By Anthony Barich
Pope Benedict XVI has highlighted the contradiction of promoting abortion as a form of maternal healthcare as he welcomed the new Australian ambassador to the Holy See.
The Australian Government is currently considering the implications of a report recommending it overturn a ban the previous government implemented a decade ago on overseas aid being used to fund abortion providers.
Receiving on February 12 the Letters of Credence of Australian ambassador to the Vatican Timothy Fischer – the first to live in Rome full-time – the Pope highlighted of particular concern the provision of medical care for families, including high-quality obstetrical care for women.
“How ironic it is,” Pope Benedict said, that “when some groups, through aid programs, promote abortion as a form of ‘maternal’ healthcare: taking a life, purportedly to improve the quality of life”.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, a Catholic, said on January 30 that his government would not be rushed into making a decision after US President-elect Barack Obama ended a ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform or provide information about abortions on the third day of his presidency.
Family Planning guidelines for the Aid Program currently indicate that, “Australian aid funds are not available for activities that involve abortion training or services, or research trials or activities which directly involve abortion drugs,” he said.
In May 2007 a report by the cross-party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development recommended the removal of the ban on funding for abortion training or services.
Sydney Archdiocesan Life Office director Chris Meney called the PGPD’s recommendations “repugnant”, noting that the PGPD advocated the financial benefits of aborting handicapped persons due to the costs of allowing them to be born.
“Such a ‘search and destroy’ attitude towards the needy and vulnerable is repugnant to a decent society,” Mr Meney told The Catholic Weekly, Sydney’s Archdiocesan newspaper.
Mr Smith can lift the ban administratively without legislation, though the Senate blocked a motion to overturn the ban in early February. He said President Obama’s decision was no surprise, as Democrats have overturned the ban previously.
When asked by The Record whether his Catholic faith would influence his decision on the matter Mr Smith said on February 9 through a spokeswoman: “This is a very difficult issue and there are strong views, firmly and sincerely held, on both sides of this issue.”
“The Minister will continue to consider the representations of all parties on their merits, and will advise of the decision in the near future,” the spokeswoman said.
The Australian Reproductive Health body said that Australia was now the only country to limit overseas aid funds in this way, and the nation’s guidelines were in conflict with its commitment to World Health Organisation protocols.
However, Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace said Mr Smith should not be emotionally bullied into thinking abortion is the answer to the tragic rate of maternal deaths in developing countries.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australia’s ban on aid money for abortion costs 34,000 mothers’ lives in the Pacific region each year, but Mr Wallace said “this is a far cry from saying they die because abortion is not available and we note that her official releases stop short of this claim”.
“Trained midwives, blood supplies and clean birthing environments will save far more lives than abortion clinics in the third world could,” Mr Wallace said.