No way out for Catholic medics: Catholic Health Australia

06 May 2009

By The Record

Abortion law corners Christians.                     
AUSTRALIA’S peak Catholic healthcare body says it has no options to appeal to the courts if a medical practitioner is sacked or prosecuted for not abiding by the clause in a new law that it says breaches their rights conferred by a United Nations covenant ratified by Australia.
Clause 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Bill, which came into effect on October 24, forces medical practitioners in Victoria to refer women onto one who has no conscientious objection if they are requested to advise on a proposed abortion, or to perform, direct, authorise or supervise an abortion for her.
It also requires practitioners who have a conscientious objection to reveal his or her “thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief”.
Martin Laverty, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, which represents operators of 15 Catholic healthcare and aged care services in Victoria, says these requirements breach human rights protections affirmed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Australia ratified in 1980.
On behalf of health practitioners working within Catholic hospitals, he said CHA reserves rights to petition the United Nations Human Rights Committee to adjudicate the rights impinged by Clause 8.
He appealed to Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland to use his Constitutional powers to overturn the clause, citing advice from Queen’s Counsel and former Federal Court judge Neil Young and barrister Peter Willis, a former adviser to the Attorney General’s office, that Australia will fail to meet its international obligations unless the clause requiring practitioners to reveal their religious beliefs is removed.
“The Attorney General, as chief law officer, is among other things required to ensure Australia meets its international legal obligations. It is your duty to inform the Commonwealth Parliament of (the Victorian bill) Clause 8’s breach of the covenant,” Mr Laverty said in the October 24 letter to Mr McClelland.
The international covenant, signed by Australia, states: "No one can be compelled to reveal his thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief."
But Mr McClelland declined to act, saying in a letter to CHA that he would not invoke international covenants to intervene, despite Melbourne daily The Age also reporting that he has been lobbied by several Senators within his own party to act.
A spokesman for McClelland told Melbourne daily The Age on March 8 that the Federal Government believed the act "strikes the correct balance between the rights of medical professionals to hold certain views and the rights of women seeking medical information."
Now, Mr Laverty has conceded that CHA has no recourse to the courts if a medical practitioner is sacked or prosecuted if he refuses to participate in abortion or reveal his religious beliefs.
“We are monitoring the operation of this law in Victoria and we are monitoring the situation around Australia to see if there are any developments in any other jurisdictions,” Mr Laverty told The Record on May 1.
“However, with the way the law is constructed, there is not a thing that can be done.
“The only action we had was with the Attorney General and he’s refused to act.
“There is no other course we can pursue.”