Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
By Max Wallace
On 20 June 2012 the High Court of Australia handed down their decision in Willliams v The Commonwealth. The case concerned the question of whether it was unconstitutional for the federal government to fund religious chaplains in public schools. The argument against the funding was on technical, financial grounds. The government had avoided making a law in the parliament to fund the chaplains. That way, they were able to avoid a legal complaint that the funding breached Australia's s.116, the section in the constitution that mimics America's First Amendment. The funding therefore would avoid a major separation of church and state dispute.
Nevertheless, the High court found 6-1 in favour of Ron Williams whose complaint centred around his childrens' exposure to religious chaplains in a public school in Queensland. For the first time in Australian history since state governments decided to withdraw state aid to church schools in the 1870s (later massively reinstated), the High Court said government funding of religion was unconstitutional, albeit on technical grounds unrelated to s.116. The government reacted swiftly. Government and Opposition supported legislation (the Financial Framework Legislation Bill (No.3) 2012) rushed through Parliament to override the High Court's decision so the funding could continue to flow.
In order to protect this funding the Parliament was prepared to give the Executive ( Prime Minister and Cabinet) new authority to fund anything they liked, outraging the legal profession and other commentators (see especially Simon Breheny, 'Democracy sidelined in panic over chaplains', Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 2012.) Professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney, Anne Twomey, commented: 'never has such enormous power been surrendered by the Parliament to the Executive in one hit.' Their point is that without legislation and parliamentary scrutiny of government spending, the very structure of government itself, the separation of powers, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, is compromised.
In doing this, the government has galvanised opposition and moved the Greens closer to a secular position. In rushing through this astonishing law to guarantee the funding, the government has exposed itself to another High Court challenge by 2012 Humanist of the Year Ron Willliams. Advice already received indicates a good chance of success for a new case, especially before the bench of a High Court that must be deeply offended that their decision in Williams was treated with so much contempt.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Those who take the view that anything a woman says is feminist, contend that those who believe that a feminist is as a feminist does, are "divisive." They claim that by not allowing every woman to fit under the feminist umbrella, they are damaging the feminist cause.
I think that if someone who advocates an agenda similar to the Vatican is called a feminist, we might as well toss the word - and the concept - in the bin.
Words and concepts can only mean something because they don't mean other things. If a capitalist gets to call herself a communist because she wants to do so - say, because doing so will ensure more people will listen to and support her anti-communist agenda - the integrity and clarity of public conversation suffers.
I've written about Cathy Sherry a fair bit. Most of it was published in the pre-internet era. One piece is on my site.
I also cover her in my book, What, No Baby? The excerpts about Cathy Sherry are here.
From the Preface: (p. xxv)
"[This book won't be]...a harangue against women. There’ll be no blaming of women for their failure to reproduce, or to reproduce enough, or to reproduce on time. There will be no telling younger women to partner early and to forget about their careers or risk missing out on children altogether. No attempts to stampede older childless women into grabbing a partner to procreate with (any partner — QUICK!) before it’s too late. I will not be criticising women for not realising what they are up against, nor will I imply that with just a bit of foresight and careful planning, any girl with a Palm Pilot can beat the odds.
There are, unfortunately, a number of people involved in the debate about childlessness who do this. And not only is it truly annoying, it’s also damaging to both women’s self-esteem and their chances of achieving the social change needed to have the children they want. One such commentator is wealthy businessman cum leader of the failed Australian Republican Movement cum Liberal Member of Parliament Malcolm Turnbull. In a recent newspaper piece, Turnbull urged women to close their eyes, think of England — oops! I mean the birth-rate — and get down to marrying at a younger age so they could produce more babies for ‘the nation’. What was most ridiculous about Turnbull’s intervention was not his fretting about the birth-rate, but his presumption that women’s failure to breed was caused by their bad attitude, rather than competing demands. Then there’s columnist Cathy Sherry, a young partnered mother and part-time legal academic who never tires of advising single and childless women to take a leaf out of her book when it comes to marriage, work and motherhood. In one article she chastised women who did not act as quickly as she did on the knowledge that fertility declines with age.
I also have no intention of blaming ‘feminism’ for the difficulties facing the circumstantially childless, despite the unprecedented popularity of this strategy as of late. Take-a-leaf-out-of-my-book Sherry, for instance, argues strongly that the cause of Australia’s declining birth-rate is that feminists never told her while she was at school that she should ‘aspire to have a part-time job and raise children’. Virginia Haussegger agrees. In a 2003 opinion piece in the Age that got nearly as much attention as President Bush’s declaration of war on Iraq, the childless Australian TV news presenter blamed what she describes as purple-clad you-can-have-it-all feminism for her unwanted childlessness.
It isn’t feminism, but the unrelentingly sexist world that the women’s movement tried, but in some cases failed, to change that is the source of the obstacles women are encountering on their way to motherhood. Biological clocks were never the professed nor acknowledged expertise of feminism, though over the years there have been a number of feminists who’ve intimated, or said outright, that career was more important than motherhood. Others in the sisterhood, however, have disputed this, and it’s fair to say that robust debate on this matter has been taking place ever since the late 1960s and 1970s. Whose fault is it that Haussegger was — quite obviously — totally unaware of this debate? More importantly, who — or what — is really to blame for the fact that Haussegger didn’t wind up with a career as well as a child? Feminists? Or the world that feminism failed to change? There are only around 5% of Fortune 500 companies run by women, and only one in every four of Australia’s elected representatives is a woman. Am I the only person who has noticed that women, feminist or otherwise, are not running the world?"
In The Fertility Crunch chapter (p. 242)
"Columnist Cathy Sherry has made a career out of blaming women for the various difficulties and misfortunes they suffer at home and in the workforce, except when she faces a problem, in which case it is the system that is to blame. But because Sherry had the opportunity to give birth before the chill winds of age-related fertility began blowing her way, she chastises women for the selfishness or ignorance that leads them to delay having kids:
Women are most fertile during their late teens and 20s, and yet more women are delaying childbirth until their mid to late 30s or even 40s … Most women delay childbirth in order to obtain an education, travel or pursue a career. Up to a point this makes perfect sense. Children make all of these things more difficult … But at a certain point, somewhere in our early 30s, the advantages of delay need to be weighed up against the risk of childlessness. At 32 it would be good to have another three years unencumbered to do as we please, but is it good enough to risk not being able to conceive at 35? Many women are not aware that there are risks in waiting this long.125
Even when the women-blamers acknowledge that men also have a role in baby-making, and that delays may have as much to do with male priorities and schedules as with female ones, they nonetheless offer simplistic solutions for solving circumstantial childlessness: solutions that implicitly accept the gendered division of labour snd consequently belittle women’s needs and concerns while letting men off scot-free."
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Pornography’s Effects: The Need for Solid Evidence
A Review Essay of Everyday Pornography, edited by Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010) and Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, by Gail Dines (Boston: Beacon, 2010)
by Ronald Weitzer
In an earlier article in this journal, I critiqued a particular theoretical approach to prostitution, what I call the “oppression paradigm” (Weitzer, 2005; see also Weitzer, 2010). The present review extends this critique to some recent books on pornography, both of which are grounded in the oppression paradigm—a perspective that depicts all types of sex work as exploitative, violent, and perpetuating gender inequality. This paradigm does not hold that exploitation and violence are variables—present in varying degrees or absent in some kinds of sexual commerce—but are instead constants central to the very definition of pros- titution, pornography, and stripping. I have argued that those who adopt the oppression paradigm substitute ideology for rigorous empirical analysis and that their one-dimensional arguments are contradicted by a wealth of social science data that shows sex work to be much more variegated structurally and experientially (Weitzer, 2009).
The books under review make no pretense of being fair and balanced analyses of pornography. Several of the authors are self-described antiporn activists and, given their strong political views on the subject, it is no surprise that they are critical of pornography, say nothing positive about it, and offer sweeping generalizations to condemn it....
Gail Dines is an academic and well-known antiporn activist. For her, pornography is dangerous and has far-reaching effects on society: “As long as we have porn, [women] will never be seen as full human beings deserving of all the rights that men have” (p. 165). Her book, Pornland, echoes much of Boyle’s book in its arguments. What are Dines’ core claims?
1. Porn is becoming steadily mainstreamed, “infiltrating” the wider culture. This has happened to such an extent that we are now living in the midst of a “porn culture.” “Porn is now so deeply embedded in our culture that it has become synonymous with sex” (p. x). Dines’ examples of this mainstreaming include young girls’ sexy attire, women’s genital waxing (which began in porn), magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Maxim, music videos adorned with scantily clad women, shows such as Sex in the City, websites such as Girls Gone Wild, and “hookup sex” between young people which “is a lot like porn sex” (p. 114). There is no doubt that Western culture has grown increasingly sexualized in the past 20 years (Attwood, 2006). But it is a separate question (a) whether this trend is a bad thing, as Dines thinks it is, and (b) the extent to which pornography is responsible for this broader sexual- ization, a claim that is only sketchily documented in the book.
2. Dines imagines that there is a distinct category of “porn sex.” Porn sex is “debased, dehumanized, formulaic, and generic” (p. x). It differs from proper sex, which she defines as involving “empathy, tenderness, caring, affection” and “love, respect, or connection to another human being” (pp. xxiv, xi).
3. Porn is almost universally “degrading,” “dehumanizing,” and violent, with women as victims and men as perpetrators. “In porn the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation” (p. xxiv). Women in porn do not experience pleasure, “rarely” receive oral sex, lack agency, and are simply vehicles for men’s satisfaction (p. xxiii).
4. Pornography itself has become increasingly extreme: “what used to be considered hard-core is now mainstream pornography” (p. xvii). “Body-punishing” sex is now the norm, meaning that it typically involves very rough sex harmful to women’s bodies.
5. The slippery slope: Men who watch porn become “desensitized” and seek ever more extreme porn to satisfy themselves. Dines declares that “users need to eventually seek out more extreme acts as a way to keep them interested and stimulated . . . heightening the level of degradation is what keeps men interested in and aroused by porn” (p. 68). Inevitably, it seems, men “end up masturbating to images that had previously disgusted them,” including bondage, violence, and child porn (pp. 93, 94).
6. Porn has strong, unequivocal effects on viewers: Viewers are passive recipients who do not actively engage with and interpret messages and meanings. Porn “leaves little room for multiple interpretations” (p. 86), something media scholars would find outlandish. Dines rejects the notion that viewers are “sophisticated consumers who enjoy porn for the playful fantasy it is” (p. 82). This is a fiction created by the porn industry. It is “fantastical thinking that men can masturbate to porn images and walk away from them untouched by the misogyny” (p. 78). “The stories seep into the very core of their sexual identity” (p. xxii); “the ability to keep porn women separate from the women they date is eroded” (p. 67); men are “trained by the porn culture to see sex as disconnected from intimacy” (p. 92); and “porn trains men to become desensitized to women’s pain” (p. 74). The porn industry is depicted as “predatory,” preying on men and “hijacking” their sexuality (pp. xi, xii).
To evaluate these claims, it is crucial to ask if there is supporting evidence. Like Boyle’s book, Dines’ is evidence-thin. Although Dines cites a handful of academic studies, vir- tually the entire book is based on anecdotal information: (a) quotations from some men and women who attend Dines’ lectures; (b) her descriptions of some porn websites; (c) statements from a handful of actors and producers whom Dines met at the annual Adult Expo convention in Las Vegas; and (d) her accounts of selected scenes in porno- graphic videos. How does Dines use this impressionistic material and what alternative sources would be superior?
First, Dines did not conduct a systematic and rigorous review of porn websites or scenes, nor does she cite studies that do so. Neither are readers told how many websites or scenes she examined, nor how they were selected. Did she view 20 scenes or 2,000? She claims that they were representative—“these images are all too representative of what is out there on the Internet and in mass-produced movies” (p. xxi)—but we have no basis for believing that they were. With so much porn available today on the Internet and elsewhere, how could we ever construct a random sample from this universe to reach generalizable conclusions?
Older content analyses found that most pornography in videos and magazines was nonviolent (Scott & Cuvelier, 1987, 1993), and that the most sexually explicit or hard- core videos contained the least violence and the most reciprocal, egalitarian behavior between the actors (Palys, 1986). It is an open question how much violence exists in con- temporary, Internet porn, but there is no doubt that today’s porn is much more varied than what Dines claims.
Second, grand generalizations are made throughout the book. Dines frequently refers to “men,” “women,” the “porn industry,” “fans,” and “performers” as monolithic categories. Also troubling is the jarring use of terms such as “never,” always,” “usually,” and “most.” Similarly, nowhere does she define some frequently used terms: “degrading,” “dehuman- izing,” or “empathy.” She does give examples of acts that she considers inherently degrad- ing; these include anal sex, ejaculation on a woman’s body, two or more men having sex with one woman, and multiorifice intercourse. Whether these acts are indeed perceived as degrading by viewers and actors does not figure into Dines’ argument. They are simply defined as perverted by fiat.
Third, nothing is said about gay male porn, lesbian porn, alternative porn, porn made by women—which, together, constitute a sizeable share of the market. A small but growing literature on these genres shatters Dines’ sweeping claims about “porn” (see Bakehorn, 2010; Collins, 1998; DeVoss, 2002; Stychin, 1992; Thomas, 2010; Tucker, 1991). The prolifera- tion of alternative genres renders any generalizations about “porn” ludicrous. But even if we ignore these genres and focus exclusively on mainstream, heterosexual porn, most of Dines’ claims ring hollow. Some of the most popular sites (xvideos.com, redtube.com, porntube.com, youporn.com) contain a very wide range of content and are by no means restricted to the images that Dines claims are the norm. A cursory examination of these sites shows that it is quite common for men to provide oral sex to women (contradicting Dines). To claim that “we never see any kissing or touching in porn” (64) is simply false. To claim that all or most women in porn are devoid of agency, that they derive no plea- sure during the sex acts, and that “body-punishing” sex is pervasive in porn are simply unsupported assertions.
Fourth, Dines acknowledges that there is very little data on actual porn consumers— those who watch porn in the real world (vs. in laboratory experiments)—but then proceeds to make many far-reaching claims about them. She writes that the “men who speak to me are not that different from the general population of men who use pornography,” but her source for the latter is another antiporn writer, journalist Pamela Paul (p. 89). Dines did not conduct a survey or in-depth interviews with a sample (let alone a representative sample) of consumers. A particularly troubling aspect of the book is her quotations from men and women who have spoken to her during and after her lectures. Blocks of sentences are quoted verbatim, bracketed by quotation marks, without indicating how these statements were recorded. How can readers have confidence that these statements were actually made by individuals with whom she had conversations? Was Dines somehow able to remember verbatim student statements consisting of two to four sentences at a time?
Few researchers have investigated the uses and meanings of pornography for consum- ers in the real world. The neglect of actual consumers (as opposed to lab participants) is remarkable in light of the sweeping claims about pornography’s impact on them. Still, a handful of studies has shown that men and women decode and engage with sexually explicit materials in a wide variety of ways, which is exactly what media experts would predict. McKee (2006) found that some viewers prefer to see idealized bodies whereas others favor realistic bodies; some like plots and genuine “chemistry” between the actors whereas others want unadulterated sex (“gonzo”); some believe women hold the power in porn sex whereas others take the opposite view.
Compared to men, women are less likely to seek out pornography, consume less of it, are attracted to a smaller range of representations, and are more critical of porn. Many women dislike the portrayal of women in porn and are concerned that men might compare them unfavorably to models and actors (Boynton, 1999), yet other women find pornogra- phy to be entertaining, educational, or sexually stimulating (Attwood, 2005; Ciclitira, 2002). It is certainly not unusual for female consumers to view porn positively, and this is more likely for younger adults than older generations. In a unique survey of 688 Danish women and men aged 18-30, men reported significantly more positive effects of porn consumption
than women, but few women and men reported negative effects. Most perceived positive effects on their sex lives, attitudes toward sex, sexual knowledge, and the overall quality of their lives. Moreover, for both men and women, the higher amount of pornography consumed, the greater the perceived positive effects of exposure to porn (Hald & Malamuth, 2008). If these self-perceptions are valid, the researchers suggest that “pornography’s impact is relatively positive and that media and popular books’ reports of highly negative effects on consumers are exaggerated or unfounded” (Hald & Malamuth, 2008, p. 622).
For some men, there is no question that exposure reinforces callous or sexist views of women, whereas others interpret and experience it in an opposite way. A major study, based on in-depth interviews with 150 men, found that most of them understood porn as being about fun, beauty, women’s pleasure, and female assertiveness and power (Loftus, 2002). They did not like depictions of domination or aggression against women and were “specifically turned off by such behavior on the rare occasions they see it in pornography, and most haven’t even seen any” (Loftus, 2002, p. xii). Loftus concluded that it is “impor- tant to male viewers that the women really do seem to be enjoying themselves, that they are utterly involved in the sex for their own pleasure too, and not just serving the interests of the male actors and onlookers” (Loftus, 2002, p. 249). They also recognized porn as a fantasy world quite different from the real world in terms of people’s behavior and appear- ance (Loftus, 2002, pp. 137-147). Rather than emulating the men in pornography, the men interviewed by Loftus “usually did not like the men they saw in porn” and saw them as “unsuitable models for behavior” (Loftus, 2002, p. 61). And in stark contrast to the slippery slope argument, these men “have not sought ever more vivid, kinky, and violent pornogra- phy, but have either stuck with what they liked from the first, investigated wilder content and returned to what they preferred, or lost interest altogether” (Loftus, 2002, p. xii). Most of these men did not gravitate toward increasingly extreme representations. The men in the Loftus sample were largely contacted via the Internet and thus may be unrepresentative of the larger population, but the findings are consistent with some other inquiries (Klein, 2006; McKee, 2006). In short, the existing empirical evidence on real-world consumers contradicts Dines’ sweeping generalizations about them.
For readers of this journal, the question of whether porn contributes to violence against women is particularly salient. The books under review generally take the position that porn does lead to both attitudes supportive of aggression and actual violence, although they occasionally acknowledge that the matter is complicated. Several authors in the Boyle col- lection agree with Dines that “there is a link between porn consumption and violence against women” (p. 95). This is a long-standing debate that includes other media as well (e.g., rap music, video games). In laboratory experiments, the most consistent finding is that exposure to violent images, whether pornographic or not, tends to increase partici- pants’ levels of aggression, whereas nonviolent porn does not have this effect (Bauserman, 1996; Donnerstein, Linz, & Penrod, 1987). But there are serious problems with such stud- ies because they rely on small, convenience samples of volunteers instead of representative samples and because of the artificiality of the (laboratory) settings in which they are con- ducted, quite unlike the viewers’ natural environment. Therefore, the “poor analogues provided by laboratory research may tell us little or nothing about the relation of pornography and aggression in the real world” (Fisher & Barak, 1991, p. 77).
Similar evidentiary problems bedevil macrolevel, quantitative studies that purport to measure porn’s effects on the real-world treatment of women. These studies examine whether the availability of porn in a particular geographic area correlates with rates of violence against women—that is, (a) whether places with high availability of pornography (magazines, adult theaters, video rentals) have higher rates of sex crime than places where pornography is less available, or (b) whether increased availability over time in a particular region increases rates of sexual offenses. A comprehensive review of the literature con- cluded that macrolevel associations between pornography and sexual aggression were mixed: Some studies find a relationship between availability and reported sex offending, whereas other research documents a decline in sexual offenses with increased availability of pornography (Bauserman, 1996). But all such studies are inherently problematic because of their inability to control for all potentially relevant influences on male behavior. There is simply no way to confidently conclude that pornography is responsible for rates of vio- lence, particularly when it is unknown whether those who commit violence have viewed porn and, even if they have done so, whether porn or some other factor is the cause.
The larger point is that it is virtually impossible to isolate the effects of the media in the context of other influences, including individuals’ demographic backgrounds and per- sonality characteristics, socialization by family and peer groups, wider cultural influences, and so forth. A comprehensive literature review concluded that research has not demon- strated a link between media images—of any kind—and audience behavior. At best, media effects are “weak and affect only a small percentage of viewers” (Felson, 1996, p. 123). What matters most is whether a person is socially predisposed to act, or “primed,” in a certain way—with preexisting views reinforced by or resonating with new stimuli (Donnerstern & Linz, 1995). Moreover, the causal direction may be the opposite of the one typically asserted (i.e., exposure to porn leads to aggression), as indicated in research that finds that men who score high on sexual aggression are more likely to seek out sexu- ally violent media and, in turn, to have their preexisting views reinforced by the latter (Bogaert, Woodard, & Hafer, 1999; Malamuth & Check, 1983). In short, media scholars would find the far-reaching claims of Dines and some of the contributors to Boyle’s book quite astounding.
Whatever one’s personal views of porn, for those who wish to know more about its content and the experiences of viewers and performers alike, the books under review offer little useful, evidence-based information. Overall, these books present an extremely biased picture of pornography that stands in stark contrast to sound scholarly research.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Excerpts downloaded from vaw.sagepub.com at CAL STATE UNIV LOS ANGELES on May 19, 2011
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Ronald Weitzer is a professor of sociology at George Washington University. He has published extensively on the sex industry, including a new book, Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business (NYU Press, 2011).
Downloaded from vaw.sagepub.com at CAL STATE UNIV LOS ANGELES on May 19, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
For those who would prefer to watch and listen to Melinda discuss her pro-life views and Christian commitments, I reccomend this OnePlusOne interview with ABC journalist Jane Hutcheon.
Melinda Tankard Reist
by Brian Baxter
Formed early in 2005, Women's Forum Australia (WFA) is one of the more recent exponents of so-called 'pro-life feminism' in this country. While adopting the title of 'feminist' and claiming to speak for a significant proportion of Australian women, WFA leaders take a political line on issues such as abortion which seems entirely consistent with that of conservative Christianity.
Melinda Tankard Reist is founding director of WFA and one of the best-known promoters of anti-choice feminism in Australia. Here we will examine her background in some detail.
Melinda was born in Mildura, northern Victoria in 1963 and grew up on a vineyard/fruit property. This farm had been in her family's hands for five generations.
Melinda seems to have been a very kind-hearted girl and tells some stories about childhood events that may have some bearing on her current ideas and activities. There were many cats on the Tankard property and Melinda loved to care for the smallest kittens. She noticed that her parents always took special care of the mother cats and understood from this that 'mothers were to be looked after and cared for'. However, there were traumatic times as well:
Sick kittens ... were dispatched with a quick bullet to the head ... This was not [from] any cruelty on my father's part - it's just what you did with sick animals. ('Min OK?' I overheard him ask my mother after ending the life of a particularly favoured black, blue-eyed and very ill kitten while I hid in my room so my tears would not be seen.)
It's clearly true that shooting distressed animals is part of country life; less clear is the long-term effect of these events on individual children. Perhaps Melinda was philosophical about such executions as she seems to have been when her father shot her favourite (but physically failing) dog 'out of love'; but another incident involving her pet pony, Kim, had a more lasting aftermath:
... [O]ne day Kim seemed particularly stubborn. We could not get her to move in the yard and we were keen to ride. [My friend] Lee wanted to work on my cantering technique. The afternoon was planned. Despite much kicking and harsh words, [Kim] stood firm. Something was wrong but we were too foolish to realise. The next morning, Lee found a white colt with a black head and white blaze, fully formed but stillborn, in the paddock. We were devastated.
For many years, Melinda blamed herself for the colt's death. Over twenty years later she unburdened herself to her friend:
'Lee, it was our fault Kim's foal died. I've never forgotten and we were to blame that her lovely colt lay dead. She was pregnant and we rode her anyway.'
Lee offered a reply but Melinda still seems disconsolate. Could this experience have sown a seed?
(Material in this section is drawn mainly from short pieces Reist contributed to three Spinifex Press compilations by Jan Fook et al. (eds.): A Girl's Best Friend , Cat Tales  and Horse Dreams
After leaving school, Melinda Tankard became a cadet journalist in a local newspaper office and in 1987 was awarded a Rotary Foundation Scholarship to study journalism in the United States. This visit to America seems to have marked the beginning of her interest in the anti-choice movement. On 8 April 1988, the Melbourne Age published an article by her entitled 'The Politics of Abortion'. The introductory blurb noted that:
... [a] woman's right to continue or terminate a pregnancy has seemed secure here and in the US. But Melinda Tankard reports some increasingly sophisticated legal challenges from the pro-life movement in America, and talks with local groups about how this could affect Australia.
Unlike almost all of Tankard's later work, this wide-ranging article tried hard to tell both sides of the story. Quotes from the US National Right to Life Association and Black Americans for Life were 'balanced' by quotes from the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Planned Parenthood Federation. In Melbourne, Tankard spoke with both Margaret Tighe of the Right to Life Association (RTLA) and Ruth Shnookal of the Right to Choose Coalition.
While it is no easy task to judge Tankard's personal position on abortion from this article, there were some straws in the wind. She seemed rather sympathetic towards the development in America of 'pro-life feminism': Feminists for Life [FFL], born when the National Organisation for Women began expelling pro-life feminists from its ranks in 1972, is also attracting greater attention. With a growing membership of 2000, comprising women from the disarmament movement, pro-life activists with feminist sympathies, and liberal feminists, FFL has demonstrated that a pro-life position is not limited to the Right. National vice-president Rosemary Bottcher says women cannot liberate themselves by aborting their babies. 'The arguments of pro-abortionists treat pregnancy as a disease and are anti-women', she said.
Tankard also asked the RTLA's Margaret Tighe a question about the 'do-it-yourself' abortion pill RU 486, an issue which only now seems to be entering the final stages of resolution. Tighe dismissed RU 486 as 'a once-a-month booby trap', complaining that women would become guinea pigs in trials of the medication. The concept of women as guinea pigs is one to which Tankard has often returned during the ensuing 18 years.
By 1989, Tankard was describing herself as 'a Melbourne freelance journalist' (evidently spending some time as a contributor to the Herald's racing guide) and was forging down her 'pro-life feminism' path. Her article 'Feminists who say no to abortion' (Age, 12 April 1989) consisted of a detailed description of this movement followed by a few mainstream feminist criticisms, but the core of Tankard's personal ideology was now in place:
Pro-life feminism's basic tenet is that women cannot liberate themselves by aborting their babies; that society, not the woman, needs to be reconstructed ...[L]ife feminists view abortion as part of the oppression of women ...
Ruth Shnookal of Right to Choose had no trouble reading between the lines:
... [I]t is important to emphasise that all feminists believe that contraception is vastly preferable to abortion and work hard to promote family planning information and availability. Why, therefore, does Melinda Tankard not mention this? ... We have read RTL propaganda for years, and Tankard's article covers a lot of very familiar ground. Using 'feminist' arguments is a popular tactic nowadays. (Age, 26 April 1989)
But Margaret Tighe thought Tankard's article 'excellent' and by the following year, Melinda was appearing on the RTLA's
Can someone be feminist, a journalist ... and PRO-LIFE? Melinda Tankard is! You can gain an understanding of how women's rights and the right to life of unborn babies really go hand in hand. Melinda is keen to share with you this new angle on abortion ... ('Interesting speakers', Right To Life News, July 1990, p.2)
Tankard would speak to groups of all sizes and was also scheduled as a 'Youth Forum' speaker at the RTLA 1990 Convention. (ibid., p.3) She was also listed as a 'justice and life issues' presenter at the main conference itself. (RTLA Convention 1990 leaflet)
It was also at about this time that Tankard began her special study of 'the abuses committed on women in family-planning programs worldwide'. (China For Women: Travel and Culture, 1995. Spinifex Press. p. 350) This and similar interests ultimately led to her securing an advisor's position with the independent senator for Tasmania, Brian Harradine.
Early in the 1990s, Melinda Tankard married David Reist, with whom she was later to have four children. (An early reference to her new name occurs in her article 'Asylum for a Second Child', Age, 5 December 1992). The family currently attends Belconnen Baptist Church, Canberra.
By 1994 she was describing herself as 'a freelance writer with a special interest in women's health issues, bioethics and population programs' ('Contributors', Michael Cook [ed.]  The New Imperialism: World Population and the Cairo Conference [Little Hills Press], p.8). She was also presenting radio broadcasts for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation e.g. 'Bullets or Babies' (China for Women op. cit., p.350)
At about this time, Tankard Reist made three important moves as far as her future career was concerned. Reference has already been made to Spinifex Press which published China for Women and which later issued one of Tankard Reist's own books, Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (2006). Spinifex Books is run by Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, the latter being one of the best-known and longest-established 'pro-life feminists' in Australia.
As will become apparent, Tankard Reist receives wide support for her anti-choice agenda from conservative Christian organisations which are also condemnatory of homosexuality. However, she herself rarely touches on this subject, unsurprisingly in view of her close ties with Spinifex which often publishes books by lesbians 'across fiction, non-fiction and poetry'. As Susan Hawthorne explains:
The media pigeonholes [Spinifex] because our publishing program includes lesbian books. They forget that lesbians play an important role in fostering social justice in Australia and internationally, and they forget that as lesbians we feel the impact of social injustice acutely ... (http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/thespin.htm)
Senator Brian Harradine, an ultra-conservative Tasmanian senator, hired Tankard Reist as his bioethics adviser in about 1993-94. Harradine retired in 2005 at which time Tankard Reist had been in his employ for 12 years. She may well have directly influenced a number of Harradine's more important political deals, including the imposition of a longstanding ban on importation of the RU 486 'abortion pill'.
Also around 1994, Tankard Reist became involved with the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute (SCBI), a Catholic-dominated organisation that produces a range of statistics and research papers, virtually all of them favourable to official Catholic positions. One of these is Tankard Reist's own 'RU 486 Trials - Controversy in Australia' (September 1994) which quotes Senator Harradine, Renate Klein and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as authorities in this area. Selena Ewing, one of Tankard Reist's co-directors at Women's Forum Australia, is a Research Officer at SCBI.
Wider organisational interest
By 2000, Tankard Reist had had three of her four children, so it's safe to say that she was heavily involved with family activities during the mid-to-late 1990s. However, her position with Sen. Harradine seems to have attracted the interest of a wide range of conservative Christian bodies and she was kept busy with requests for articles and appearances.
She spoke on 'Forced abortion in China and Australia's refugee policy' at the RTLA National Conference in July 1995 (Conference leaflet; Right to Life News, September 1995, p.6). The then recently-formed Baptist 'Salt Shakers' group, one of the more strident conservative Christian organisations, evidently realised that Tankard Reist herself was a Baptist and published a number of her articles. Probably the most important of these was her account of the Fourth UN International Women's Conference held in Beijing in 1995. Tankard Reist was sent to this convention by Radio Australia's Asia Focus program and her report is an indication of where she now stood in relation to what is often called 'the conservative Christian worldview'.
She began by quoting James Dobson of the major American conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. Dobson had predicted that the Beijing conference would represent 'the most radical, atheistic and anti-family crusade in the history of the world'. Tankard Reist demurred, but only mildly: damage had been done to 'the family, marriage and motherhood', but 'pro-family' groups had managed to minimise this harm. It was difficult to judge how Tankard Reist felt about the conference's 'sexual orientation' debate, but there was no doubt about her views regarding abortion:
The need to remove 'unsafe abortions' was stated. As pointed out by the pro-life delegates, abortion is never safe for babies and always carries risks for women ... Pro-life delegates' attempts to have the risks of abortion (including recent medical evidence of a link to breast cancer) included in the health section failed. (Salt Shakers Newsletter (SSN), November 1995, pp.12-15)
This reference to the entirely unproven abortion-breast cancer 'link' would have endeared her to Babette Francis and her overtly anti-feminist Endeavour Forum (EF). Francis has been promoting this idea for many years and it therefore came as no surprise when Tankard Reist was invited to speak at EF's July 1997 public meeting. Rarely does Francis invite self-styled 'feminists' to address her meetings and even more rarely does promotional literature refer to Tankard Reist as 'Mrs'! (Endeavour Forum Inc. Newsletter, July 1997, pp.1 & 12)
In follow-up pieces for Salt Shakers, Tankard Reist hammered the 'morning-after pill' - 'an abortion-by- stealth method under the guise of contraception' (SSN, October 1996, p.16); and promoted a 'natural family planning' device called the 'Home Ovulation Monitor', thereby aligning herself with a certain class of Baptist fundamentalists who regard all artificial contraception with grave suspicion (Bill Muehlenberg, a fellow Baptist, formerly with the Australian Family Association and one of the founders of Salt Shakers, shares these views). ('The Ovarian Monitor: A New Option for Couples', SSN, August 1997, p.17)
The National Civic Council also liked Tankard Reist's ideas, publishing her attack on President Bill Clinton's abortion policies in its News Weekly magazine of 14 December 1996. Even Rev. Fred Nile's Family World News got into the act, promoting her views on Chinese single-child policies (July 1997, p.12).
Giving Sorrow Words
Around 1997, Tankard Reist began collecting material for a book about women's reactions to abortion. In
its list of scheduled speakers for the 1997 conference, Right to Life Australia noted that Tankard Reist (now described as a 'Canberra writer and social commentator') was 'currently compiling a book about pressures on women to abort'. (Right to Life News Conference Edition, April-June 1997, p.3)
We should recognise that Tankard Reist had no interest whatever in the stories of women whose responses to their abortions were either positive or broadly neutral. As Bill Muehlenberg, then National Research Coordinator of Focus on the Family Australia, explained it (under the heading 'A Mum's Perspective on Abortion'):
It is difficult to get a balanced and objective look at the issue of abortion in Australia. Mainstream media does a good job of covering up or ignoring the topic ... A concerned mother of three is currently writing a book on abortion regret. She is collecting stories from women who have had abortions, telling of their pain, loss and regret following the abortion. (Focus on the Family Newsletter, February 1998, p.9)
Salt Shakers expanded on Tankard Reist's objectives:
[She] is seeking women to contribute first-hand accounts of pain, loss and regret following pregnancy termination for a book tentatively titled 'Voices of Regret: the untold story of abortion in Australia'. She is especially interested in cases of coercion by the medical profession, family planning and abortion clinic staff, along with stories of coercion and pressure by families and friends. (SSN, February 1998 'News and Update', p.4)
When in 2000 Tankard Reist published her book (ultimately called Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion), she explained that it had been based on the contributions of:
... [t]wo hundred and fifty women [who] responded to small advertisements in women's magazines, letters to the editor in newspapers, and other notices in various places. (p.3)
Two points need to be made here. Firstly, Tankard Reist failed to make it clear that her project had been advertised extensively in the conservative Christian media, including the publications of the Right to Life Association, Focus on the Family and Salt Shakers. One of her 'letters to the editor' also appeared in the (then) evangelical Christian weekly New Life (3 September 1998). If she was trying identify rich sources of women likely to be guilt-ridden and/or resentful about their terminations, she could hardly have done a better job.
Secondly, although we don't know exactly how many women have abortions in Australia, estimates range between about 60,000 and 100,000 per year. This would have given Tankard Reist a huge pool of potential contributors, probably a couple of million or more. In her letters to the editor, she guaranteed these women anonymity or pseudonymity if they desired it.
In the circumstances, and even taking into account that only part of the female population would have seen her advertisements, it seems astounding that only 250 women contacted her. This represents a minuscule proportion of women who have experienced abortions and tends to undermine Tankard Reist's assumptions about the 'disastrous' effects of the procedure.
Further, some of the 18 stories that she recounts in detail seem to be the work of very depressed women, the source of whose problems may or may not be their abortion experience. As Leslie Cannold has observed:
... What becomes clear as one turns page after page of what even Tankard Reist admits makes bleak reading is that what women find so painful are problematic pregnancies, not problematic abortions. ('An interminable debate', Age, 8 April 2000)
More disturbing than the contributors' stories themselves, in some ways, are the concluding pages of Tankard Reist's book. She hunts and pecks through feminist literature for sentences and paragraphs that might be read as supporting her position; and pushes the discredited idea of an 'abortion-breast cancer link' as far as she dares (pp.238ff). Her 'Where to Find Help' page (p.261) directs readers to anti-choice counselling centres such as the Australian Federation of Pregnancy Support Services in the ACT and Open Doors Counselling and Education Services (formerly Pregnancy Action Centre) in Ringwood, Vic. Her recommended reading list (pp.262ff) includes books by American evangelical leaders like Jack Hayford and a string of titles such as And Still They Weep, The Mourning After and Will I Cry Tomorrow?
In the year of her book's publication, Tankard Reist was again asked to speak at the annual RTLA Conference on the topic 'Post-abortion trauma: refuting the critics'. ('Right to Life Conference ... 2000', supplement to Right to Life News, July-August 2000, p.2)
While collecting the stories for her book, Tankard Reist was also busy setting up and helping run a home for mothers and babies in Canberra. Karinya House opened in 1997 and was actively supported by a range of conservative Christian organisations. The ACT RTLA Newsletter of January-March 2004 reported that Right to Life had recently donated $10,000 to Karinya House in recognition of 'their special and important pro-life work'. The 'pro-life' aspect involved emergency assistance to women in 'crisis pregnancies', thus avoiding the option of abortion which many of these women might otherwise have taken.
The Karinya House Annual Report of 2003-4 lists patrons including Archbishop Francis Carroll and Bishop Patrick Power (Catholic) and Bishop George Browning (Anglican). The Management Committee included Tankard Reist as President, Lynne Pezzullo as Vice-President (Pezzullo is now a co-director of Women's Forum Australia with Tankard Reist) and members such as former Harradine staffers Catherine Cooney and Roslyn Seselja. (Senate Hansard, 21 June 2005)
When Catherine Cooney took over the Karinya House presidency from Tankard Reist early in 2005, she had this to say about her predecessor:
[Melinda] led [this] organisation from a 'one phone, one desk' operation to the professional welfare organisation ... that Karinya is today. Melinda has accepted a position as head of a new national women's organisation and resigned [from Karinya] with sadness ... (Cooney, 'From our Committee', Karinya News, Autumn 2005)
The 'national women's organisation' referred to here is clearly Women's Forum Australia.
Deeper involvement with Christian conservatives
As a Harradine staffer for 12 years, it is not surprising that Tankard Reist developed closer links with a range of conservative Christian groups, particularly Catholic ones. Her name regularly appeared in publications connected with the National Civic Council (NCC) and its 'Australian Family Association' during this time. However, she tenaciously clings to her self-identification as a 'feminist', to the extent that some of her political allies probably regard her as slightly eccentric.
Early in 2000 she was invited to address the NCC's 'Thomas More Centre', essentially a conservative Catholic youth training organisation. Tankard Reist spoke about 'the grief experienced by a high percentage of women who have undergone an abortion'. ('Impressive gathering of young people attend TMC', AD2000, April 2000, p.7) In June 2003, she spoke about the subject matter of Giving Sorrow Words at Opus Dei's Creston College in Sydney. Opus Dei is a Catholic order with exceedingly 'traditional' social views. Medical ethicist Leslie Cannold has noted that:
Well-known anti-choice activists and several women with links to Opus Dei recently became directors of Women's Forum Australia. ('It really does matter who you are, and where you come from', Age, 14 November 2006)
In August 2003, Tankard Reist was a scheduled speaker at the (Baptist/Pentecostal) Australian Christian
Lobby's Queensland Family Conference ('The Law, the Church, the State' leaflet); while in October 2004, she was sharing a platform with the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute's Greg Pike at a 'Lutherans for Life' convention in Murray Bridge, SA.
In August 2005, Tankard Reist spoke at the 'Sexual Integrity Forum' organised by Warwick Marsh's Fatherhood Foundation, a conservative Christian 'fathers' rights' organisation which is often characterised as anti-feminist. Appearing with Tankard Reist were well-known members of political/religious pressure groups such as Festival of Light Australia (Richard Egan) and the Australian Federation for the Family (Jack Sonnemann). Shortly afterwards, Tankard Reist was interviewed on Vatican Radio about the abortion issue.
A note on Tankard Reist's 'feminism'
Just because it is anti-choice doesn't mean Melinda let the Festival of Light Australia (FOLA) implicitly criticise then Opposition Leader Mark Latham's wife for retaining her original surname:
"I've just read your editorial on Mark Latham with its mention of his wife Janine Lacy in February  'Light' [magazine]. I am wondering whether you meant to imply that retaining a maiden surname and completing a degree at the same time as having children means one is not an enthusiastic mother. Retaining a maiden name and studying is hardly a benchmark for determining an enthusiasm, or lack of it, for mothering. I hope this inference was unintentional." (Letter to Light, May 2004, p.4)
Recognising Tankard Reist's value to their cause, the Festival of Light editors instantly disclaimed any such implication despite its being the only sensible interpretation of their original statement. They then tried to make amends by running a supportive article about Tankard Reist in their November issue. ('Abortion - now open for debate', p.7)
Tankard Reist has more directly defended her claim to be a feminist on several occasions, defining her position most precisely in a Melbourne Herald Sun article appearing on 14 March 2002:
"I would love to have been part of last week's celebration of International Women's Day. Like many other women, I approve of the organisers' demands - improved work conditions, an end to sexual abuse and harassment and lifting the status of downtrodden women around the world. But it is the blind celebration of abortion as a woman's best friend which stops me participating."
She goes on to insist that 'significant recent research on the links between abortion and suicide, depression and breast cancer continue to be kept from women' and concludes:
"Of course a baby is for life but so is abortion. And you won't hear that on International Women's Day." ('In Too Much Pain To Celebrate', reprinted in Salt Shakers Journal, May 2002, pp.7-8)
Tankard Reist is also strongly opposed to pornography and seems largely unfamiliar with the feminist debate over this issue. Her critique of pornography is an amalgam of conservative Christian philosophy and the work of feminists like Catharine MacKinnon (whom Tankard Reist quotes rather extensively in Giving Sorrow Words e.g. pp.249, 284). Tankard Reist summarises her own thoughts as follows:
Portraying women as nothing but sexual fodder for male lust and pleasure is a form of oppression of women everywhere. It puts women at risk of unwanted sexual advances and abuse ... There are strong connections between pornography, trafficking in women and sexual violence against women. ('Treatment sullies diggers', Brisbane Courier Mail, 20 September, 2006)
When faced with issues posing genuine dilemmas for feminists (and the rest of society), but where the outcome is the birth of a living child as in the case of surrogacy arrangements, Tankard Reist is most uncomfortable:
How do you critique Australia's latest surrogacy case without looking heartless? The ALP senator Stephen Conroy and his wife, Paula Benson, are the happy parents of Isabella ... Of course, no one begrudges her birth.
Tankard Reist spends most of the rest of her article begrudging it:
... [F]ragmentation of motherhood ... [G]enealogical bewilderment ... [D]isposable uteruses ... [C]ommodification of a child ... ('Motherhood deals risk deeper anguish', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2006)
She concludes by claiming that '[o]f course we want Conroy and his family to thrive' but this rings rather hollow after the preceding diatribe. Still, if after several decades the Catholic Church hasn't worked out a convincing way of dealing with surrogacy, it might be too much to expect of an individual Baptist.
The birth of Women's Forum Australia
The WFA grew out of a December 2004 women's forum on the abortion issue held at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney. Speakers included Andrea Mason of the Pentecostal-based Family First Party, Tankard Reist and Selena Ewing of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, now a WFA director. (Australian Christian Lobby Newsletter, December 2004, p.2; Right to Life Association (NSW))
Tankard Reist gave a characteristically no-holds-barred speech entitled 'It is Broke, Fix It':
That's what we're wanting to do here tonight, and that is to raise the public consciousness about what abortion does to women ... [A]bortion is an uncontrolled and unregulated experiment on women: abortion is violence against women ...
Within a few weeks, women connected with this meeting were talking about the formation of a permanent organisation, with Tankard Reist doing a lot of the leg-work. Early in 2005 she spoke to a meeting of religious leaders (including Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists) who evidently encouraged her to pursue a strong line on the issue. (Miranda Devine 'Abortion debate takes on a new life of its own', Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 2005) Later in February, writers such as Selena Ewing began using the WFA title in their articles ('The insidious censorship of pro-life women', Age, 16 February 2005). The WFA website places Tankard Reist at the top of its list of 'directors', although she does not appear to claim primacy within the organisation, her Karinya House 'farewell' notwithstanding (Karinya News op. cit.).
In 2006, Tankard Reist published her second book, Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics:
'Defiant Birth' tells the courageous stories of women who continued their pregnancies despite intense pressure from doctors, family members and social expectations ... Melinda Tankard Reist dares to expose how eugenics is practised today ... (Back cover)
This book was widely promoted, with Tankard Reist scheduled to attend launches in Rome, London, Washington DC and New York, among other places (). She claims to have addressed the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and may have done so during this tour.
In January 2007, Tankard Reist spoke at a 'dominionist' Summit Ministries conference in Canberra.
Still a comparatively young woman, Tankard Reist has developed one of the best conservative Christian networks in Australia and finds herself at home in both Catholic and evangelical Protestant circles. Her aggressive independence defies easy categorisation and has even opened doors into one wing of the feminist movement. Through her work with Brian Harradine, she has substantial experience in the federal parliamentary milieu and now seems to be building an international audience.
Women's Forum Australia - policies and people
Brian Baxter, November 2007
MAIN INTERESTS AND ACTIVITIES
Women's Forum Australia (WFA) is a conservative Christian lobby group, although it would strongly resist this description. Its leadership is and always has been drawn largely from conservative Catholics like Katrina George and Louise Brosnan and conservative Baptists like Melinda Tankard Reist and Johanna Lynch.
WFA is vehemently opposed to women's access to abortion and other technologies that enable women to control their reproductive lives, e.g. access to RU486 and therapeutic cloning. They also campaign actively against voluntary euthanasia. When the organisation was first launched it described itself as 'pro- woman and pro-life', though in recent times this slogan seems to have been abandoned.
In recent months, WFA has deviated from its central anti-choice message by undertaking 'motherhood' campaigns against the sexualisation of young girls. This anti-pornography message is consistent with the attitudes of the religious right and does not disguise WFA's fundamental objective: to restrict women's capacity to make choices about their reproductive lives, in line with the most conservative Christian religious doctrines.
There is no woman for whom abortion is actually known to be psychologically beneficial ... The research so far has completely failed to demonstrate that abortion has lasting positive effects on women.
(S. Ewing 'Women Are Also the Victims: Post-Abortion Grief', Proceedings from the Women's Forum 8.12.04, pp.6, 8.)
Selena Ewing undertakes research projects for Women's Forum Australia. She has a background in health science and is currently a Research Officer at the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute (SCBI) in Adelaide, SA. The SCBI claims to be 'an independent, non-sectarian, autonomous institution', but its close
association with the Knights of the Southern Cross, 'an Order of Catholic men committed to promoting the Christian way of life throughout Australia' and its many conservative Christian personnel mean that it can more accurately be described as an anti-choice lobby group. In July 2005, Ewing addressed the annual Right to Life Australia (RTLA) conference in Melbourne on the topic 'Pro- Life is Pro-Woman' (conference brochure; RTLA News, July-August 2005, 4). The RTLA is led by Margaret Tighe and the vast majority of speakers at these meetings are dedicated anti-choice campaigners. In October 2006, Ewing signed the manifesto of the international Hands Off Our Ovaries group, many of whose Australian supporters are linked to organisations opposed to reproductive choice.
Katrina George, Chair of Women's Forum Australia, is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Western Sydney. Her main research interests are in health law and bioethics, particularly end of life decision-making. She is the Australian spokesperson for an international body called Hands Off Our Ovaries, many of whose Australian supporters are linked to organisations opposed to reproductive choice. George herself has spoken at meetings openly advertised as 'pro-life'. She is also a former Principal of Creston College, a women's residential college associated with the University of NSW and founded in 1970 by Opus Dei's Education Development Association. In addition, George lectures at the Catholic Adult Education Centre, Sydney, (see pp.16-17), working closely with its director, Opus Dei priest, Fr. John Flader and with other staff members like Joanne Grainger, Operations Manager of the NSW Right to Life Association.
Melinda Tankard Reist
Tankard Reist, who has previously written a book about women's grief after abortion, says she supports a woman's right to termination. (Rachel Gibson Abortion - or eugenics masquerading as choice? A writer takes on the doctors, Melbourne Age, 4 March 2006)
I would love to have been part of last week's celebration of International Women's Day ... But it is
the blind celebration of abortion as a woman's best friend which stops me participating.
('In Too Much Pain To Celebrate', Melbourne Herald Sun, 14 Mar. 2002, as quoted in Salt Shakers Journal, May 2002, 7)
... [A]bortion is an uncontrolled and unregulated experiment on women: abortion is violence against women.Melinda Tankard Reist, a founding director of WFA, is a Canberra-based writer and researcher. She has written or contributed to a number of anti-choice texts, the best-known being Giving Sorrow Words (Duffy and Snellgrove, 2000). Although a practising Baptist, she has close ties with Catholic-dominated organisations such as Right to Life groups and was employed for many years by conservative Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine as his bioethics advisor. Tankard Reist has been involved with several other anti-choice organisations including the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute and bodies associated with the National Civic Council, such as the Australian Family Association. From 1997- 2005, Tankard Reist was a senior official at Karinya House (p.2), a project of ACT Right to Life and other anti-choice bodies, which aimed to provide pregnant women with an 'alternative to abortion'. She is also linked to Opus Dei front organisations (e.g. MercatorNet) and institutions. She sometimes addresses conferences organised by ultra-conservative Protestant organisations such as Summit Ministries and the Fatherhood Foundation. A more detailed study of Tankard Reist's background and career is available elsewhere.
('It is Broke, Fix It', speech to women's forum, Sheraton on the Park, Sydney, 8 December 2004)
My concern about abortion being accepted within the medical profession is not new – indeed to not perform abortion was part of the Hippocratic Oath and part of the medical profession’s reaction to the abuse of human rights performed by its own as part of Nazi Germany ...
The solution of sex-education has been the option pushed to decrease the abortion rates – hasn’t the current atheist value laden sex education proved itself unable to teach about deep lasting responsible relationships that bring real fulfillment and community?
Johanna Lynch is a general practitioner who consults in psychological health care in suburban Brisbane. In September 2006 she signed a submission to the Community Affairs Committee, Australian Senate, expressing 'serious concern' about proposals to legalise therapeutic cloning. This submission was drafted and circulated by a group of doctors called 'Medicine with Morality' (MWM). MWM appended its 'manifesto' to the submission, making clear its view that human life began 'at fertilisation'. MWM is the brainchild of Lachlan Dunjey, a leading member of the anti-choice Christian Democratic Party, WA. In October 2006, Johanna Lynch supported the 'Doctors Against Cloning' (DAC) group by signing an open letter that condemned embryonic stem cell research as 'unethical'. The two leading personalities in DAC are the national convenor, Megan Best, bioethics advisor to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney; and spokesperson David van Gend, founder of the anti-choice Do No Harm group and Queensland state secretary of the World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life. Lynch also makes personal submissions to parliamentary inquiries on abortion-related matters such as pregnancy counselling services and RU 486.
Lynne Pezzullo, WFA Treasurer, is a director of Access Economics in the health economics field. She has an extensive history of anti-choice activity, having served as an ACT Right to Life Association (RTLA) council member during the 1990s. Between 1997 and 2004, Pezzullo was Vice-President of Karinya House, a major ACT RTLA project aimed at deterring pregnant women from abortion. During this period, Pezzullo worked closely with Melinda Tankard Reist, one of WFA's founders (p.4). In 2002, Pezzullo gave evidence before the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Health, describing herself as the spokesperson for the Abortion Grief Counselling Association (AGCA). This body was formerly known as Women Hurt By Abortion - and before that, 'Women Exploited By Abortion'. AGCA paints an exceedingly grim picture of the effects of abortion on individual women, arguably in an effort to have the procedure prohibited.
New director, WFA; a director of Mango Leadership Group, Perth.
Erica Schuman is Secretary of WFA and has worked in management and marketing for a number of non-profit organisations. In 1991, Schuman attended Christendom College, an ultraconservative Catholic institution located in Virginia, USA. Christendom College 'is named after the medieval European concept of the Catholic faith being the cornerstone of civilisation'; its faculty members take an annual oath of loyalty to church teachings and there are strict dress codes, single-sex dormitories and a ban on public displays of affection. Schuman (birth- name Erica Power) and her family were honoured guests at the opening of Campion College, Sydney in March 2006. Campion College's curriculum and culture have been 'distinctly influenced' by those of Christendom College. Erica Schuman is a member of the conservative Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Australia (FACS), as was former WFA spokesperson Rachael Patterson (see below)
... The government should introduce an 'at fault' divorce scheme ...If divorce laws are to exist at all, at fault divorce laws should at least make it more difficult for divorce to be obtained ... Spouses if they know they could lose custody of children, if through their fault they break their marriage vows would be encouraged not to do so ... [T]he at fault spouse often leaves a marriage for arrangements that would cause trauma for children (e.g. live-in arrangements or same sex unions).http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fca/childcustody/subs/sub0829.pdf
Louise Brosnan was one of the five Foundation Members of WFA and a member of the first Board of Directors. She was described at this time (2005-7) as being a retired partner of the major accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and a financial consultant to businesses in Queensland. Brosnan has a number of links with the conservative Catholic prelature known as Opus Dei. These include the chairmanship (2003) of the Foundation for Education and Training Ltd., a non- profit company limited by guarantee, one of whose 'projects' is Kenvale College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Randwick, NSW. All 'pastoral attention' at Kenvale is entrusted to Opus Dei. A person with Louise Brosnan's birthname (Louise Mackie) was Principal of Kenvale until about 2003. In 2006, Brosnan was listed as a Board member of Reledev Australia Ltd., a company that supports educational and other projects in certain developing countries as well as in Australia. Reledev and Kenvale College both have 38 High Street, Randwick, NSW as their registered office and most other Reledev directors are linked with other Opus Dei organisations. At one stage, Reledev described Brosnan as a director of the Educational Development Association (EDA). EDA is a major Opus Dei non-profit organisation which includes Warrane (men's) and Creston (women's) Colleges at the University of New South Wales among its projects.
Within the pro-homosexual movement we see a rejection of the connection between gender and nature ... And in feminism we witness the importance of self-determination eclipsing that of relationship.http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/reading/the_essence_of_family1/
The New Testament recognises and assume[s] the breakdown of marriage when husbands are exhorted to love their wives, and wives to submit to their husbands ... The asymmetry of the call upon men and women in a post-feminist world matches the contours of failure that the Old Testament expects to see in marriage: that women will desire to control and manipulate men, but men will reply simply by subjugating women by force. The call to love is an obvious antidote for the male propensity to hit and act harshly. The Bible's teaching on the call to submit, which includes a sense of cooperation, is an antidote for the female propensity to connive and control.http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/thinking/nuptials_in_the_naughties/
Tracy Gordon has a background in economics and journalism and was a member of WFA's first board of directors (WFA company extract; Zoom Information cache). For some time, Gordon held the position of world news editor for the Australian Presbyterian, official publication of the Presbyterian Church of Australia (p.3), and during her time as a WFA director was a research officer for the Social Issues Executive of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. After a December 2004 Sydney women's meeting preceding the formal emergence of WFA, Gordon acted as spokesperson for a similar religious leaders' forum held in Sydney in January 2005; this forum called on the Federal Government to take a conservative approach to the abortion issue. It has been noted that Gordon was the only original WFA director with an official church position, but she resigned her directorship within a year of appointment.
Newspapers have been dominated by a small group of vocal women telling politicians to back off. We have been told that the 90,000 or so abortions a year are nothing to be concerned about. Abortion, they tell us, doesn't hurt women. The occasional nasty side effects? Well, they've just been blown out of proportion ...
It is time for pro-lifers to be radically pro-woman and for pro-choicers to offer more than just the choice to abort.http://www.womensforumaustralia.org/docs/R.Patterson.Aus.pdf
Rachael Patterson was one of the five foundation members of WFA (WFA Constitution) and was one of the main organisers of a large Sydney women's meeting held in December 2004 that preceded the formation of the group. Patterson has science and law degrees (University of New South Wales/Princeton) and an MA in Applied Ethics from the Australian Catholic University, (p.3). In 2004 she was a member of the Fellowship of Australian Catholic Scholars, (p.4) and has addressed a conference of this group's sister organisation (p.32) in the US. Since 2005, Patterson has been involved with the Acton Institute, an American group that 'promote[s] a free and virtuous society characterised by religious liberty and sustained by religious principles', although the organisation has many critics. Patterson has attended one of Acton's Free and Virtuous Society conferences, described as being 'intensive seminars for future religious leaders'. Currently in America, Patterson still regularly refers to her WFA foundation membership, as in this article appearing on the MercatorNet site run by Opus Dei's Michael Cook.
I'm Leslie Cannold, a newspaper columnist, researcher, ethicist, and vocalist. Some years ago I left my University job to finish a historical novel. The book is about Rachael, a clever and ambitious Jewish girl who yearns for more than her lot, and who happens to be Jesus's sister. It's published by Text and is now available electronically & in hard copy at all solvent bookstores (independents & Dymocks & airport newsagents - yes, Redgroup's Borders and A&R not so much). It's getting great reviews. Here, I talk about the writing, editing and publicity processes, and seek your comments on thought-bubbles and heckles that arise for me as I get my ideas for books from paddock to plate.