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Forced adoption 'totalitarian': Catholic Chur -

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Forced adoption 'totalitarian': Catholic Church apologises to mothers

Giselle Wakatama reported this story on Monday, July 25, 2011 08:14:00

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's former forced adoption practices from the 1950s, '60s and '70s have been
described as a national disgrace.

Today in response to an ABC investigation into claims of abuse and trauma in Newcastle, Catholic
Health Australia is issuing a national apology.

There have been previous parliamentary inquiries in several states, but affected women say the
Commonwealth must do more because common laws were breached.

Giselle Wakatama reports.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: To at least 150,000 Australian women the practices of some churches and adoption
agencies in the '50s, '60s and '70s amounted to baby snatching.

New South Wales psychiatrist Dr Geoff Rickarby who's treated scores of affected women says it's a
stain on Australia's history.

GEOFF RICKARBY: You know it sounds like some totalitarian country somewhere hundreds of years ago
but in fact it's Australia only 35, 40 years ago.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: The chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, Martin Laverty says he's sorry
for what happened.

He became aware of the past practices after an ABC investigation and will today make a national
apology in Newcastle.

MARTIN LAVERTY: It's with a deep sense of regret, a deep sense of sorrow that practices of the past
have caused ongoing pain, suffering and grief to these women, these brave women in Newcastle but
also women around Australia.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: The ABC investigated the treatment of women in the Hunter Valley. Juliette Clough
says she was forced to give up her baby at a Catholic-run hospital in Newcastle in 1970.

She was 16 at the time and says she was alone, afraid and desperate.

JULIETTE CLOUGH: My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had
plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby, you weren't allowed to see him or touch him
anything like that or hold him and it was just like a piece of my soul had died and it's still
dead.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: Margaret had a similar experience when her son was taken against her will in
1975. She was 17 at the time.

MARGARET: Straight away he was taken out of the labour ward. By the records it only took 13 minutes
to transfer him from the labour ward to the nursery. So he was gone.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: The women claim they were not told about single parent benefits or their rights
to revoke consent for adoption.

Clare who had two babies forcibly adopted says the infants were like products, procured for couples
deemed more suitable to raise them.

CLARE: It was almost like a machine or you know I don't like the terminology but a factory in that
it was so well lubricated.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is the chairwoman of a current Senate inquiry into
Australia's former adoption practices.

RACHEL SIEWERT: Women have told stories about going into hospital not realising that they were
going to then have to give up their babies, but that pillows were put over their faces, that
curtains were put up so they couldn't see the baby.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: Women have also told the ABC they were given milk suppressing drugs, now linked
to cancer as well as barbiturates, causing extreme sedation and delirium.

Catholic Health Australia chief executive Martin Laverty says it's not a period to be proud of.

MARTIN LAVERTY: The evidence that's come forward really speaks to a shameful and a regretful time
in the history of healthcare in Australia. It wasn't just a small number of hospitals; we now know
that there were many hospitals across Australia.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: In addition women told the ABC there was pressure to sign adoption papers well
before consent could legally be obtained and in some cases documents were forged.

The Catholic Church's adoption agency said sorry for misguided, unethical or unlawful practices
after a NSW parliamentary inquiry in 2000.

Last year the Western Australian Government also apologised - a move Senator Siewert says was
extremely empowering for thousands of women there.

But Lily Arthur from the forced adoption support group, Origins NSW is sceptical about apologies.

LILY ARTHUR: I don't think that anyone could accept an apology for something that's never been
basically dealt with legally.

GISELLE WAKATAMA: Catholic Health Australia says it's committed to righting the wrongs and wants to
develop protocols to assist the women affected.

TONY EASTLEY: Giselle Wakatama reporting.