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Wednesday, 12 May 2021 08:34

Academic research describes how professionals self-censor on abortion

Written by Kathy Thompson


An Australian academic has released the findings of her doctoral research which shows how doctors, nurses and counsellors routinely hide facts about abortion from their patients.

In “Alarmist Gatekeeping – Abortion”, Dr Debbie Garratt distilled the theme of her PhD thesis which examined how and why the narrative of abortion rights came to dominate western societies and has forced censorship of the pro-life position. As the author explained, her theory is also being applied to other contentious issues unrelated to abortion, for example gender ideology and climate change.

The term, ‘gatekeeping’, denotes how narratives in the media, in the community and in the medical establishment work together to stop women from learning the truth about abortion. The research also shows how this mechanism employs explicit and implicit measures to punish those holding a pro-life position, ultimately harming women and their babies.

Dr Garratt explained the value of her research in an interview with Family Life International, pointing out that it can help the pro-life community’s interactions with those in the pro-abortion camp. “Once we recognise that censorship is a strategic action designed to silence people”, she explained, pro-lifers will realise that attacks aren’t personal, and can then maintain a more professional approach in their interactions.

She continued, “It is very important to understand that when people’s long held values or beliefs are challenged, it is normal to take a very defensive stance particularly when such a challenge may be painful in some way.  The more empathy we can have for the positioning of those in opposition, the more gracious, factual and professional our responses can be framed.”

Another insight contained in Alarmist Gatekeeping is its description of the process of “alarmist recruitment.”  This is the tactic wherein public perception of the need for abortion is influenced by the use of disturbing statements such as “abortion is safer than childbirth” and “women will die without abortion.” When these and similar statements are accepted uncritically, the general public is “recruited” to the pro-abortion position, and comes to believe that legal abortion is necessary.

The recruitment process solidifies as the community witnesses how those who disagree with abortion are ostracised by an ongoing offensive. This consists of discrediting and censorship of pro-lifers and of misinformation and disinformation about the reality of abortion. Dr Garratt notes that abortion advocates are never forced to explain exactly what is wrong with the pro-life position; it is simply presented as “anti-science”, “anti-woman” or as “punishment.”

Most pro-lifers have experienced one or more of the punitive behaviors described in Alarmist Gatekeeping, whether that is merely scorn or ridicule, or an orchestrated smear campaign or even violence. But less widely acknowledged within the pro-life community is the extent to which medical professionals have chosen to play down or ignore the reality and consequences of abortion out of fear for their livelihoods, thus failing to provide a counter to the prevailing pro-abortion narrative.

Dr Garratt said that for medical practitioners, self-censoring is “the norm”, even among pro-life professionals. “Like politicians, doctors are also subject to the same pervasive messaging as everyone else throughout their education and careers, and with added pressures of professional bodies and legal sanctions.”

The book contains comments from medical professionals who admit the difficulties they have in raising abortion-related problems with their patients. For example, one nurse is quoted as saying, “Well, foetal development is one thing I actually think is important to many women, but now I often don’t bring it up. It’s one of those things people think are ‘pro-lifey’.”[1]

A doctor’s comments sum up the mental anguish experienced by many medical professionals: “I used to say ‘congratulations’ to my patients. Now I have to say, ‘What would you like to do?’ It’s all wrong.”[2]

Dr Garratt notes that medical professionals are concerned about the perceptions their patients may have about their conversations, describing their general unease in terms of Foucault’s panopticon. A panopticon was a prison designed around the concept of constant surveillance[3] and Dr Garratt explains that a similar concept is at work in her theory, as compliance with the dominant pro-abortion discourse is guaranteed since “… people never know how or by whom they may be seen to not comply with expectations of the discourse.”

As an example of the blatancy with which the pro-life view is censored, Dr Garratt cites the debate surrounding the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland in 2018. A state government Health Committee was set up to gather evidence about attitudes to abortion in the state but disallowed “images of foetuses or outcomes of medical procedures.”[4] Submissions were heavily censored, with one 18-page submission being redacted in more than twenty places. The sections that were blacked-out included medical names for abortion procedures and comments about procedures by abortionists: not even the famous drawing of a foetus by Leonardo da Vinci, which adorned one of the submissions, escaped the Committee’s censorious overreach. In the end, the Committee recommended that abortion should be decriminalised.

Despite this egregious censorship, there were a few brave pro-life politicians who held their ground and tried to present the truth about abortion in parliament. But as Dr Garratt explained to FLI, most politicians are persuaded by the all-pervasive dominant discourse. “ It is just as easy for them to reject an uncomfortable fact when they are bombarded with messages that anything other than a pro-choice position is manipulative and false.”

The book is interspersed with testimonies from post-abortive women whose comments exemplify how they were not told all of the facts before they underwent an abortion and how many of them suffer grievously after the death of their child. One woman comments; “If it hadn’t been legal then maybe I would be awaiting the arrival of my child instead of being down and depressed and guilty every day. I needed help. I didn’t need an abortion. I see that now.”[5]

As a followup to Alarmist Gatekeeping, Dr Garrett plans to release a second book, this time on the topic of “gatebreaking”. Gatebreaking  will go beyond Dr Garrett’s original thesis topic to look at how the Gatekeeping mechanism applies to other contentious debates, like gender ideology, and will provide concrete strategies for dealing with censorship.

With positive feedback already being received from some pro-choice readers of Alarmist Gatekeeping, the future of the abortion debate is looking a little more hopeful. This new research can assist pro-lifers in breaking down the wall of silence surrounding the destructive nature of abortion.

[1] P 90
[2] P 97
[4] P 120
[5] P 167