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Abortion & prostitution must be addressed by more than words by the church: Tankard Reist


Women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist has criticised the church for condemning abortion and prostitution but not doing enough to help people wanting to keep their babies or exit the sex industry.

And she’s not the first who thinks so. Tankard Reist is among the rising ranks of women calling for more action.

“I’m a pro-life feminist and take a women-centred approach on the issue,” says Tankard Reist on the abortion debate.

“We can’t help babies unless we help their mothers. The needs of mother and baby are intertwined. It’s not rocket science. Something that’s really concerning me is this: there are only six houses in the whole country for women who are pregnant and don’t have support – and I helped start two of them in Canberra.

“It’s easier to talk about these issues than provide practical and solid alternatives. But we must.”

In the 1990s, Tankard Reist helped to found Karinya House, and now Erin House in Canberra, supporting pregnant women “in crisis” with accommodation, transitional housing and outreach services. She says that the two houses in Canberra are turning away up to 400 women a year. “That’s in Canberra alone, that can’t be housed. So they end up sleeping in tents or in cars or wherever.”

Tankard Reist says there are an estimated 100,000 abortions a year in Australia.

“The church says it’s against abortion and condemns abortion, generally speaking. And yet we are sending away 400 women a year [in Canberra] who want to have their babies but can’t find support. Multiply that across the country. Why aren’t the churches doing something to provide positive, life-affirming alternatives to give women real choice?”

One 17-year-old pregnant girl who wrote to Tankard Reist said when she decided to keep her baby, all her friends called her a slut. “If she’d had an abortion, no one would’ve known. But she decided to keep her baby, and she was struggling to find support services in her area. She’s made such a brave decision, surely we should support her.”

Another issue that the church is vocal about denouncing is prostitution. But Tankard Reist says there must be more than denouncing from the pulpit.

“For women wanting to leave the sex industry…where do [they] go to find an alternative source of income to support themselves, and often, their children?”

“You know, most of the women who end up in prostitution have had horrendous backgrounds; child sexual abuse, dysfunctional family life, histories of homelessness and displacement or drug issues. How do they re-integrate and try to regain a normal life? Who is going to give them a job?

Tankard Reist says churches should be at the forefront of saying, ‘yes, we’ll give you a job.’

“I don’t understand why there are so few services like this. There are two programmes in the country—one of them unfunded, the other under-funded. Australia is a signatory to an international protocol which states we will help women exit [the sex industry]. Yet we offer them almost nothing.”

“It’s easier to talk about these issues than provide practical and solid alternatives. But we must.”

Eternity has written several articles about churches and Christian individuals taking up the challenge to support women in crisis pregnancy, providing abortion alternatives and helping women who want to leave the sex industry. You can read about those efforts here:

  • 10 ordinary Christians changing the world
    In this feature from November 2013, Eternity highlights three women working tirelessly in the areas of crisis pregnancy (Helen Parker), sex trafficking (Christine Caine) and bringing women out of the sex industry (Bronwen Healy).
  • Saved by grace from heroin and prostitution
    The personal story and testimony of Bronwen Healy, who spent over 10 years as a heroin addict and working in brothels to feed her addiction. She’s now working in Brisbane to help women like her get out of the sex industry.