Defining when life starts a crucial key

WHAT interesting paradoxes we are witnessing in Australia.

Did you hear about how the Queensland Police Union has called for risk-taking pregnant women to be monitored in safe houses, particularly in cases where the unborn child is at risk of foetal alcohol syndrome or drug addictions?

The submission to the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry says the law should be changed to protect the rights of unborn children to a "full life and health".

"The state must have the ability to intervene and protect the unborn child when its mother refuses, or is incapable or unwilling to do so," union president Ian Leavers says in the submission.

Skip across to South Australia where there are moves to declare an unborn child a person after the tragic case of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, who was killed in a car accident. The male driver was charged with causing death by dangerous driving, unlicensed driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

State MP Robert Brokenshire's planned submission of a private members' bill to the South Australian parliament would change the legal status of a foetus to allow prosecution where the unborn child is harmed or killed.

A similar new law is set to be considered in the New South Wales Parliament. The proposed legislation will be called Zoe's Law in memory of Brodie Donegal's unborn child, who was stillborn after a driver on drugs ran into the eight-month-pregnant woman on Christmas Day, 2009.

The driver was not charged for Zoe's death because she was not recognised as a person and so spent nine months in prison for the charge of causing grievous bodily harm.

Then there was the Chrissie Swan fiasco. The celebrity radio presenter was caught having a stealthy ciggy in her car - a detail that invoked widespread commentary given that she is pregnant with her third child.

A tearful Swan confessed to her nicotine habit during her popular Mix FM Melbourne radio show - and most of you will have seen some of the verbiage that has tumbled from the mouths of social commentators and Average Joes alike.

Some were unforgiving, calling Swan selfish and uncaring. Others were more gracious, acknowledging the "sin" of smoking during pregnancy while also applauding her honesty.

And we are waiting with bated breath for the meeting of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Commission in March to determine whether the abortion drug RU486 should be publicly funded, making it available for about $12 instead of $300.

You may not think these things are related, but there is one question that threads them all together.

When is a foetus a person?

And can it be different for different people?

Say a pregnant woman was on her way to an abortion clinic to have her pregnancy terminated when a drink-driver slammed into her car and caused her to have a miscarriage.

Would the driver be charged with manslaughter for the unborn child's death?

I find it baffling that we can judge a woman for smoking while pregnant, look at laws to enable manslaughter charges for killing the unborn and entertain the idea of safe houses for women unable or unwilling to care for their unborn child - all while ignoring a trend towards abortion as a contraceptive.

This debate is good - I like it.

Let's keep asking, when is a foetus a person?

And can it be different for different people?

- Read more of Claire Van Ryn's musings at


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