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Surprises on abortion issue

Fr John Fleming, co-editor of a new book that surveys modern Australian attitudes to abortion and sex education


Surprises on abortion issue

Reporter PAUL DOBBYN spoke with Fr Fleming about the book – Common Ground?: Seeking an Australian Consensus on Abortion and Sex Education.

THE majority of Australians morally approve of abortion as a response to unwanted pregnancy. Right or wrong?

Wrong – according to one of a series of surveys contained in a new book Common Ground?

In fact only 24 per cent of the survey’s focus group found abortion to be morally justifiable. The exception was in cases of severe physical foetal abnormality.

This, and another of the book’s key findings, have been validated by similar Newspoll research.

Common Ground’s co-editor, Fr John Fleming, Catholic priest, father of three daughters and former Anglican minister, said this was one of many survey findings in the book that a lot of people would find surprising.

“Certain people make large claims on what others think on the topic of abortion,” he said.

“However, if they check this research, done under stringent methodology, they may be quite surprised.”

Fr Fleming, who is also president of Sydney’s Campion College, was in Brisbane recently on a speaking tour to outline research findings in what one critic has called “a paradigm-shifting book on abortion”.

Fr Fleming said his role as a Catholic priest had little bearing on his interest in the topic.

“My interest in the topic really grew out of 34 years’ involvement in commercial radio talkback programs in South Australia,” he said.

“Abortion was always a topic that threw up contradictory attitudes.

“Individual community members contacting the radio could be pro-choice and anti-abortion all at once.

“Comments were coming through like:’We don’t want to take a woman’s right to choose away, but in practice we wish she didn’t exercise this right’.

“I became curious to dig deeper and finally got the opportunity, thanks to funding by a private donor.”

Common Ground’s research, which grew out of a range of surveys, took two years and was done in four stages.

Melbourne bioethicist Nicholas Tonti-Filippini was co-editor for the project.

A focus group of 1200, covering the whole gamut of attitudes from extremes of pro-choice to pro-life, was surveyed.

One strong response was to the statistic that between one in four and one in three pregnancies in Australia for the past 20 years have ended in abortion.

Most respondents were dismayed and declared this “a national disgrace”.

Two of the survey’s key questions were also put to Newspoll as part of the research methodology.

“These questions related to whether a majority of people agreed the numbers of abortions were too high, and whether people would like to see the number of abortions reduced by non-coercive means,” Fr Fleming said.

“The Newspoll results closely reflected our findings.”

Other significant findings related to support that should be given to women seeking an abortion.

“Seventy-four per cent of respondents thought that women seeking an abortion should undergo a compulsory cooling-off period before proceeding,” Fr Fleming said.

“And more than half thought that doctors should show the stage of foetal development to patients using models, pictures or ultrasound before a decision to abort was made.”

Fr Fleming said the subtitle to Common Ground was Seeking an Australian consensus on abortion and sex education.

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