Doctors’ rights to object to abortion should be protected (Australia)

Sydney Morning Herald 4 August 2019
Family First Comment: “In short, to refer for abortion is not a passive step. It is to begin the process of procuring an abortion. Freedom of conscience demands that doctors who believe abortion ends the life of an unborn baby should not be compelled to begin the abortion process.”
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All Australians should be concerned when a law forces other Australians to act in a way that they believe is gravely wrong.

Freedom of conscience is a foundational principle of a diverse, pluralist democracy like Australia. It protects individuals who hold moral or religious views from compulsion. Forcing doctors to refer for abortion – whether directly or indirectly – undermines our hard-won and precious values of tolerance and freedom of belief and religion.

This is why it is so concerning that the proposed NSW abortion laws force any doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients to a doctor who will perform one.

Those who argue that forcing doctors to refer for abortion is merely about providing access to healthcare fail to understand that the act of referral is no trifling matter for a doctor who believes abortion involves taking an innocent life.

It must be understood that “referral” is a term of art in the medical field. As the process of referral is linked to the public health insurance scheme it must be made in accordance with the regulations. Under the law, referrals are required to be in writing, signed and dated by a doctor. The referring doctor must consider the need for the referral and provide any information about the patient’s condition that is necessary. Referral establishes a working relationship between the referring doctor and the doctor for whom referral is sought.

In short, to refer for abortion is not a passive step. It is to begin the process of procuring an abortion. Freedom of conscience demands that doctors who believe abortion ends the life of an unborn baby should not be compelled to begin the abortion process.

Unfortunately, other jurisdictions in Australia have already moved to override doctors’ freedom of conscience in the area of abortion. The first state to do so was Victoria in 2008 and it is instructive what has happened to doctors there. We know of two cases where doctors have been subject to investigations for failing to refer for abortion. One case involved a doctor who refused to refer a patient who wished to abort on the grounds that the baby was the wrong gender. In another case, a Facebook conversation involving a doctor who indicated a conscientious objection to abortion was reported to the Australian Medical Board. In that case the doctor wrote in his statement of defence, ”I am unable to refer for an abortion, because reason and logic lead me to conclude it is murder.”

Associate Professor Joanna Howe and Professor Suzanne Le Mire are at the University of Adelaide Law School and published in July the article Medical Referral for Abortion and Freedom of Conscience in Australian Law in the Cambridge Journal of Law and Religion.
READ MORE: https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/doctors-rights-to-object-to-abortion-should-be-protected-20190802-p52dc9.html

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