Andrew Norton at Catallaxy recently published a scathing review of Marion Maddox’ book God Under Howard. His scorn for this work by someone very loosely described by her publisher as “the leading authority on the intersection of religion and politics” in Australia is justified. God Under Howard is riddled with elementary factual errors (the timing of the Waterfront dispute, Hewson’s accession to the leadership in 1989, Reith as a small-l liberal), is sloppily argued, and contains much irrelevant material on economic thinktanks and the Hindmarsh Island affair. Maddox consistently transposes US trends to Australia, extrapolating without regard for different cultural, social and political contexts. Her key thesis – that Religious Right politicians use secular arguments to hide their religious motivations, is largely, as she herself admits “an argument from silence” which she herself calls “dangerous”. The poor quality of this work is a pity, because as Andrew acknowledges in another thread, this is a debate worth having. It’s also a pity as the author drew upon extensive interviews from her time as a Parliamentary Fellow, a rich vein of data which could have been put to better use by a more skilled analyst. Troppo contributed to this debate through a guest post by Michael Carden on Pentecostalism and politics, which I’d recommend revisiting.
But there’s one “debate” which is clearly an instance of religious motivations hiding behind (not too covertly) secular reasoning – the “debate” over abortion which has recently resurfaced.
NOTE: It’s the weekend so I’m taking some time out of my thesis for a quick blogging fix.
ELSEWHERE: Immanuel Rant thinks that raising the issue of late term abortions is a wedge designed to open a larger debate. I think he’s right. It’s straight out of the Republican Party manual. Gianna thinks the principle of reproductive freedom is self-evident and doesn’t require debate while Zoe is writing emails to pro-choice Liberal pollies. Flutey’s still waiting for a reply to his email to ALP MP John Murphy.
UPDATE: Andrew Norton at Catallaxy ponders the links between this debate and free speech. Miss Piss at Piss’n’Vinegar hopes Howard was making a core promise when he said there’d be no changes to medicare funding of terminations. Immanuel Rant looks at Julian McGauran’s position.
It’s very clear that there is a direct link between a recent meeting of church and other religious leaders and the revival of this issue by pollies like Ron Boswell and Alan Cadman. It’s certainly not because of any shift in Australians’ views on this issue – which are becoming more pro-choice over time, as Swinburne sociologist Katherine Betts demonstrated in The Australian.
What’s particularly disturbing about this debate is the lack of understanding of the seriousness of the choices made by women over reproduction being demonstrated by some male pollies, as Suki notes at Suki Has An Opinion. Writing in The Age, Amanda Dunn argues that the real questions about women’s lives are being entirely ignored:
For example, how do women make a decision to terminate or continue with a pregnancy? And what consequences, if any, does it have for them later in their lives? Were they using contraception, and if not, why not? If so, what went wrong?
For teenagers and young women, the level of sex education is also vitally important – not simply the mechanics of reproduction, but relationships, self-esteem, the kind of future they envisage for themselves, and where sex and parenthood might fit into all that. For older women, did they end their pregnancies because their partners were not ready for parenthood, and they felt they could not raise a child on their own? Or was it that they already had children and could not cope with another?
In the Sydney Morning Herald Adele Horin suggests some answers:
Yet new federally funded research, released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, shows, if anything, Australian women have a heightened sense of responsibility about the decision to become a mother. Interviews with 3201 people aged 20-39, about half of them women, showed Australians want children. Women want children. But they also want to give their child the best possible start in life. They want to be the best mothers they can be. They want economic security, and they want to be in a stable relationship before they have children.
Decades of undermining “poor, single mothers” and “the disadvantaged children of divorce” have created a climate where, understandably, women want to bring children into the world only when the circumstances are right. A secure job and a reliable partner who is also good parent material are considered essential prerequisites. That is what the research showed. Conservative politicians and commentators, who have cast aspersions on single parents and their “problem” children, have reaped what they sowed. The message has got through. How can they now turn around and expect young, pregnant single women to embrace parenthood?
Maybe women have an inflated view of what is adequate, of what children need. But we live in the era of the private school, the coaching college, broadband internet access. Child-raising in the 21st century is not cheap.
Maybe a married women with two or three young children, and a lazy, no-good husband, can be persuaded to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. Maybe it will work out. But women want to give the children they already have the best chance in a highly competitive, consumerist society. Churchmen don’t know what is best for women, and their children. Women do.
But this debate is not about fertility, women and men’s interface with the paid workforce as parents, or about how people could find a better balance between life and work. It’s about a religious definition of “life”.
As Shaun Carney observes, this issue is only one front in the fights the Government is going to have with its own backbench in the wake of the sweeping Parliamentary victory of 2004. The other broad front is the tax and welfare agenda being pushed by the group led by Senator Mitch Fifield and Sophie Panopolous, not to mention the concerns of the Queensland Nationals. There are big dangers for the government in all three areas. Julia Gillard’s been quick to seize on this to attack Abbott, but the fact that Labor Federal policy supports reproductive choice and part of the charge is being led by ALP MP John Murphy suggests there are also dangers for the Opposition. It’s easy to see why both parties have tended to regard this issue as a settled one, and to avoid its politicisation in the past. It’s also of note that Ministers are probably egging on some of these backbench outfits (Ando and Abbott in the case of abortion), and increasingly tensions internal to the Coalition will come to be seen through a leadership succession lens (Fifield is a former Costello staffer and his agenda is probably closer to Costello’s position than Howard’s “tax and spend, elect and elect”).
We live in interesting political times. But it would be of benefit for everyone, no matter what their opinion, if the debate were held in terms of the actual motivations of its proponents.