo star when, having concealed her pregnancy from loved ones and teammates, she gave birth to Tegan at Auburn Hospital on September 12, 1996.

Two days later, she left the hospital in a taxi at 2pm. Tegan has not been seen since. By 4pm that day, Keli Lane was at a friend’s wedding in Manly. By all accounts, nobody at the wedding – not even her mother – suspected.

It is a sad story of a young woman who wanted a successful sporting career more than a family. The curious thing about the case is that (at least in Victoria) she could have had the child aborted right up until the birth itself, and the doctor and the nursing staff of the Auburn Hospital would have helped her dispose of the body, would have kept the whole thing a secret, and there would never have been an inquest, let alone a murder trial. And yet the final outcome would have been exactly the same: dead baby.

We live in a topsy-turvy world…

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34 responses to “The Curious Case of Tegan Lane

  1. Tony

    David,

    It seems to me that you’ve juxtaposed two unrelated events — the case of Keli Lane in NSW in the late 90s and current abortion law in Victoria — and then concluded that we live in a topsy-turvy world.

    It is a sad story of a young woman who wanted a successful sporting career more than a family.

    It is sad, but I think we don’t so justice to it by jumping to simplistic conclusions especially in the service of making a point about current abortion law.

  2. Dear Tony,

    What I call “topsy-turvy” is the fact that currently in Australia, the legal system will prosecute you for murder if you kill a baby mere hours after its birth, but will completely exhonerate and protect you if you kill that same baby mere hours before its birth. The only defining difference is whether the victim, at the time of the killing, is inside or outside the mother’s womb.

    This case simply highlights the curious inconsistency of these current legal facts.

  3. Tony

    And my point, David, was to ask how your opinion about the ‘current legal facts’ are informed by an event that happened 10 years ago in another jurisdiction.

    We simply don’t know, for example, if Keli Lane would have opted for a late term abortion if she faced the same situation now in Victoria.

  4. Mike

    Tony, what doubt are you trying to cast here? Are you unsure that the current legal system would prosecute a woman for killing her child mere hours after its birth? Or are you unsure that it would “completely exhonerate and protect you if you kill that same baby mere hours before its birth”?

    That’s the simple – not simplistic – point here.

  5. Tony

    Tony, what doubt are you trying to cast here?

    The tenuous link between an particular incident, with particular circumstances (about which we can make no simplistic assumptions) that happened a decade ago in a different jurisdiction with the current abortion law in Victoria.

    That’s about as simple as I can make it.

  6. Peregrinus

    Well, I think David has a point here. Even though it happened at a different time and place, if it happened in Victoria today a charge of murder would still lie, and this does highlight the dramatic difference in Victorian law between the legal status of a baby immediately before birth and status immediately after. That challenges us to say how such a difference can be justified. But the people who would try to justify the distinction are not, I suspect, reading this blog. So I don’t think we’re going to get much enlightenment on that particular issue.

    But I think there’s a related point about the case which needs to be made. If a woman in this situation turned up in a Victorian hospital a week before expected delivery date and demanded an abortion, maybe she wouldn’t be demanding anything illegal. But, we all know, she still wouldn’t get the abortion she wanted. She would find no hospital prepared to terminate a healthy pregnancy at 39 weeks. Which highlights that the law is not the only, and perhaps not even the main, control on the practice of abortion. Given the pro-life movement’s absolutely dismal record on preventing abortions through seeking change to the criminal law, I’d think this is a topic which deserves much more attention.

    And there’s a second point, which Tony has already pointed to. If indeed this woman murdered her daughter, it seems not only glib but completely inadequate to suggest that she did so because she “wanted a successful sporting career more than a family”. there has to be a great deal more going on that that. We are never going to understand this appalling act unless we engage more deeply with the circumstances which lead to it.

    And I that’s also a useful pointer when it comes to considering abortion as well as infanticide. Women don’t opt for abortion purely and simply because it is legal; legality is just one of a very large complex of factors and circumstances which affect this decision. It has proved a particularly intractable one – the pro-life movement has basically had no success at all in either maintaining or reinstating the criminality of abortion – and it’s my belief that the efforts in this regard have handicapped it with respect to changing or influencing other relevant factors.

    • Okay, Perry. Among other things you have highlighted TWO differences that lead to our evaluation of the child who is killed:

      1) Is it inside or outside the mother’s womb?
      2) Is it healthy or unhealthy (mind you, not having dwarfism has been argued in one case to = unhealthy).

      Mind you, whether the child is healthy or not would mean diddly-squat legally if the “unhealthy” child is kill AFTER it leaves its mother’s womb.

      • Peregrinus

        Health may be a little bit of a red herring. I doubt, for example, that if somebody presented at 38 weeks wanting the abortion of a baby because it suffered from
        Downs, any Victorian hospital would oblige. I mentioned “healthy pregnancy” because I thought the only circumstance in which a hospital might provide such a late termination is where there is a late development of catastropic health problems which make a live birth impossible. (I’m not saying I would morally defend an abortion in such a case, but the provision of late abortions in such cases is not exactly a free-for-all.)

        On the broader issue, I’m not sure that we are going to have a useful discussion. I’m not prepared to defend the disparity in legal status between the baby the day before delivery, and the baby the day after. Like you I don’t think it’s defensible. I suspect that those who would defend it would point to the woman’s autonomy where her own body is concerned, but as I’m unsympathetic to that argument I’m not really the person to develop it.

  7. It has proved a particularly intractable one – the pro-life movement has basically had no success at all in either maintaining or reinstating the criminality of abortion – and it’s my belief that the efforts in this regard have handicapped it with respect to changing or influencing other relevant factors.

    The main problem is that we live in a society that wants abortion.

    I will never blame the pro-life side for any of this no matter how badly they hash things up. We should not be living in a world where little human beings are getting hacked to pieces to the tune of 50,000+ p.a.

    • I do agree, though, that it’s not only about law. Thankfully our society in general does not want late-term abortions. That’s a mercy.

    • Peregrinus

      The main problem is that we live in a society that wants abortion.

      Indeed. And, as long as that’s true, attempts to prevent abortion through legal changes are not going to achieve any real success.

      I will never blame the pro-life side for any of this no matter how badly they hash things up. We should not be living in a world where little human beings are getting hacked to pieces to the tune of 50,000+ p.

      It’s not a question of blame, but I think that we are entitled to be critical of (significant elements of) the pro-life movement for failing to recognise what you have just stated, and to come to terms with its implications. At the very least, if pursuing legal change is ineffective, it means an enormous diversion of effort, resources and attention into a dead end, while abortions continue. But it could be worse: what if confrontational and strident campaigning for unpopular and unwanted legal change has actually entrenched positions? The fact pro-life campaigns may be well-intentioned doesn’t mean that they can’t make the situation worse. That, too, is something we should be prepared to critically examine.

      • The plain fact is that if the media etc were on the pro-life side, this issue would have been solved legally years ago. Obviously there is always a chance that some few women will have their babies aborted, but there would not be 50,000+ little Australians bumped off every year.

        The pro-life movement here hasn’t even been that strident, frankly. Nothing like in the States. And yet there the pro-lifers are now in the majority.

        I don’t see why the pro-life movement ought to be less “strident” in opposing evil laws and/or practices. The popularity of those laws and practices notwithstanding, we have a duty to say, “this is wrong.”

        Prayer campaigns are always good and are effective I think, but they have yet to achieve full victory.

        Why is is “strident” to say “you are wrong to advocate abortion”? The positions are “entrenched” because they are fundamentally opposed.

        What are we supposed to do instead?

        • Peregrinus

          The plain fact is that if the media etc were on the pro-life side, this issue would have been solved legally years ago. Obviously there is always a chance that some few women will have their babies aborted, but there would not be 50,000+ little Australians bumped off every year.

          I’m afraid I think that’s a bit glib too. There’s obviously a bit of a chicken-and-egg factor here, but the reason the media is generally abortion-friendly is because society is. Media proprietors don’t make any money out of abortion, and they don’t hesitate to take socially conservative or reactionary positions on other issues – look at media treatment of asylum seekers, or Islam – when it suits them. So I have to say that I don’t think that as a society we are abortion-friendly because of a successful liberal-led media push. The media attitude may help to reinforce our abortion-friendliness, but it mainly just reflects it.

          The pro-life movement here hasn’t even been that strident, frankly. Nothing like in the States. And yet there the pro-lifers are now in the majority.

          To some I am thinking of the US, I admit. But I also think that the US discourse on this has an influence outside the US.

          And I think we need to be a bit careful of the claim that in the US pro-lifers are in the majority. In a recent (reputable) survey, a majority described themselves as pro-life. But in the very same survey, most of those who identified as pro-life did not accept that abortion should be always, or mostly, illegal. A clear majority of those who described themselves as “pro-life” felt that abortion should generally be legal (as well, of course, as the great majority of those who did not describe themselves as pro-life).

          In other words, they weren’t “pro-life” in the sense in which formal pro-life organisations would mostly use the word. Sadly, we don’t know in what way those people thought they were pro-life. it would be very interesting to see that explored.

          I don’t see why the pro-life movement ought to be less “strident” in opposing evil laws and/or practices. The popularity of those laws and practices notwithstanding, we have a duty to say, “this is wrong.”

          I think we need to be careful here. First, we have to distinguish between witnessing as to what is right and wrong, and working to prevent abortions. They are not the same thing. Witnessing as to right and wrong may well be good, but it does nothing inherently to save lives. We need to be careful that we are not doing it to gratify ourselves, or to gratify those who already agree with us.

          We may try to persuade ourselves that we are doing it in order to persuade those who don’t already agree with us. But all too often, it is done in a way which is very unlikely to have this effect.

          Reverse the situation for a moment. How often have you been told, with passion and vehemence, that the Catholic church is misogynistic and homophobic in its refusal to ordain women, and in its insistence that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered? How often have you heard the the Pope is responsible, throught his attitude to condoms, for the deaths of millions as a result of HIV infection?

          Have you been persuaded by all that passion and vehemence?

          No, didn’t think so. So why would we think that people’s opinions about abortion are going to be changed by the passionate insistence that their current opinions are wrong?

          And there’s a further dimension There’s a puritan tendency, particularly in historically Protestant countries, to believe that that which is morally wrong should be forbidden by law – the function of the law is to stop people doing bad things. I think, in fact, that one of the reasons that the pro-life movement in the English-speaking world focuses so much on legal controls is that they buy into this aspect of the culture. But this morphs very readily into an assumption that whatever is not illegal is not wrong.

          In this framework if, following my confrontation with you, I am more convinced than ever that abortion is and should be my legal right, then I am very likely also to think that abortion is right – and,when faced with the choice, I am more likely to choose abortion.

          Why is is “strident” to say “you are wrong to advocate abortion”? The positions are “entrenched” because they are fundamentally opposed.

          Which is precisely why, if you hold the minority view, you want to avoid a discourse in which fundamentally opposed positions are pitted against one another. You cannot win. In choosing this course you are choosing a strategy which will tend to ensure that abortions continue – and you have to be prepared to accept responsibility for that. Is the duty to say “this is wrong” so great that it must be done, even at the cost of babies’ lives?

          What are we supposed to do instead.

          A very good question. And I freely admit that it is much easier to point to the faults in an unsuccessful strategy than to design one which will succeed.

          But there are avenues to explore. The rights-based abortion discourse predominates in the US and in other English-speaking countries, including the UK and Australia, and these countries also have among the highest abortion rates. (Catholics are also in the minority in most English-speaking countries, another reason why a campaign which rests on the acceptance of Catholic philosophical standpoints is not likely to succeed there.)

          There are other countries where the rights-based discourse is largely absent, and where abortion is legal but much rarer than in the US, the UK and here. I’m not saying the situation in those countries is ideal, but it would seem to be better than ours, and it seems to be achieved not primarily by legal control on the availability of abortion but by leading women and communities not to choose abortions in circumstances where, in the US and the UK, they have a greater tendency to choose them. I think the experience of those countries would repay study.

          • Kiran

            The problem though is that, while I buy (with Augustine and Aquinas) the whole thing about not needing to legislate all moral norms, the problem here is that, by tolerating the legality of abortion, effectively we are saying that certain murders are alright, that (at the very least) certain human lives are not worth living.

            I think another problem is that pointed out by Fergus Kerr (in Theology After Wittgenstein and Work on Oneself) : that we have got to a stage where we are saying certain humans are not human at all. On the one hand you can talk about the arbitrariness of the distinction here, but I think at least part of the solution has to be to point out that such discourse makes us less human, and also that such talk is somehow self-defeating. (On a related note, I was intrigued by the fact that W preferred a statement like “Do not do that because God says so” to the “sophisticated” talk of Russell et al). Paradoxically, ultrasound and pictures of foetuses might be the best weapon against this kind of thing. It might not win the war, but more often than not, it might win the battle.

            • Peregrinus

              The problem though is that, while I buy (with Augustine and Aquinas) the whole thing about not needing to legislate all moral norms, the problem here is that, by tolerating the legality of abortion, effectively we are saying that certain murders are alright, that (at the very least) certain human lives are not worth living.

              But, again, this comes back to my point. Is it more important to affirm the value of a life, or to save that life? It’s not intuitively obvious that there could be a tension here, and in addition we may be very resistant to the idea that there could be a tension here, but I believe that there could.

              I think another problem is that pointed out by Fergus Kerr (in Theology After Wittgenstein and Work on Oneself) : that we have got to a stage where we are saying certain humans are not human at all.

              Well, not necessarily. What we’re actually talking about here is not the moral rightness or wrongness of abortion or even moral status of the child as human, but the scope and function of the law. There are places that the law cannot reach, so to speak. Law is essentially a social instrument, used to regulate social relationships. It seems to me that we can at least consider whether the unbelievably all-embracging and intimate connection between the mother and the child she is carrying doesn’t mean that the child isn’t, in fact, a member of society

              There’s a thousand things that point to this. Miscarriages, for example, historically have not been treated as either births or deaths. There are no birth or death certificates involved and – a telling point – historically there has been no funeral liturgy. In recent times we have seen the development of (optional) liturgies in response to pastoral demand, but there is no theological necessity. The miscarried are not normally named – a very powerful indicator, given the significance of naming (and of being nameless) in almost every human society.

              Or, slightly less radically, we could say that the limited connection the child has to society amounts to a uniquely semi-detached relationship; one which is mediated and effected entirely through the mother.

              On this view there may be an area where it is impossible, or simply improper, for the law to attempt to identify and vindicate the rights of the child, over and against those of the mother. This is not because the child doesn’t have any moral status or moral rights; it does. It’s because the law, a social instrument, simply doesn’t have the capacity to assert and protect rights of an “extra-social” person.

              This is not as shocking as it may seem; in other areas we take this stance all the time. For example, we assert the right to vote, and to political participation generally, as a human right, but we extend that right to citizens while to a large extent withholding it from non-citizens, precisely because of their limited connection with our society (even though that connection is much, much more extensive that that of an unborn child). Asylum seekers are liable to indefinite detention without charge or trial; if we treated citizens in this way it would certainly be seen as a breach of their human rights, but asylum seekers are no less human than citizens.

              None of these parallels are exact, I grant you, but that is because the relationship of the unborn child with society really is unique, so there can be no really precise parallels. But they do illustrate that it is not the function of the law to protect all human rights of all people everywhere, and the suggestion that it is not the function of the law to protect the unborn is not necessarily the same as saying that the unborn has no moral status, and no moral rights.

              Paradoxically, ultrasound and pictures of foetuses might be the best weapon against this kind of thing. It might not win the war, but more often than not, it might win the battle.

              You’re right, and I think the reason you are right is because ultrasound images help us to form at least theoretical emotional connections (and, therefore, social relationships) with the unborn – even if these are entirely one way. But their real value lies not in persuading us that we can and ought to criminalise abortion, but that we ought not to abort.

              • Kiran

                Asylum seekers are liable to indefinite detention without charge or trial; if we treated citizens in this way it would certainly be seen as a breach of their human rights, but asylum seekers are no less human than citizens.

                I don’t like Rights-talk, but I do think the treatment of Asylum seekers is disgraceful and inhuman. The law should protect them, in the same way that it should protect unborn children.

                The other thing is that the law can do what it has done. And the law did, at one stage, protect unborn children. I’d agree with you that the law isn’t ideal, but I do think the law should protect unborn children.

                And lastly I entirely agree with what you say here:

                It seems to me that we can at least consider whether the unbelievably all-embracging and intimate connection between the mother and the child she is carrying doesn’t mean that the child isn’t, in fact, a member of society

                But that sentence struck me like a gun that does not fire. If the unborn child is a member of society, then what makes it different? If you had said something about “it is not what the law does” I could have agreed. You are saying, it is not what the law should do, in which case, one can justify any and every legal system. One can justify slavery, and the treatment of asylum seekers, and infanticide, and so on and so forth.

                I don’t think non-naming indicates non-members of society Naming can take place at a number of stages, and part of its function is to foster a further relationship. The liturgy is interesting, but should be considered in conjunction with theology. And theology has been concerned with the state of the souls of the unborn.

                • Peregrinus

                  I don’t like Rights-talk . . .

                  Except in relation to the unborn?

                  . . . but I do think the treatment of Asylum seekers is disgraceful and inhuman. The law should protect them, in the same way that it should protect unborn children.

                  I don’t want to get side-tracked into the issue of asylum seekers. My point in mentioning them was simply the law doesn’t seek to achieve universal vindication of human rights; it has the more limited objective of seeking to protect them within a particular, and limited, set of social relationships. Even if we afforded asylum seekers within Australia better legal protection than we do, there would still be many other classes of undoubtedly human persons who were excluded. The very concept of citizenship exists because there are non-citizens, whose rights and interests enjoy less or in some circumstances no protection.

                  The other thing is that the law can do what it has done. And the law did, at one stage, protect unborn children. I’d agree with you that the law isn’t ideal, but I do think the law should protect unborn children n.

                  It’s a good point, but perhaps the law can only protect unborn children where it is reflecting socially predominant attitudes and values which protect them, and in fact it’s the attitudes and values which provide the effective protection.

                  I fully expect that in a pro-life society, the law will protect the unborn, but that’s because it will reflect the values of the community. In our abortion-friendly society, even if we could get laws forbidding abortion passed (say, a pro-life party finds itself holding the balance of power and uses its negotiating muscle to achieve this) they wouldn’t endure. As soon as the electoral arithmetic changed, so would the law. I don’t really think we can make society pro-life by passing pro-life laws; I think the causality works the other way. If society really adopts and embraces pro-life values, the laws will follow, but in fact at that stage they will be of secondary importance. It’s the attitudes and values which will provide the real protection.

                  And lastly I entirely agree with what you say here:

                  “It seems to me that we can at least consider whether the unbelievably all-embracging and intimate connection between the mother and the child she is carrying doesn’t mean that the child isn’t, in fact, a member of society.”

                  But that sentence struck me like a gun that does not fire. If the unborn child is a member of society, then what makes it different? If you had said something about “it is not what the law does” I could have agreed. You are saying, it is not what the law should do, in which case, one can justify any and every legal system. One can justify slavery, and the treatment of asylum seekers, and infanticide, and so on and so forth.

                  I put it badly, and with too many negatives. What I meant was “maybe the unborn aren’t members of society”.

                  I don’t think non-naming indicates non-members of society Naming can take place at a number of stages, and part of its function is to foster a further relationship. The liturgy is interesting, but should be considered in conjunction with theology. And theology has been concerned with the state of the souls of the unborn.

                  (Naming is much more than “fostering a further relationship”; it’s a pretty fundamental start to even the most basic relationship. Consider that we name even inanimate objects, and the first thing thta God does in Genesis 1 after creating each thing is to name it. I think this is universal; in lots of creation mythologies things are called into existence by being named. In our world, to be nameless is to have, at least symbolically, a very limited existence, and certainly a very limited connection with society.)

                  Sure, the unborn have souls. Their humanity is not disputed. But they don’t have funeral liturgies, I’ve seen it said by those who should know, because they’re not seen as members of the community. Their exclusive relationship with their mother is not such as to integrate them into the community – theologically as well as legally.

                  • Kiran

                    No. I don’t believe in a “right to life,” or at least, that is a very bad way of putting it, and an even worse way of defending unborn babies or asylum seekers.

                    I really don’t like the idea that unborn babies aren’t members of society. I haven’t seen anything to support it as yet. A strong argument like that needs a lot more than mere conjectures regarding naming and funeral liturgies. I think on the other hand that your original statement adding up the negatives properly (which I think I did 🙂 ) does stand: The kind of relationship in which the mother stands in relation to the baby she is carrying is itself an argument that the babies, though unborn, are still members of society, standing in some continuum with other members of society in various special relations to that society, whether they be a week old fetus, or an 8 month old fetus, or a newborn babe, or a recently adopted (owned in the Roman sense) child, or a nine year old or an 18-year old, or a married women, or an aboriginal man, or a 90-year old. Membership in society in other words is not something static, but is always a matter of more or less, and in different ways.

                    This being the case, then one could find a justification for a whole variety of treatments, for the enslavement of aborigines for instance, or for the exposure of infants, or for the regular whipping of men and women who don’t speak Indo-European languages, or for the sexual enslavement of Amerindian women and boys, or for the view that women’s lives are at the disposal of the men who own them, or whatever. There is no absolute membership of society.

                    On the other hand, Christian tradition holds to the concept of humanity, in whatever shape or form. I wonder, for instance, if without Christianity and its particular vision of history, Aborigines and Amerindians would be considered human.

                    Also, naming is both not as significant, nor as precise as you make it out to be. I know people who have chosen names for children they aren’t even in a position to concieve as yet, people who choose names for children they are carrying, and people who choose names for their children well after they are born. We also have the Roman example, where infants wouldn’t have been named until they had been owned. I don’t think this says anything particularly profound about anything “essential.”

                    • Peregrinus

                      “Not a member of society” may be putting it very strongly, though I still think that the case can be made.

                      But would you go this far with me? Whatever connection the unborn child has to society is to be found entirely within the uniquely exclusive and uniquely intimate relationship it has with its mother.

                      And the unique nature of that relationship is important because, even within society, there are privileged relationships which are seen as beyond the scope of the civil law to regulate. A couple of examples:

                      – I can be compelled to testify against anyone in the world – except my wife. And if that means she goes unconvicted and a murder goes unsolved, well, that’s what happens.

                      – The confessor-pentitent relationship. In many places the law affords this a unique privilege, and I think the Catholic tradition would affirm that it should. The result, as was impressed upon me in my catechism classes, may be that an innocent man hangs for a murder to which someone else has confessed. In other words, this relationship is privileged and beyond the scope of the law to intervene in even if the result is an attack on innocent life.

                      I’m not suggesting that the mother/unborn relationship is analogous to the confessor/penitent relationship, or that the reasons why the law might not intervene in the relationship are the same in each case. My point is simply that there are intimate spaces where the law doesn’t go, even to defend innocent life.

                      If the unborn child’s connection with society is exclusively through the mother/child relationship, then we can only defend the unborn child as a member of society by defending and strengthening that relationship, and the law –the criminal law, at any rate – has a very limited role to play there.

                      On the other hand, Christian tradition holds to the concept of humanity, in whatever shape or form. I wonder, for instance, if without Christianity and its particular vision of history, Aborigines and Amerindians would be considered human.

                      It’s a bit of a side issue, but I think we need to be very careful here. Ethnic racism, and the questioning of the humanity of those of other races, is in fact a product laregely of Christian-influenced societies. The classical world could be brutal; they practised slavery and child destruction, but it never questioned the humanity of who were enslaved or destroyed, and it was substantially free of ethnic racism. Ethnic racism emerges in a big way in Christian Spain, where there is deep distrust of formerly Jewish or Moorish Christians, who are readily identifiable on ethnic grounds. And it was Christians in the New World who questioned the humanity of the Amerindians because, given a Christian understanding of humanity, it was difficult to justify enslaving them if their humanity was acknowledged.

                      Ironically, precisely because we do have such an exalted notion of the consequences of being human, that we have a strong incentive, in our own self interest, to find some basis for denying or at least qualifying the humanity of those whom it suits us to oppress. This is why slavery in the Christian world became race-based.

                      Chinese and Indonesian cultures were aware of the existence of Australian Aborigines before Europeans were. They didn’t have much regard for them, but there is nothing to suggest that they ever doubted their humanity.

          • I’m afraid I think that’s a bit glib too. There’s obviously a bit of a chicken-and-egg factor here, but the reason the media is generally abortion-friendly is because society is.

            I don’t think it’s glib at all. For one thing – are you certain the owners of the papers are not owners of abortion clinics? Also, like socialism, capitalism requires as much cheap labour as it can get. Both systems require the break up of the family unit. They only care about babies when it becomes obvious that the pool of workers is drying up.

            For another thing there is an Ideology in our society which is being imposed on us from above as it were. Where’s that coming from? It’s being channelled through the media and that’s a fact.

            • Peregrinus

              P: I’m afraid I think that’s a bit glib too. There’s obviously a bit of a chicken-and-egg factor here, but the reason the media is generally abortion-friendly is because society is.

              L: I don’t think it’s glib at all. For one thing – are you certain the owners of the papers are not owners of abortion clinics?

              In Australian at any rate, the ownership of the media is centralised in a couple of large corporation – New Corporation, and Fairfax. And, being public companies, their holdings and investments are well known. If they were involved in owning abortion clinics, we would know, or at any rate could easily show this. Over to you!

              Also, like socialism, capitalism requires as much cheap labour as it can get. Both systems require the break up of the family unit. They only care about babies when it becomes obvious that the pool of workers is drying up.

              Australia’s had a chronic labour shortage pretty much since European settlement. That’s why, historically, we’ve had high wages, and a strong trade union movements. Workers controlled a scarce resource – labour – and were in a strong bargaining position. Large families (and easy immigration) have always been in the interests of capital – and still are. But the media do little to encourage either.

              For another thing there is an Ideology in our society which is being imposed on us from above as it were. Where’s that coming from? It’s being channelled through the media and that’s a fact.

              I think your first premise is debatable, to put it no higher. I think the abortion-friendly nature of our society is ultimately due to materialism and consumerism and, while the media certainly play their part in disseminating these values, I don’t see them being imposed on anyone. Australians seem to me to embrace them rather enthusiastically.

          • I think we need to be careful here. First, we have to distinguish between witnessing as to what is right and wrong, and working to prevent abortions. They are not the same thing. Witnessing as to right and wrong may well be good, but it does nothing inherently to save lives. We need to be careful that we are not doing it to gratify ourselves, or to gratify those who already agree with us.

            I find this kind of thinking to be extremely tiresome. There is no middle ground between Shredding Babies and Not Shredding Babies. So a witness to right and wring is essential. Who says we are not concerned also with trying to save lives. Most pro-lifers financially and otherwise support various on the ground pregnancy support services (e.g. Canberra’s Karinya House for Mothers and Babies).

            It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

            In choosing this course you are choosing a strategy which will tend to ensure that abortions continue – and you have to be prepared to accept responsibility for that.

            Tosh. I will never accept responsibility for the evil which others do. Nor am I required to. The strategy will make no difference at worst.

            As it happens, the fact is that that there are babies whose lives *have* been saved because people were praying outside abortion clinics.

            Some women have not gone ahead with an abortion simply because someone asked them to please not go through with it.

            Babies are saved by pro-lifers. They are certainly not saved by people not doing anything. (I include prayer as “doing something”).

            • Peregrinus

              P: I think we need to be careful here. First, we have to distinguish between witnessing as to what is right and wrong, and working to prevent abortions. They are not the same thing. Witnessing as to right and wrong may well be good, but it does nothing inherently to save lives. We need to be careful that we are not doing it to gratify ourselves, or to gratify those who already agree with us.

              L: I find this kind of thinking to be extremely tiresome. There is no middle ground between Shredding Babies and Not Shredding Babies. So a witness to right and wring is essential. Who says we are not concerned also with trying to save lives. Most pro-lifers financially and otherwise support various on the ground pregnancy support services (e.g. Canberra’s Karinya House for Mothers and Babies).

              It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

              Why can’t it be either/or?

              I’m not saying that people who are vocal on the moral issue are not also concerned with trying to save lives; I’ve no doubt they are, and that they do practical things to give effect to this.

              I’m saying that being vocal on the moral issue does nothing in itself to save lives.

              And I’m also saying that it can create a climate which undercuts efforts to save lives.

              I see you denying that latter statement, but not offering any reasons for your denial.

              P: In choosing this course you are choosing a strategy which will tend to ensure that abortions continue – and you have to be prepared to accept responsibility for that.

              L: Tosh. I will never accept responsibility for the evil which others do. Nor am I required to. The strategy will make no difference at worst.

              I’m absolutely not pointing the finger at you personally, Louise. My “you” there was the generic “you”, meaning you, me, all of us.

              And, if I were addressing Louise personally, I wouldn’t be asking her to accept responsibility for the evil others do. I would be asking her to accept only responsibility for what she herself did, or didn’t do. But I would say that accepting responsibility means accepting that good intentions are not enough. However well intentioned her actions were, if they have an outcome which is the reverse of the one she hoped for, she is still responsible for the outcome.

              And, in response to your claim that “the strategy will make no difference at worst”, I’d say two things.

              First, that’s a pretty bad worst, isn’t it? Is it an adequate response to this challenge to pursue, for decades, a strategy which makes no difference? This seems to me a question which some sections of the pro-life movement are not sufficiently willing to engage with.

              Secondly, you again make the claim without offering any argument. How do you know that this strategy’s worst possible outcome is to make no difference? Why is it absolutely impossible that a polarised and confrontational environment can hamper women from making the right choice?

              As it happens, the fact is that that there are babies whose lives *have* been saved because people were praying outside abortion clinics.

              Some women have not gone ahead with an abortion simply because someone asked them to please not go through with it.

              I’m wiling to bet, though, that there are at least ninety-nine women who chose not to proceed with an abortion because they were asked to by someone they knew, loved and trusted for every woman who made that choice in response to a request from someone waving a placard in the street.

              And, on the other side of this particular balance sheet, you need to put the women who were panicked, stressed and distressed by pickets outside clinics. How many of them made a bad choice because they were found themselves in an environment which was not conducive to making a better one? How many of them did not feel that pro-life protesters were the kind of people they could approach for love, support and understanding? These women may not be as easy to identify as the ones who chose not to abort, but their babies mattered too.

              Babies are saved by pro-lifers. They are certainly not saved by people not doing anything. (I include prayer as “doing something”.)

              Babies are saved by mothers. I think the role of the pro-lifers is to create a society which supports mothers in saving their babies. I think all the evidence is that, in the western world, they haven’t been doing that job terribly effectively.

              • I’m saying that being vocal on the moral issue does nothing in itself to save lives.

                You just don’t know that, I’m sorry.

                The 40 days for life campaign in the US (and possibly here?) has saved the lives of babies, b/c people are willing to be public in their support for mothers and opposition to abortion.

                The main problem, actually, about focussing entirely on the mother (which is what happens when we stop arguing for the defence of the babies) is that you very quickly run the risk of just “supporting” the woman no matter what choice she makes. You end up not being pro-life, just pro-woman. It’s a big trap and I have no intention of falling into it.

    • So the question, Louise, is why does our society “want abortion” but not “infanticide”? What is the issue here?

      In some sense or other, the child is acknowledged and received into a relationship (becomes a “person”?) at birth, that gives it value in the eyes of society.

      Thus, it is not the child in and of his/herself that has value, but the society outside which gives it value.

      That way, disaster lies, human rights speaking.

      • why does our society “want abortion” but not “infanticide”? What is the issue here?

        1. It wants consequence-free sex (ain’t no such beast, of course)

        2. It does not want murder of cute babies and other born persons.

        True, it’s completely illogical, but a baby in the uterus (or in first trimester) can be somehow more easily palmed off as less than human.

  8. I think I agree with Perry on the point of Keli’s babies, though.

    She sounds like she may have been acting out of severe psychological trauma.

  9. Tony

    … if it happened in Victoria today a charge of murder would still lie, and this does highlight the dramatic difference in Victorian law between the legal status of a baby immediately before birth and status immediately after.

    I take that point but what I was really concerned about was:

    If indeed this woman murdered her daughter, it seems not only glib but completely inadequate to suggest that she did so because she “wanted a successful sporting career more than a family” …

  10. Kiran

    Also, I don’t know if we should prejudge the case…

    I might be naive, but I don’t think the facts of the case quite add up. David’s original stand does stand up though. As a society, we are not willing to look in the face the fact that effectively we are making decisions about who can get killed and how and when.

  11. Kiran

    I think the computer took care of the temptation to respond with another inserted comment. But I’ll follow the Perry tradition of Italicizing Perry:

    If the unborn child’s connection with society is exclusively through the mother/child relationship, then we can only defend the unborn child as a member of society by defending and strengthening that relationship, and the law –the criminal law, at any rate – has a very limited role to play there.

    Limited, but not necessarily none. Nor is it intuitively obvious what the role of the law in such circumstances may be. I would argue that the crucial difference is that the intervention of the state in such things is not, as in the cases you cite, at the expense of the relationship. What you need to demonstrate is that somehow, the relationship between the mother and the child in her womb is directly attacked by any law regulating abortion.

    Also, I would argue that legislating against abortion is really part of protecting the woman. Paradoxically enough, the intimacy of the relationship between mother and child means that one cannot be hurt without hurting the other. So that really, the law does have a place in telling a woman what to do with her body.

    Also, in terms of Spain, notwithstanding the black legend, arguably, the Spaniards were much less racist than, say, the English. Spanish nobility, for instance, intermarried with the Amerindian nobility much earlier than the English ever did. The denial of humanity was only ever a minority point of view, racism being something completely different, more a case of contempt rather than an assertion of inhumanity.

    • Peregrinus

      K: [The law has a limited role to play in defending and strengthening the mother/child relationship], but not necessarily none. Nor is it intuitively obvious what the role of the law in such circumstances may be.

      Look, I accept that. This is a fantastically difficult issue to judge in practice. My concern here is not so much that a pro-life law (in the sense of abortion restrictions or an abortion ban) might be counterproductive, but that campaigning for such a law may be – and, I suspect, often is. That obviously depends on what the campaign calls for and how it is conducted, but the more absolutist it is, and the more stridently it is demanded, the more I think we face this problem. Hence the dangers of the human rights-based discourse that the pro-life movement in the English-speaking world seems to be wedded to.

      K: I would argue that the crucial difference is that the intervention of the state in such things is not, as in the cases you cite, at the expense of the relationship. What you need to demonstrate is that somehow, the relationship between the mother and the child in her womb is directly attacked by any law regulating abortion.

      Well, as I say, it’s not the law, but the campaign for the law, which does the damage. (Which means, incidentally, that the damage is done even if the campaign is unsuccessful, which more often than not it is.)

      Since you ask, for what it’s worth, I think a law that takes a very absolute position which appears to – or actually does – deny the mother any right at all to the control of her pregnancy is certainly not going to give the mother the impression that society recognises that there is a relationship her of which she is a part, or supports that relationship. But I think less absolutist laws could certainly be positive and helpful. But, really, it all depends on whether the law is in harmony with social and cultural attitudes, or in tension with them. The bottom line is that I don’t think we can create a pro-life culture by passing or campaigning for pro-life laws, and I think the attempt to do so is fundamentally misconceived.

      K: Also, I would argue that legislating against abortion is really part of protecting the woman. Paradoxically enough, the intimacy of the relationship between mother and child means that one cannot be hurt without hurting the other. So that really, the law does have a place in telling a woman what to do with her body.

      Yes. On the other hand, we can’t push that too far, since while the law does have a place in telling a woman what to do with her body in her own self-interest, the woman plainly also has a place in that decision. And, I think most people would say, a much larger place.

      K: Also, in terms of Spain, notwithstanding the black legend, arguably, the Spaniards were much less racist than, say, the English. Spanish nobility, for instance, intermarried with the Amerindian nobility much earlier than the English ever did. The denial of humanity was only ever a minority point of view, racism being something completely different, more a case of contempt rather than an assertion of inhumanity.

      Sure. I mentioned the Spaniards not because they were the most egregious instance of racism, but because they were one of the earliest.

      As to the relationship between Christianity and racism, I don’t think that saying the English were worse than the Spanish gets us very far; both were Christian societies.

      The denial of humanity a minority point of view, but not an irrelevance; I forget the details, but there was in fact a formal debate fairly early on in the Spanish colonial period about whether the Amerindians were human or not. The final verdict was that yes, they were, but it is noteworthy that the debate was held at all, and that the “no” camp was significant and influential. The pagan classical world never even contemplated such a discussion in relation to the peoples that it encountered.

      And I don’t think we can say that racism and the denial of humanity are completely different things, when we recall that even in relatively recent times “subhuman” was a term commonly employed by racists.

      • Kiran

        Ah! I see. You had me worried there. As to stridency and the negotiability of the nature of the law and the emphasis on culture, I will agree, provided, of course that this isn’t translated into positive laws, but negative non-legislation. Certainly in Australia, there have been cases where pro-lifers have gravely harmed the pro-life cause by being too absolutist about the law. (I am thinking of the furore over the ACT bill of about a decade or so ago, largely generated by one particular pro-life group throwing heresy accusations against other pro-life groups)

        But the Church was in the “yes” camp, very firmly so. The point I am trying to make is that the Christianity had little to do with it, one way or another. The pagan classical world probably did not deny the humanity of slaves because it did not by and large concern itself with humanity as such. (Of course, you have things like slaves being taught geometry to prove Socrates’ point about souls, but that is not concern with humanity). It was Christianity that made humanity as such the object of discussion, thus for instance, fundamentally changing the way in which infants were viewed.

  12. Kiran

    Actually, coming to think again about that, abortion (or choice) is considered a right, and secondly, that abortion is considered a medical procedure. Both of these are simply intolerable, regardless of whether or not the child in utero is by normal means, or only through the mother.