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If you're going to write about abortion, then you have to reveal this.

Melinda Tankard-Reist

 

By MIA FREEDMAN

When you write an opinion piece for a website or a newspaper, declaration is everything. If you have an established history or professional connection with your subject or well-known bias, it must be declared – either by you or by whomever is publishing the piece.

When Mark Latham writes about politics, his role as a former ALP leader is always declared.

When British public speaker Lord Monckton writes about climate change, his position as an anti-climate change campaigner is always noted.

If blogger and author Sarah Wilson wrote an opinion piece about the food industry, her business interests as an author of books about quitting sugar would be mentioned – either in the piece itself, or disclosed at the end.

So it should be the same when someone with a history of anti-abortion campaigning writes about the safety of abortion drug RU486, right?

Not if you’re The Age who neglected to inform its readers of Melinda Tankard Reist’s position on this subject when they published her opinion piece about RU486 at the weekend.

Social commentator and activist Melinda Tankard Reist describes herself as an ‘advocate for women and girls’ and while our views sometimes clash, I have no beef with her personally. In fact on certain issues such as body image and the depiction of violence against women in pop culture, we find ourselves fighting together in the trenches.

Other times, on subjects like abortion, we disagree. Fundamentally.

She is anti-abortion. I am pro-choice.

And that’s fine. Our relationship is a very cordial and respectful one. Ultimately, I believe Melinda comes from a sincere place and I believe she is authentic in fighting for what she believes.

I can respect her without always agreeing with her. In fact I’ve defended her many times, particularly on Twitter, when she has come under vicious attack from some who deride her all her work on the basis she is a devout Christian and an anti-abortion advocate.

My view is that Melinda’s religion is her own business and certainly not a reason to write off everything she stands for.

Interestingly though, her Christianity is something she has been reluctant to discuss since she founded Collective Shout, the movement that encourages the general public to put pressure on brands and businesses who they believe exploit women. She’s been equally reluctant to discuss abortion recently. Until now.

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On Saturday,  I was surprised to read the opinion piece Melinda wrote in The Age about the abortion drug RU486.

It’s not the content that shocked me – it’s hardly surprising she’s spruiking a scare campaign against the drug that federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has just made more affordable and widely available across Australia [note: Marie Stopes, one of the providers of RU486, have previously advertised on Mamamia].

Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek

My problem is this: where is the declaration of Melinda’s background, history and bias on the subject of abortion? Why has she been allowed to present an extraordinarily skewed, unbalanced, unscientific and extremely misleading argument about the safety and efficacy of RU486, a drug that has the ability to change thousands of women’s lives and give them greater control over their fertility?

Melinda has no medical background and has – like the anti-vaccination mob – simply cherry picked a few specific statistics entirely without context, thrown in a couple of random anonymous anecdotes from women who claim they had a bad experience with the drug and presented it as a scaremongering argument against the safety of RU486.

Surely, when you write such a strong opinion piece about the medical effects and efficacy of RU486, this information is relevant:

  • Melinda was hired as a bio-ethics advisor to former Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine in 1994 and worked for him until he retired in 2005. During this time, Harradine (an outspoken anti-abortion campaigner) was instrumental in blocking the importation of RU486, the abortion pill.
  •  Also around 1994, according to ethicist Leslie Cannold, 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.
  • Melinda has also written a book called Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief After Abortion (Duffy&Snellgrove, 2000) which is a collection of interviews with women who say they regret their terminations.
Tankard Reist’s book

Surely this is all highly relevant? Instead, at the end of the piece, her bio simply reads: Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker, media commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls.

So while defending Melinda’s right to advocate for whatever she chooses, I believe omitting this relevant information is as dangerous as allowing anti-vaccination activist Meryl Dorey to write about the efficacy of vaccination. And giving her the platform of a mainstream newspaper from which to broadcast her claims.

*This is one of those posts where I’m going to play the ball not the woman. And before you comment, I would urge you to do the same. As always, we will not publish any comments that are personally abusive.

You can read a medical response to Melinda’s claims that RU486 is “do-it-yourself” and that women experience ‘symptoms such as nausea and blood loss’ when they have a medical abortion here.

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