Australia is a nation that loves celebrations. Australia Day is one of our biggest. We get together for ceremonies, including the raising of our national flag and to welcome new citizens.

Yet Australia Day can do more for nation-building than provide an opportunity to celebrate. It is a day when we can reflect upon our national identity, something that is strengthened or weakened according to whether we share a common meaning and values as a people.

A foundational value: equal respect for every citizen

Australia prides itself as a democracy. The foundation for a democracy is not its parliamentary and other institutions, but the equality of its citizens.

This equality means that every citizen’s rights and responsibilities are respected      equally. No exception is made due to ethnic, cultural or religious background. Nor is any exception made because of age, frailty or need. Equality means that people work together to help individuals in times of vulnerability.

Australians need to be vigilant about any moves that violate the rights of the vulnerable, or weaken the responsibilities of the strong towards the weak.

Threats to the unborn

Perhaps the most vulnerable in Australian society today are the unborn. Many unborn Australians currently are killed by abortion or by embryonic stem-cell research procedures. The latest move to increase the number of abortions is the proposal before the Australian Senate to weaken the current legislative arrangements for the drug RU 486, which is generally used to abort unborn children. Moves in relation to embryonic stem cell research will come later this year.

In regard to RU 486, the weakening of the current arrangements would make abortion more generally available. Hence, if RU486 is to be made more available, it should be a restricted drug for certain specified non-abortive medical purposes.

What abortion is

Abortion is the deliberate killing of an unborn human being. Every year, thousands of unborn Australians are aborted for a variety of reasons.

For some mothers, the reasons relate to their health, particularly psychological health. Others are related to concerns about coping with a child when the father of the child is not supportive or willing to fulfill his responsibilities toward his new child. Career paths are another reason why many have abortions.

While none should underestimate the difficulties the birth of a child might lead to for some mothers, killing the child is not a moral solution. What kind of a society are we becoming, given that our laws, in the case of abortion, allow one human being to be killed as a solution to the problems of another?  Real solutions that care for both mother and child lie in family and community support, which all governments can encourage

Certainly, we are a society that no longer protects the rights of all, including those of the most vulnerable.

Some arguments offered for abortion

There are those who argue that embryonic stem cells are not derived from human life. Yet scientists tell us about the wonders of the new person’s DNA, and how the developmental program for the new person has been set.

Then there is the obvious fact that if embryonic stem cells were not human or alive, they would be of no interest to the embryonic stem-cell researcher.

Thirdly, some argue for abortion on the grounds that a woman has the right to make her own decisions about her body. This skirts the fact that abortion destroys the body of the child, not that of the mother. It further relieves the mother from caring for her child at a most vulnerable time in life in a way that would not be accepted of someone who neglected to help a victim of a road accident or a fire.

Let as many unborn Australians be saved as possible

Anyone genuinely concerned for human rights works to protect the life of every single person, even if they are not protected by law. The movie Schindler’s List praised a man who tried to save Jewish lives not protected by Nazi law.

Evil though current abortion laws are, unborn lives are being saved because abortion is not easily available to all. Pro-abortionists will argue that all should be able to destroy unborn life by abortion equally. They will say that it is unfair that some in rural areas cannot have the same ease of access to abortion as is the case in city areas.

As a rural Bishop, however (like Schindler and other champions who try to save as many lives not protected by law as possible) my concern is to encourage the saving of as many unborn children as possible. Each life is sacred to God and precious to me as a rural pastor, concerned with the well-being of people.

Call to restore genuine democratic values

A nation’s values are like a clay jar filled with water. What might start as an apparently insignificant hole will soon widen and the water will be lost.

The legalised abortion of the unborn puts a hole in several Australian values, including the equality of the individual and that of helping the weak. There are many signs today that these values are leaking away. They include the growing gap between rich and poor; crimes against property by and large attracting greater penalties than crimes against people; and the increase in crimes that violate people’s rights such as home invasions, burglary and robberies against the elderly.

Examples of the stronger being obliged to help the weaker leaking away include the decline in involvement by the young in social responsibility organisations such as Rotary and the Country Women’s League.

Then there are Church organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, parish groups supporting the elderly, the lonely and shut-ins, and so on. A common complaint I hear across the South West and Great Southern regions is that it is increasingly hard to find volunteers.

How can a society that legalises the killing of some human beings be surprised at an increase in other crimes and violations against the person of the individual? How can a society that tries to absolve mothers and others of the responsibility of caring for the unborn child complain at the decline in younger people’s willingness to volunteer for organisations that care for the needy?

The concerns of many of good will

Some pro-abortionists are trying to marginalise opposition to changing the legislative arrangements so as to make RU486 accessible and embryonic stem-call research easier. They falsely suggest that it is only religious people who oppose the killing of the unborn.

This does a gross injustice to the many opponents of abortion who are not religious, but people of justice. It is rather like suggesting that anti-Semitism is just a Jewish concern. Many of us who are not Jews oppose anti-Semitism, and many who are not religious oppose abortion.

The media discussion last year about whether the number of unborn children who have been aborted should be publicised annually revealed a deep public disquiet. Pro-abortionists argued against this kind of transparency precisely because many more than religious people in our society would be concerned about the number of abortions.

Let us work for a democracy inclusive of all

As an Australian, I want to see us grow stronger as a nation. My hope is for an even stronger Australian community.

The Bill to make RU486 generally available will be discussed by the Senate in February. I ask all to consider contacting our Senators, urging them to oppose any general change to legislative arrangements which would threaten the lives of unborn Australians.

At a broader level, let us review laws that permit the killing of the most vulnerable of our citizens and lead some mothers to believe that they have no responsibilities to protect the child within them.

May we reflect more deeply upon our nation this Australia Day – its meaning and its values. Let us restore equality to all and the tradition of the stronger helping the weaker.

Most Rev Gerard J Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury

26 January 2006