School talk tackles abortion debate

ABORTION - and whether it is morally and ethically right - has been debated for decades.

Now Matthew Flinders Anglican College Year 12 students will be equipped to take part in that conversation.

The students were encouraged to consider the 'Philosophy of the Embryo' at a conference by world-renowned ethicist and speaker, Dr Julie Arliss.

Dr Arliss, an author and lecturer at King's College, London, said the culture in Australia and America was such that "about 50% of the girls in the room will be making a decision whether to have an abortion once in their life".

"Similarly, about 50% of the boys will hopefully be consulted over the decision," she said.

She said it was important the students had a broader understanding of the arguments behind the debate.

"It is an important decision, a big one, it's one to practically get their head around, so they are not simply influenced by emotional turmoil," she said.

The conference considered what defined the embryo.

Dr Arliss said the aim was to help the students understand arguments and the ideas that sat beneath thought processing.

"It's taking the level of education a little bit deeper," she said.

"It looks at what defines identity and applying that question of an embryo and seeing if it will help with the debate."

Dr Arliss said abortion was a "relatively modern issue" triggered by abortion legislation and embryo research which was introduced in the past 50 to 60 years.

What wasn't going to be debated was the point where life begins.

"Life begins at conception. That is not debated; it is a key fact," she said.

"The question is at what point can we say the embryo is sufficiently developed that we can say now it can't be killed.

"Some say from the moment of conception. Others don't value conception. They value potential.

"Abortion legislation recognises the graduation of status. Late abortion is more tightly regulated. Up until 24 weeks it is relatively straightforward. The law becomes tighter after that point."

The students would look at the question of what happened if a developing baby was disabled.

"The legislation provides (for abortion) if there is a disability, but what does it say about our attitude to the disabled in society?" Dr Arliss said.

She said the aim of the conference wasn't to formulate students' opinions or develop new ideas, it was to ensure their thinking was sound.

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