VIC abortion law poses “real threat” to key Catholic health services, Melbourne Archbishop warns.
By Anthony Barich
Victorian Catholic hospitals’ maternity and emergency units may need to shut down if legislation legalising abortion passes through the State’s Legislative Council, says Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart.
Meanwhile, the former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See and Dublin, Sir Peter Lawler, says the effects of the Victorian legislation could, if passed, extend throughout Australia.
In a comprehensive attack on the Abortion Law Reform Bill that was introduced into Victoria’s Legislative Assembly in August, Archbishop Hart called for urgent action by Catholics and “all people of good will” in a six-page pastoral letter issued on September 19.
He included the names, region, contact numbers, faxes, email addresses and websites of every Member of the Victorian Legislative Council for people to address their concerns to. The Bill passed through the Legislative Assembly on September 11, will be debated in the Upper House on October 7 and, if passed through the Legislative Council, could become law by October 15.
Archbishop Hart said the Bill poses a “real threat” to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals.
“Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this State in their current form,” he said, noting that Catholic hospitals account for a third of all births and are seen by many as their hospitals of choice.
“It is an affront to logic to suggest that a belief held over the life of the Church’s existence and which has been subject to rigorous examination by theologians over the centuries can be dismissed as a ‘mere’ prejudice’,” he said, referring to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s statement on Abortion Law Reform that “created a false dichotomy in relation to conscientious objections, between ‘adequate justification’ and ‘mere prejudice’.”
Sir Peter told The Record Archbishop Hart deserves not only the prayer support of Catholics around Australia but from Australia’s bishops.
“This is not just an issue for Victoria, it’s an issue for the Catholic Church in Australia. How the Catholic Church in Australia reacts to support the Catholic Church in Victoria, more specifically the Archbishop of Melbourne, is a matter for the administrative structures of the bishops’ conference,” he said.
“Speaking personally, I think that the Victorian legislation as much as I understand it is anathema to a practising Catholic, and is a disgrace in a pluralist society which ought to make provision for harmonious relations with religious bodies and religious belief.
“Far be it for me to prejudge the issue, but my own view is that this legislation is an affront to Catholic belief and practice and is an affront to the Catholic community and its agencies, not least its hospitals and its health staff which are prominent in society.
“I cannot understand why it should be impossible for a legislature like the Victorian parliament to find a formula that allows the Catholic institutions and agencies to opt out.
“It should be made clear that this is an affront which affects the Catholic Church in Australia, because in its institutions, states in this case are not an island, as the agencies operating in Victoria exchange personnel (with those in other states).”
His comments supported Archbishop Hart’s pastoral letter, which said the Bill is an “unprecedented attack” on the freedom to hold and exercise fundamental religious beliefs and “makes a mockery” of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Act in that it requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to refer patients seeking an abortion to other health professionals who do not have such objections.
He said the Bill goes beyond codifying current clinical practice as its proponents claim, and will set an “unfortunate precedent” which other states in Australia may follow.
“The Law is a great educator, and if the Law approves something then people gradually accept a new understanding of what is right and wrong,” he said.
Archbishop Hart said the Bill breaches fundamental human rights with some “particularly disturbing” features.
He said the Bill:
– Allows abortions up to 24 weeks gestation by any doctor regardless of expertise,
– Allows a pharmacist or nurse, without involvement of a doctor to supply/administer a drug to cause an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation,
– Repeals the offence of ‘child destruction’,
– Compels a pharmacist or nurse employed or engaged in a public or private hospital or day-procedure centre, if directed in writing by a doctor, to administer a drug to cause abortion to a female who is over 24 weeks pregnant.
Archbishop Hart said the Bill is “seriously flawed” as much by what it omits as by what it contains, including:
– Failure to provide any protection for unborn children up to 40 weeks gestation,
– Failure to ban partial birth abortions,
– Failure to safeguard health of women by permitting abortions to be performed by doctors who have no qualifications or training in obstetrics,
– Failure to include informed consent provisions.
The Archbishop has declared October 5 as a Day of Intercession throughout the Archdiocese dedicated to the defeat of the Bill and urged “as many people as possible” to join him in an hour of prayer at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral at 12.15pm that day to “stand in solidarity with woman and the unborn who are directly at risk from this Bill”.
Sir Peter said that “people power and prayer power ought to be deployed in support of (Archbishop Hart). It’s their (Catholics around Australia) fight as much as his, and his letter indeed is addressed to all people of good will”.