‘Mum, what is all this talk about abortion?’


My 15-year-old daughter sidled up to me last Sunday while I was preparing dinner: "Mum," she began, "what's your view of abortion?"

I was only slightly surprised at the confronting question given a bill to decriminalise abortion in this state - the Reproductive Health Care Bill - had been tabled and hotly debated in state parliament earlier in the week and news of it was everywhere.

Had she heard it being discussed the news?, I asked.

No, she said. She'd heard it at church, in our Catholic priest's sermon the night before.

"It was pretty full on," she added. "There was lots of talk of killing babies. Judging from the look on (little sister)'s face, she found it pretty confusing."

‘Something deep down inside me cracked.’
‘Something deep down inside me cracked.’

Something deep down inside me cracked.

A day earlier, as a favour to me and her 11-year-old sister, my older daughter had accompanied her sibling to church.

This was so my younger daughter could honour her altar serving commitment and I wouldn't have to go to church twice on the one weekend - a lot for a person who, in the decades after leaving the family home at 18, had slipped indifferently into the habit of attending Mass twice a year.


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That was until my youngest daughter - the third of three - decided she wanted to break new ground for the Sharps and become an altar server - a female altar server, something unthinkable during my own 1970s-80s childhood and a first among the Sharp clan.

Even my atheist husband liked the idea: "If it brings the Catholic Church closer to ordaining women priests it has to be a good thing," he said, treading carefully - certain of the feminist goal, uncertain of the Catholic one.

Last weekend, having satisfied her altar serving obligation on the Saturday, my 11-year-old and her "Catholic parent" were again required at Mass on the Sunday night to prepare for my daughter's upcoming Confirmation ceremony - a ritual Catholic children observe in Year 6.

During that Mass the sermon that had troubled my 15-year-old the night before was repeated.

As the priest, of whom I'm fond, began the sermon - I found myself helpless to stop the anger that rose quickly within me.



Statement from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.
Statement from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

I had heard this sermon before, I realised, in my own childhood, some four decades earlier.

The words were at once different yet eerily the same, despite me telling myself my daughter's altar service was a sign of progress within the church.

Gone was the old pious priest raising his voice and railing about promiscuity born of the '60s' sexual revolution, widespread sinful uptake of "the pill" and threatening hell and damnation to parishioners unwilling or unable to have and raise a dozen children.

In his place was a younger priest using gentler rhetoric as he rattled off statistics that emphasised the rise in the number of abortions (which might have been fewer had the church sanctioned the use of contraception 58 years ago when the pill was first dispensed - or earlier still with condoms …) and speaking emotively about foetal heartbeats, abused women and "baby killing".

In an accompanying handout from the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, which was passed to us while we sat in our pews, we were urged to contact our locals MPs - names and phone numbers provided - and urge them to vote against the bill.

Needless to say I would not be doing so - even if I do agree we should comply with the AMA's recommended 22-week termination deadline, unless the foetus or mother is failing to thrive or in special circumstances.

What my 51-year-old ears also heard - that my 10-year-old ears missed all those years earlier - was the subtext of the sermon: that it is us, the women, who are the baby killers, not men who don't fall pregnant and who have largely left responsibility for contraception to women. Also that women can't be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies, their wellbeing and futures - and that decisions involving women should be made for them - by men.

Men who run governments - men who run churches.

As I have since told my 15-year-old daughter - and will one day tell my 11-year-old, who, frankly, didn't deserve to have "baby killing" thrust upon her during a Mass she was so eager to participate in - I believe most Western women of my generation know at least one woman who has had an abortion, an act still technically a crime in this state.

The decision to abort a baby is not an easy one to make. It is a decision weighed up extensively, exhaustively. It is a decision filled with pain and regret - pain that remains with a woman for life.

It's also a decision no woman wants to make - but if they can muster the courage to make it, they should be supported and not shamed.

Religion and politics have always been ugly bedfellows - monstrous deterrents to those of us returning to our faith after an absence and willing to overlook the heinous crimes of the church in the belief it is still relevant and has a place - a loving and forgiving place in our lives.

Twitter: @InSharpRelief