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Asia Focus: Doctor Prescribes Silence



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It was 1973 - Toni was three months pregnant, a fifth year medical student and feeling sick. Abortion had been made legal in 1970 and so part of her obstetrics and gynaecology course meant students had to assist with an abortion.

"My job was to sieve out the bottle of blood and gore through a gauze swab. I didn't think much about it until I saw what sieved out onto the gauze. It was a baby of about eleven weeks. There was an arm with a little hand attached and a leg with a little foot attached. I had to count everything to make sure it was all there." She has never forgotten this experience. The situation was very real: "I was the same age as that girl on the table and at the same stage of pregnancy."

Dr Toni Turnbull lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She works in a general practice, but her work has included time in psychiatric hospitals and working for the Family Planning Association. Her husband, Bob, works with the homeless people of Adelaide. They have five children, ranging from 2 to 21.

Since her uni days Toni has always asked questions about concerns or situations she couldn't understand. Although she is labelled "an anti-abortion pro-life activist", she says it is just part of her world view. Gently spoken with a ready laugh, she is passionate about the life values she believes in and yet without aggression. The motivating force behind her care for people comes from her faith experience - an unexpected conversion from agnosticism to a belief that God loves her and has a task for her to do.

Toni and her husband spent two years working in New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea). The issue of abortion versus child-rearing was inappropriate there. It was a custom to give young children as presents to newly married couples. This was considered an honour!

Back in Australia, Toni began working in general practice. In the early 80's, she was surprised at the number of requests coming in for abortions. One particular week, she remembers, three women came to visit her. They were all over 35 and married. They had the following reasons for abortion:

1) Wanted to go to the America's Cup - a baby would have been a hindrance.

2) Wanted to travel around Europe.

3) Wanted to move to a more expensive house.

Toni couldn't understand their decisions. "They wanted an abortion a bit like the removal of a mole."

Toni recalls Catholic Bishop Dom Helder from Brazil saying, "You don't need to go to Central or South America to experience injustice." At this time, Toni's questioning really began. She decided people needed education, so she started speaking in schools on a range of topics under the 'Life Issues' umbrella.

Through meeting people and learning of their experiences, Toni's views have become stronger. During her five years at the Family Planning Clinic, referrals for abortion were common. This period highlighted her sense of need to know how to counsel women so they could make the most informed choice - aware of supportive alternatives to aborting their babies.

A female colleague had performed abortions for a public hospital for several months. Months later, Toni found she had been in a psychiatric hospital suffering deep depression. When asked what happened, her friend said: "I knew in my head that abortion was right. I was doing it for the women. But in my heart I felt it was wrong. In every abortion I performed I found I was reliving my own abortion I had had years earlier." Through this trauma, Toni's friend lost her job, her marriage broke up and she lost custody of her children. Toni no longer refers anyone for abortion, but works through the issues with those patients who are willing.

Toni also works with families and longs for everyone to understand and experience a vital quality of life. She's become a spokesperson on a range of life issues, appearing on radio, television and in the press. Toni has organised demonstrations, marches and vigils - recently campaigning against the growing local demand for voluntary euthanasia. She plans an end of year vigil to commemorate the 5000 babies aborted in Adelaide last year.

Libby Boxer, Australia

Toni gave her opinions to Global Express in an interview with Jean Brown:

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

The more sex, the more STDs. Some can be treated, some can affect or kill a baby if you're pregnant. For some there is no treatment and it will eventually kill you. Prevention is the only solution. Faithfulness in marriage, abstinence outside it.

Safe sex?

Because of the failure rate of condoms to stop sexually transmitted diseases, it is no longer referred to as 'safe sex' but as 'safer sex'!

Legalising prostitution

Sex just becomes another commodity. There could be 'two for the price of one' offers. More STDs, more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, more pain.

Sex before marriage, what does it prove?

Not much! If you want to know if a relationship is right for you, start out with friendship. In marriage, the sexual relationship gets richer over time, the deeper the friendship and commitment. Sex first doesn't prove a thing about real compatibility.

The Pill

I don't prescribe it anymore. It interrupts the development of a life. And there are some damaging side-effects.

What birth control is there that is safe and reliable?

Statistics in the USA show that the divorce rates among couples who practice natural family planning are only 1% compared to the national average of almost 50%. Natural family planning means living in tune with your body and nature. It requires mutual respect and communication between partners and so enhances the relationship, preventing exploitation and abuse. It is also free and without health risks. Check it out.

Pregnancy support

We're on Earth to support each other. In the first four months of pregnancy women are most hormonally disturbed and so, most vulnerable. This is often a time of depression and loss of confidence. This is when abortions are usually decided on, so this is a time for maximum support from husbands and family members.

Side effects of abortion, are there any?

Studies show that the majority of women suffer some side effect, sometimes years after the operation. Possible side effects include haemorrhaging, infection, blocked tubes, sterility, incompetent cervix (with repeated abortions), breast cancer, insomnia, nightmares, anorexia, loss of sexual interest, promiscuity, insecurity, difficulty in relationships, helplessness, depression and subsequent miscarriages.

When does life start?

Some believe that life starts 2-3 months after the baby is born, when it first responds to a smile; or at birth when the nose first hits the air; or when viability occurs (when the baby can live outside of its mother, around 20 weeks); or when the baby is identifiably fully formed around 11 weeks; or when the heart starts beating at 23 days; or when the fertilised egg implants in the uterus at 7 days; or right at the start when the sperm fuses with the ovum forming a complete cell with all the genetic information required for that new person. Then all that is needed is nutrition for growth. Yes, that's when life starts.


gives power to the doctors and relatives and takes it from the patient. There is really no such thing as a free choice.

Being your own therapist

Everyone has an inner voice. As a doctor, if someone has problems, I get them to ventilate them, verbalise them, then go and sit still, alone and in silence, and listen to their inner voice, writing down the thoughts that come to them. There is a source of truth within that is our own personal therapist.

Moods and depression

It's a question of focus. The more you focus only on yourself, the more hopeless you feel. This issue carries on through life. Change your focus.

Family life

is a place to learn to get along with people with whom you may not be naturally compatible. A safe place to cry, grow and share.

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:13 (EEST).
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