April 16, 2024

Some Catholic hospitals in Australia may close if abortion bill passes

Threat by Archbishop of Melbourne

A dispute over conscientious objection making headlines in the Australian state of Victoria. The issue is the Abortion Law Reform Bill, which has already passed the Victorian lower house and will be debated in the upper house next week. Apart from decriminalising abortion, it also stipulates that a doctor who objects must make an effective referral to a doctor who does abortions. And in an emergency, a doctor must perform an abortion, whatever his beliefs.

After a slow start, healthcare professionals have marshalled forces to oppose what they feel is effectively a ban on conscientious objection. Obstetric anaesthetist Eamonn Mathieson, of the Doctors in Conscience Against Abortion Bill group, described the proposed law as an "extreme and unprecedented" attack on human rights. He claimed that it breached the code of ethics of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), as well as Victoria’s own human rights charter.

Even more pressure was applied when the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, declared that Catholic hospitals would close their maternity and emergency departments if the bill passes.

"In the worst-case scenario, if a government is determined to enforce such laws, we have no option. We might get out of hospitals altogether," Archbishop Hart told The Age. "Catholic hospitals cannot be part of any abortion. That has to be respected in the community. Even providing a referral is a co-operation in evil, and that impacts very strongly on us as Catholics." Victoria has 15 Catholic hospitals and they account for about a third of all births in the state.

The AMA is also troubled by the proposals. "Respect for a conscientious objection is a fundamental principle in our democratic country, and doctors expect that their rights in this regard will be respected, as for any other citizen," it told the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, in a letter. ~ The Age, Sept 22; ABC, Oct 2