Vic Parliament threatens Church’s social work: prelate

15 Oct 2008

By The Record

Abortion law leaves no room for conscience; Catholic healthcare workers in Victoria are now bound by law to cooperate in elements of abortion. There are fears it will spread to other states.


New life: This is what motherhood and life are really all about, as mothers care for their babies in a Manila hospital. However, following the passing of Victoria’s abortion legislation, Catholic leaders in Australia are warning it could become a scene of the past in Catholic hosptials. The Victorian legislation forces doctors opposed to abortion to cooperate by referring pregnant women seeking an abortion to those who will provide it. Medical workers, including pharmacists, lose their conscientious right to refuse to participate in any activities associated with abortion. Even though abortion laws in other states are abominable, the Victorian legislation goes further in its dismissal of freedom of conscience for medical workers. Pphoto: CNS/Cheryl Ravelo, Reuters


By Anthony Barich
The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has warned that the future of Catholic social services is now in doubt after the Abortion Law Reform Bill was approved by the Victorian Parliament on October 10.
The Bill passed through Victoria’s Upper House by 23 votes to 17 and allows babies to be aborted up to 24 weeks gestation, after which a mother will need the consent of two doctors, the second of whom does not need to assess the woman. 
Opponents of the Bill said they feared that it will make criminals of medical practitioners who have a conscientious objection to abortion, as it requires them to refer patients on to another practitioner who has no such objection.
ACBC president Archbishop Philip Wilson said the Bill’s underlying principles “are a threat to the Catholic Church’s operations” across the board, including healthcare, education and welfare services “where we’re deeply involved”.
“We’re put in a position where we are unable to operate according to our conscientious position in these matters,” he said.
Queensland Bioethics Centre director Ray Campbell also told the Catholic Leader that a push for similar laws was likely in other Australian states, forcing Catholic hospitals to disobey the law as a flow on from proposed changes to abortion laws in Victoria.
Prior to the Victoria vote, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said that maternity and emergency wards in Catholic hospitals would need to be shut down if the Bill passed, and called on “all people of good will’ to pray that the Bill does not pass.
But after it did, Archbishop Hart said: “It is a betrayal of our shared humanity, a betrayal of women, a betrayal of the innocent unborn child that would ease the way to the destruction of 20,000 unborn children annually (in Victoria),” he told Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper. As a result of Archbishop Hart’s call for prayer prior to the vote, Archbishop Wilson immediately wrote to all Australian bishops and asked that all dioceses follow the pattern, “as we need to make a national response in prayer”.
Archbishop Wilson said he did not make a public statement on the issue as Archbishop Hart and his team had dealt with the arguments well and that “he speaks for all of us (bishops)”, as the bishops all back the Melbourne prelate. When asked whether the Victorian Law Reform Bill is a threat to Catholic healthcare as we know it, Archbishop Wilson said. “More than that”, he warned that other laws based on individual rights would harm the Catholic Church’s right and ability to serve people based on the Truth that it professes.
“It’s also a concern in terms of way that the country would operate in general, in taking away the opportunity for people to exercise their conscience.
“So it would not only be impossible for us to be involved in obstetric and maternity care, but other laws will prevent us from being involved in things like welfare and adoption programs.”
Archbishop Wilson said that upon the Bill’s passage through Victoria’s parliament, the Australian bishops would “consider the issue carefully in light of legal realities that the new law creates”.
“This strikes a blow in area of making abortion access almost unrestricted, and to the lives of all those who are going to be killed as a result. So as a law it’s really bad and has very bad consequences for a society in general that would give approval to this sort of behaviour. That’s the real evil,” he said.
“If that’s accompanied by restrictions on the right of people to live their life according to their conscience, it’s another great worry about the way our society is developing.”
The day before the Bill passed, Archbishop Hart told The Record that the legislation leaves the Catholic Church with few choices.
“We’ve said we can’t perform abortions nor refer abortions elsewhere; we have nowhere to go. Our parliamentarians seem to very easily be able to make the separation between their own personal views, their own faith and the reality that abortion is harmful as it deals with not just one person but a beautiful helpless baby in the womb.”