By MIA FREEDMAN
The day Tony Abbott was elected leader of the opposition, I was quite irate. Seared in my mind was his interference in the issue of the introduction of abortion drug RU486 into Australia when he was health minister. Back then, women from all sides of politics – including the coalition – banded together to overturn any personal power he was able to wield in his role as health minister and ensure it remained a medical issue.
Rightfully. As it always should have been.
But it was an alarming episode that alerted voters to the potential for personal views to impede public policy.
How could we not be alarmed? Tony Abbott made some concerning remarks about abortion at that time, plainly influenced by his religious beliefs. These included “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience” and describing the annual abortion rate of 100,000 as “a legacy of unutterable shame”.
So when he became the leader of the opposition back in 2009, like many women I was a little freaked out. I wrote an impassioned post about what a dark day it was for women and stated my disbelief that the Liberal party could have elected as its alternative Prime Minister, a man who was opposed to abortion, contraception, stem cell research and IVF.
I may also have said he pulled the wings off butterflies. I was fairly overwrought.
Quickly, I amended the post and corrected some factual errors. While the abortion point remained, his positions on contraception and IVF were unclear so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and withdrew those accusations.
So where had they come from? Why did I – and so many others – believe Abbott was opposed to contraception and IVF?
Religion. I can’t recall a time when a political leader wore their religious beliefs so overtly as was the case before TA rose to the top of the coalition (since then, he has played down his religion massively – or perhaps he has genuinely stepped away from the hardline views of his church). Kevin Rudd is known to be quite deeply religious and has given far more press interviews on the steps of church than Abbott ever has and yet those same suspicions never clouded the public view of his judgement.
Apart from his stance on gay marriage (anti), I cannot recall an instance where Rudd’s religious views were thought to affect his political positions. It’s also worth noting that Kevin Rudd is not Catholic.
Because the area where the Catholic church is most out-spoken, most retrograde and most jarringly out of step with modern life are issues around women. Their hardline opposition to abortion, contraception and IVF are the three big ones.