May 26, 2024


An expanding Catholic hospital system is colliding with the Australian abortion and IVF industries. The news that all 74 Catholic-run hospitals have been banned from referring rape victims from crisis centres unless the woman is probably not pregnant sparked an outcry. Two women Federal senators challenged the right of Catholic-run public hospitals to impose their moral views on patients while receiving public funding. And the president of the Australian Medical Association, Mukesh Haikerwal, declared that “the services offered by state hospitals should be the full gamut of services.” Only “medical contra-indications” should be grounds for refusing a service, he declared.

Senator Lyn Allison called for a Senate inquiry, saying that she had long been concerned about growing Catholic influence in the health sector. Church control could influence the provision of many services, including abortion, sterilisation, fertility and genetic testing for severe foetal abnormalities.

The issue of Catholic involvement in health is particularly sensitive at the moment. Health Minister Tony Abbott recently enlisted two Catholic pregnancy support groups to help draft a pregnancy counselling manual. Abortion supporters have denounced this as a tragedy. This was followed by the news that a Canberra IVF clinic felt unwelcome in a private hospital after a Catholic hospital group bought it.

It seems likely that the Catholic hospital system will weather the storm, as it has strong support from state governments which rely upon their services. Queensland Acting Premier Anna Blight rejected Dr Haikerwal’s criticism. “There is no one-size-fits-all arrangement for funding public hospital services,” she said.