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Rape debate fires up in Victoria -

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Rape debate fires up in Victoria

The World Today - Tuesday, 7 October , 2008 12:30:00

Reporter: Rachael Brown

ELEANOR HALL: As the Victorian Parliament resumes debate on the government's contentious
legislation to decriminalise abortion; interest groups are stepping up their lobbying for and
against the bill.

Today a Victorian Greens MP has accused Catholic-run hospitals of refusing to refer rape victims to
crisis centres that prescribe the morning after pill.

And she wants the Medical Practitioners Board to rule on whether such a practice would violate a
doctor's duty of care.

In Melbourne, Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland is worried by stories from women's health
centres, that Catholic-run hospitals aren't offering sexual assault victims referrals to rape
crisis centres, unless they're confident the victim is not pregnant.

COLLEEN HARTLAND: Catholic hospitals and won't do abortions and won't give contraception, I would
presume in that situation though they would just refer straight to a facility that does assist in
that way.

RACHAEL BROWN: Even if it does go against the Church's philosophy?

COLLEEN HARTLAND: I was actually quite surprised because I would've thought that even considering
their views on abortion and contraception that in these cases because women are incredibly
traumatised anyway that you wouldn't add to their trauma by, you know, not referring them to the
place that could actually give them the best care

RACHAEL BROWN: She's written to the Medical Practitioners Board, concerned that such a practice may
violate doctors' duty of care.

But Catholic Health Australia's Martin Laverty says its hospitals don't operate specific sexual
assault centres, so refers victims to the Royal Women's, a hospital that does perform abortions and
prescribe the morning after pill.

MARTIN LAVERTY: What our protocol allows for is that when a victim of sexual assault presents at a
hospital because there is a centre of excellence, a service providing 24 hour care with specialists
trained in sexual assault counselling and support and also with the ability to gather forensic
evidence to ensure a successful police examination of the occurrence. It's quite appropriate that
we have in place a referral to ensure that a victim of sexual assault gets access to the services
that they need in this time of crisis for them.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Medical Practitioners Board has already answered Ms Hartland's letter, saying it
believes the legislation is a matter for the community through the parliament, but it adds, it does
have this expectation of doctors.

MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS BOARD (voiceover): If you think your personal beliefs may prejudice your
patients care, tell them of their right to see another doctor, and where appropriate, refer.

RACHAEL BROWN: This issue of conscientious objection is a vexed one.

Dr Mary Lewis from the group Doctors In Conscience Against Abortion says the Bill won't give her a
choice as a doctor.

MARY LEWIS: Particularly this still puts me in a dilemma about being able to act according to my
conscience. This bill requires me to refer any patient who requests an abortion to somebody who is
without any conscientious objection. Now as a medical practitioner, when I make a referral I'm
referring to a colleague, a partner, somebody whom I trust and with whom I can work.

This is saying, no I need to now act according to what the law says which is actually different to
what my conscience is.

RACHAEL BROWN: Catholic Health Australia says it's received legal advice that the Bill breaches the
government's human rights charter.

Protestors gathered on the steps of parliament this morning, as politicians prepared to thrash out
the legislation.

One 20 year old woman against the Bill says there needs to be more emphasis on counselling.

She says she was cajoled into an abortion three years ago by the service she was referred to.

PROTESTOR: She didn't give me any counselling, she didn't tell me what an abortion was and she just
sort of rushed me through it just sort of then sent me home saying that I might be emotional for a
few days. And it's just sort of something that I still can't deal with and I've just never gotten
over and I've just been really traumatised and I've suffered really bad late trauma depression
since that day and it was all because like not only was I pushed into this decision but I was lied
to about what it involves and the emotional consequences of it.

RACHAEL BROWN: Colleen Hartland says the Bill will be hotly debated in Parliament this afternoon.

COLLEEN HARTLAND: The numbers are incredibly tight, I don't have a sense of how it's going to go.
There's obviously been a massive amount of pressure from the Catholic Church over the last few
weeks but, and you know considering that I was raised as a Catholic I do understand the politics of
this but at somewhere along the line, I believe my responsibility is to stand up for women.

ELEANOR HALL: Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland, ending Rachael Brown's report.