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Catholics rail against abortion bill -

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Catholics rail against abortion bill

The World Today - Tuesday, 23 September , 2008 12:42:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

ELEANOR HALL: The Catholic Archbishop in Victoria is warning today that Catholic hospitals could
close their maternity departments, if the State Government's proposed abortion law is passed.

The law would require a doctor who doesn't want to perform an abortion to refer the patient to an
alternative doctor or hospital.

But the Catholic Archbishop says that amounts to a 'cooperation in evil' that would threaten the
existence of Catholic hospitals.

In Melbourne, Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Catholic Church in Victoria owns and runs 15 hospitals, including St Vincent,
Cabrini and Mersey Private. They account for about a third of all Victorian births.

The Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart has written to all state mps asking them to reject the new
abortion bill which was recently passed by the lower house.

His letter comes with a warning too, if the laws are passed, he says the Catholic church may have
to get out of hospitals altogether.

Martin Laverty is the CEO of Catholic Health Australia.

MARTIN LAVERTY: We want to make it very clear that before this Bill is passed, the Upper House and
the broader government need to give consideration to the fact that this will have ramifications on
Catholic hospitals, and we're hoping to resolve those issues so that we don't need to revisit the
services that we offer the Victorian community.

ALISON CALDWELL: The new law requires a doctor to provide an effective referral to a woman who
wants a abortion, if the doctor has a conscientious objection to the procedure.

The Catholic Archdiocese says a doctor would be breaking the law if they didn't provide a referral.

Martin Laverty again.

MARTIN LAVERTY: What this law is now seeking to do is impose a mandatory mechanism whereby doctors
of all religious or otherwise persuasion would need to act in a certain way or face breaking the
law, and we don't think that that type of control on medical professionals is appropriate.

Before the Bill is determined in the Upper House, Upper House members should think through all of
the consequences and particularly this issue of conscience, that if a doctor, if a nurse, if a
health professional is forced to act against their conscience, surely that's in conflict with the
charter of human rights, which after all is a piece of legislation or a law made by the Victorian
Government itself.

So we don't think all of this has been thought through.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Catholic Archbishop wasn't available for an interview, but The Age newspaper
quotes him as saying that "providing a referral is a cooperation in evil".

He says that by including a mandatory provision, the new laws make a mockery of Victoria's Charter
of Human Rights.

Victoria's Attorney General Rob Hulls disagrees, he says abortion was removed from the charter,
after discussions with the Catholic Church.

ROB HULLS: It has to be remembered that abortion was specifically precluded from the charter, that
was actually at a request after discussions with the Catholic Church, so the charter of human
rights and responsibilities specifically precludes any laws in relation to abortion, so I don't
think there will be any problem with the charter of human rights, in fact, I'm quite sure about
that.

ALISON CALDWELL: Rob Hulls voted against the new laws in the Lower House.

While he sympathises with the Catholic Archbishop's concerns, he says he doubts Catholic hospitals
will have to close any services.

ROB HULLS: I'm not too sure how many Catholic hospitals actually perform abortions. My
understanding is they're not performed in Catholic hospitals.

ALISON CALDWELL: Callers to ABC Local Radio this morning said the church was being hypocritical in
threatening to withdraw services.

CALLER: Fair enough, if they want to say, "We're not performing terminations," but I would like to
be able to exercise a choice to have a referral to another hospital where I could make that choice.

CALLER 2: The Catholic hospitals are excepting a very large amount of money from a promptly elected
Government in Victoria, and they therefore I believe have an obligation to except majority rule as
far as these issues are concerned, otherwise they should be refusing to accept the money.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Abortion Bill is due to go to the Upper House in the first week of October.

ELEANOR HALL: Alison Caldwell in Melbourne.