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Emily’s Voice wants real choice in pro-life debate

“We want to be able to send someone somewhere to get practical help if that’s what she needs to … consider her options”

A pro-life organisation, Emily’s Voice, says more real choice should be offered to women who experience an unwelcome pregnancy.

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While Emily’s Voice CEO Paul O’Rourke is unsure if it’s possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice, he points out that only one choice – abortion – tends to be forced on women in an unplanned pregnancy. And they are not told of the risks or potential harm from their decision to abort.

He cited an SBS Insight programme aired this week about teen pregnancy, in which not one of the parents wanted their daughter to have the child.

“When you talk about choice, there really isn’t choice,” O’Rourke tells Eternity.

“There’s ‘abortion is the best way to go, but if you choose to parent you can do that as well.’

“We’re trying to flip that and say ‘the better alternative is to continue your pregnancy rather than terminating.’

“So it’s about real choice. If we’re going to give women choice shouldn’t they have a real choice, an informed choice?”

70 per cent of women say they would have continued their pregnancy if just one person had encouraged them.

Speaking to Eternity to mark the organisation’s tenth anniversary, O’Rourke said it was hard to tell if Emily’s Voice had been successful in significantly reducing the abortion rate in Australia because it was not possible to get accurate figures. However, their research shows significant changes in attitudes to abortion, particularly among 16 to 20-year-olds.

One of the main aims of Emily’s Voice is to make people aware of how shockingly common abortion is. According a 10-year-old parliamentary report, based on Medicare rebates, between 70,000 and 90,000 abortions are performed every year. One in three women has experienced abortion and one in four pregnancies ends in abortion.

Another shocking statistic quoted by Emily’s Voice is that 70 per cent of women say they would have continued their pregnancy if just one person had encouraged them. Eternity notes that this is based on quite old US research which put the figure at 83 per cent, but lowered to 70 per cent to be more consistent with the results of a 2005 review by Australian researcher, Selena Ewing.

“So it’s not as simple to say are you pro-life or are you pro-choice, because it’s nuanced. If a woman’s health is at risk, or the woman’s been the victim of sexual assault, or the child has a terrible disability – I’m not saying we’re in favour of abortion under those circumstances, I’m saying that the public generally accepts and understands why a woman would choose an abortion in that case but they’re very much the exception. Ninety-seven per cent of abortions aren’t for those reasons and they’re the ones we’re trying to reduce.”

“We need to get GPs to understand the profound sadness that many women feel who’ve had an abortion.” – Paul O’Rourke

Emily’s Voice runs television and billboard advertising and social media campaigns highlighting the stories of women who have had a difficult pregnancy but continued it and are glad they did so. The aim is to comfort, empower and encourage other women facing a similar crisis.

“And one of the ads deals with a woman who had an abortion and regrets it, as many women do,” says O’Rourke.

“We need to get GPs to understand the profound sadness that many women feel who’ve had an abortion … they may feel some initial relief but long term many women suffer profound consequences from it.

“I think the medical profession has a responsibility to tell women of the risks, not just the supposed benefits. In many states, we have abortion on demand up to 24 weeks so there’s no requirement for a woman to be told of the risks, but for me that’s incompetent and dangerous. We wouldn’t do that for any other medical procedure. So it’s about educating people to the risks and harms of abortion.”

O’Rourke joined Emily’s Voice five years ago because he felt he could sell a positive, gentle message for women and children through mass media.

“We don’t want to shame, condemn or guilt women and we’ll support them regardless of the choice they make.” – Paul O’Rourke

He felt it was important that the pro-life movement had ditched the placards and protests outside abortion clinics that had become associated with a hateful type of Christianity.

“This is why we don’t like using the term pro-life because it’s a loaded term, so we say pro-love or pro-woman or life-affirming,” he says.

“We’re trying to change culture, to change that mindset from ‘what are you going to do?’ to ‘congratulations’ or ‘hey, this is going to be difficult but we’ll help you and you’ll get through this.’”

Emily’s Voice is about to start a new campaign in Western Australia next week, which will then expand into the rest of Queensland and NSW.

“Our longer-term goal is over the next decade to have consistent concurrent campaigns throughout Australia. Each year we’re trying to add new markets and have a national presence.”

O’Rourke says he will know the campaign is working when abortion clinics start to close or start advertising for more business. He also hopes to see more politicians pushing for accurate figures on the numbers of abortions. Meantime, the organisation has started a pregnancy support centre in Newcastle, NSW, O’Rourke’s home town, and provides funding to such centres in every market in which it advertises.

“We don’t want to run them but we want to be able to send someone somewhere to get practical help if that’s what she needs to help her make up her mind and consider her options,” he says.

“We don’t want to shame, condemn or guilt women and we’ll support them regardless of the choice they make. We don’t think one choice is particularly good for them but it’s legal and we just want to love women regardless.”

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