Western Australia has become the latest state to expand its abortion laws, following the passing of the Acts Amendment (Abortion) Bill 1998 on 20 September.
The revised laws have removed clinical barriers for women accessing an abortion, in addition to reducing the number of health practitioners required to be involved in an abortion from two to one, abolished the Ministerial Panel requirement for later-term abortions, the mandatory counselling provision, and the requirement for Ministerial approval for a health service to perform a late-term abortion.
While the revised laws allow health practitioners to conscientiously object, they are required to transfer the patient’s request or provide information on where to access an abortion.
The gestational limit at which additional requirements apply has been increased from 20 to 23 weeks and abortion has been removed from the Criminal Code, however, it will still remain an offence for an ‘unqualified person’ to perform or assist with an abortion.
“This is certainly the position of the Catholic Church: it is one which is shared by many who belong to other religious traditions and by people who hold no religious beliefs,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“The right of doctors and other health professionals to be free of coercion in relation to the provision of abortions, when such coercion violates their conscientious beliefs, is also precious.
“To force a doctor, by law, to refer a patient to a medical practitioner whom the doctor knows will agree to perform the abortion, is to force the doctor to be complicit in a procedure which she or he believes to be immoral,” he continued.
“Secular societies which truly believe in fundamental human rights do not seek to force people to act in violation of their ethical or religious beliefs,” he said.
Acknowledging the complexities surrounding unplanned pregnancies, Life Services Program Manager from the Centre for Life Marriage and Family, Bronia Karniewicz also stressed the importance of supporting women, their partners, and families during these challenging times.
“We know these laws are very sad and abortion is just wrong. We should never harm the defenceless,” Ms Karniewicz said.
“At our centre, our focus, too, is on women, their partners, and families. It can be a really scary and lonely time,” she said.
“Women in vulnerable situations that are perhaps feeling pressured to abort or can’t have the child should know there are services available provided by the Catholic Church and other organisations to support them.
“Pregnancy Assistance and Pregnancy Problem House are such services, offering practical, emotional, and financial assistance to women facing difficult choices.
“Walking with Love provides guidance on how to help support women and men that have had an abortion and how to help bring them support given the hurt they too would be experiencing.”
Ultimately, the way to overturn these abortion laws is for a mass conversion of hearts, to know and understand the God-given value and dignity of each individual, according to Ms Karniewicz.
On this, she cites the work of the late Pope John Paul II and his calls for a “’culture of life’ should be is used as a guiding principle against abortion. This perspective urges a shift in focus towards celebrating and preserving life, emphasising the inherent dignity of every individual.
The goal is to encourage alternatives to abortion and provide a network of compassionate resources for women, their partners and families facing unplanned pregnancies.”
“Abortion is a choice filled with sorrow and consequences, often driven by external pressures that women may not recognise at the time.
“Instead of solely focusing on abortion as a solution, we should prioritise supporting women, their partners and their families during challenging times.”
Archbishop Costelloe concluded by saying those who are not supportive of abortion, and probably many of those who are, would agree that a decision to terminate a pregnancy is very often a difficult and even agonising decision to make.
“Very few women would make such a decision easily.”
“We should be very wary of judging or condemning anyone,” he continued.
“As a community, however, we might do better to consider how we can rebuild our society in such a way as to make more life-giving and life-affirming options available to those who find the realisation that they are pregnant such a distressing and alarming experience”.