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photo_right_blank.gif (1614 bytes)  Opinion Pieces

When pregnancy is a trigger to violence

By Kath Woolf
The Herald (Newcastle)
08 March, 2005

Traditionally, mothers and their children have been seen as worthy of special care and protection. Thatís perhaps why it seems so unthinkable that a pregnant woman could be the victim of violence.

Unfortunately such instances of violence are not uncommon.

Last month, in response to this problem, NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus announced that the Government would change the definition of grievous bodily harm to include the death of an unborn child.

This change in the law was partly motivated by the case of Sydney woman Kylie Flick.

Ms Flick was bashed by the father of her unborn child, who had decided to take matters into his own hands after she refused to have an abortion. He was sentenced to 10 yearsí jail in December for the assault on Ms Flick.

In early February Victorian man John Sharpe pleaded guilty to killing his five-month pregnant wife, Anna Kemp, and their 19-month-old daughter, Gracie, with a speargun.

Ms Kempís family said Sharpe had complained Anna had become pregnant with their first child without his permission. She had threatened to leave Sharpe because of his indifference to Gracie and their impending second child.

Weeks later she disappeared.

In January a pregnant Brisbane woman was attacked with a baseball bat, a golf club and a fence paling in a domestic dispute.

The woman had an emergency caesarean section; both mother and baby survived. A man has been charged with assault on the woman and with attempting to kill an unborn child.

In Perth late last year a man was convicted of conspiracy to attack a woman and kill her unborn child.

He had been hired by the womanís boyfriend to beat her and ensure she miscarried. Fortunately the police foiled the plan.

Why are these dreadful events taking place? Could it be that the widespread availability of abortion leads some men to think that they, as well as women, can decide whether a woman gives birth or not?

There is a growing body of research documenting violence against pregnant women.

Being pregnant or having been pregnant is associated with a much greater risk of violence than for other women.

An Australian study found that women who have been pregnant have a massive 230 per cent increased risk of violence from a partner.

Miscarriages and induced abortions were also associated with violence, particularly where women had not given birth before.

Studies also show that women reporting an abortion are more likely to have been victims of childhood physical or sexual abuse and to have been raped.

Violence and sexual abuse are just some of the very complex issues that need to be considered in the abortion debate.

Men need to be taught early in their lives that violence is unacceptable. We need to encourage men to respect and care for pregnant women and embrace the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Many women feel pressured into abortion by their partners and families. Sometimes that pressure turns to violence.

We should create a more family friendly community so that children and parenting are an integral part of daily life, not a problem which threatens violence.

We need a whole-of-government approach to strategies to reduce the barriers facing women who want to continue their pregnancies.

Women who are pregnant in difficult circumstances have complex needs which cannot be met by one agency alone. A system of specialist brokers could be funded by government, through an agency like Centrelink or community groups, to advise and refer women on the best services and benefits to meet their specific needs.

Whether women are homeless, looking for a job, wanting to continue their education, dealing with an addiction, violence or a combination of these factors, creating a seamless services contact point for women would be a great step forward.

How can we best help women avoid abusive relationships, start a new life and bring up their children in a better environment, so breaking the cycle of violence?

We should do everything we can to provide women with alternatives to abortion, to remove the barriers in the way of continuing a pregnancy, and to protect women and their children from violence.

Kath Woolf is spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations.