By Paul Gray
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart says a parliamentary enquiry into abortion should be established, in response to a Law Reform Commission calling for the legalising of the practice.
He has also warned that Victorian law is in danger of becoming “completely permissive” and giving pregnant women no support, if abortion laws are changed.
Victoria became the latest state to put abortion on the parliamentary agenda last week as the state’s Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, released a long-awaited Law Reform Commission report.
Archbishop Hart said the issue demands a parliamentary inquiry.
“Matters of such gravity and community concern should not be determined on the basis of a single committee report,” he said.
The Archbishop criticised the committee which produced the report as unrepresentative of the wider community.
“The Commission completely dismisses concerns about proper respect for human life,” he said. “It seeks to have abortion treated as though it were any other medical procedure.
The Archbishop added: “This flies in the face of the fact that the life of a human being is intentionally destroyed. It also flies in the face of community concern for a woman faced with the predicament of abortion.”
Under a longstanding court precedent called the Menhennitt ruling, abortions are generally considered legal in Victoria, at least up to 24 weeks’ gestation of the child.
However a long-expected Law Reform Commission report presented by the Victorian Government last week calls for one of three legislative options to be enacted, each of which would further entrench abortion as a legal practice in the state. Archbishop Hart said all three options provided by the Commission reject requirements for making supportive counseling for pregnant women available.
They also reject the need for an independent medical opinion before an abortion is allowed, the reporting of adverse events and the restricting of abortion to places that have adequate facilities for a major surgical procedure.
The Archbishop said all options recommended to the Government would simply allow a doctor to perform consensual abortion with no support offered to the woman to assist her with her pregnancy.
“That does not reflect Australian opinion which sees abortion as a decision that is very difficult to make and in need of supportive counseling.”
Archbishop Hart warned that if any of the three Law Reform Commission proposals are accepted by Victoria’s parliament, the number of children aborted will increase, as will the number of children aborted who “are matured enough to be born alive.”
The Melbourne Archbishop expressed disappointment that in its report the Victorian Law Reform Commission included an essay on the ethics of abortion which misrepresents the pro-life position and in which Pope John Paul II is “selectively quoted.”
It fails to address the needs of a woman in the predicament of an unexpected pregnancy for support and an opportunity to discuss the issues with someone who is supportive of her and independent.
“Everything can rest on the advice and opinion of the abortion doctor,” he said.
Discussion of the issue should now be shifted to a parliamentary inquiry where elected representatives “can take evidence for themselves and gauge the nature of community concerns that have been obscured by this report.”