When does life begin?

This is a tough one if you’re pro-choice, like I am. At the end of March this year, a 41 year old woman was sent to jail for 9 months after she ran her van into a pregnant woman while on a cocktail of drugs, killing the woman’s unborn baby girl. She was called Zoe,  named after being stillborn a few hours later. Zoe’s mother Brodie had been 36 weeks pregnant. It was Christmas day 2009.

ABC Online reported:


Justine Hampson, 41, was affected by a cocktail of drugs including methadone when she crashed her van into Brodie Donegan at Ourimbah, seriously injuring her and killing her unborn baby girl.

Hampson was convicted of two charges, including dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm.

Outside the court, Ms Donegan, who has been unable to have her daughter’s death recognised by the law, says the result was better than she expected. “The judge took Zoe into account and I really liked the way he described things,” she said. “I think he obviously thought about it quite long and hard and tried to come to the right conclusion, and I’m happy the driver expressed remorse and that seemed to be genuine.”


The woman driving the van was charged with causing ‘grievous bodily harm’. There was no related charge able to be made around Zoe’s death because the law did not recognise the baby as a person. To do so, would have implications for abortion law.

To recognise an unborn baby as having the same legal rights as you and I, would mean that choosing to terminate a pregnancy would be mired in legal implications.

Here’s where it gets soooo complicated. For me, anyway. And maybe for you too.

I support a woman’s right to control her own fertility. I am pro-choice (not to be confused with pro-abortion which is a bizarre term thrown around by the anti-choice movement to try and tarnish the pro-choicers. I don’t know anyone who is pro abortion or even how you could be. It’s a ridiculous term). I have marched in rallies to support a woman’s right to choose and I will again if I ever believe it’s seriously under threat by any state or federal government or law.

And yet.

I’m not comfortable with late term abortions for non-medical reasons. I’m just not. And I guess it comes down to this:

When do you think life begins? And how do you define “late term”?

The anti-choice movement, who do believe abortion at any stage past conception is akin to murder, would very much like all unborn babies to be recognised as having the same legal rights as anyone else. From conception. Because this would certainly throw abortion laws into chaos. How can you abort an entity that has legal rights?

That’s why this is such a fraught and complex issue.

It would be a travesty if the current laws around abortion were in any way wound back.


Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that women who are desperate not to be pregnant, will find a way to end their pregnancy, no matter the risk to their own lives. We certainly don’t want to go back THERE.

But back to Brodie for a moment. As she tearfully said outside the court, she wanted her daughter Zoe’s life to count for something. And her death to be a punishable offence. Surely, to deny that is somehow to deny the precious life that was so much wanted by Brodie and her husband, isn’t it?

I’m not a lawyer but to me, that is the crux of the difference between the legal status of an aborted foetus and one that was taken against the will of the mother. The mother’s will. It’s as simple as that. If a mother wishes to be pregnant and have a baby and that choice and baby is taken from her by someone else – either in a deliberate attack or an act of reckless negligence like the one that ended Zoe’s life – surely that can be classed as murder or manslaughter. Can’t it?

I realise this is very very dangerous territory to stray into because I’m fearful of anything that might give those who are determined to take choice away from women any ammunition. But I still think it’s an important conversation to have. Respectfully and civilly as always.

When do you think life begins and do you think there should be changes to the law to recognise the death of babies like Zoe?

NB: We clarified the law with Professor Ian Dobinson, senior lecturer in the law faculty at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and he had this to say: “Where someone causes the death of a child who dies while still in the mother’s womb then this, in law, cannot be murder or manslaughter.   If a child, however, is born, lives but then dies as a result of someone’s unlawful conduct, eg. assault, then it can be murder or manslaughter.   Where a child dies while still in the mother’s womb then this is grievous bodily harm against the mother.”

We later discussed this issue on Mamamia on Sky News:

If this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.