The launch of the Federal Government’s $15 million pregnancy counselling helpline on Tuesday has been marred by privacy concerns, following confirmation that calls to the helpline will be recorded and information relating to the call held for up to seven years.

The 24-hour helpline will record conversations between callers and counsellors, (unless the caller opts out of having their call recorded) and counsellors will also make notes about the reason for the call, the caller’s age and whether or not she was uncertain about continuing the pregnancy.

It is important women are aware this information will be kept for up to 7 years, and that summaries of this information will be sent to the Government for statistical purposes.

Women need to be assured that the information they are providing is private, secure and safe.

I am concerned the helpline will not provide referrals to those women who want more specialised information about one of the three pregnancy options (keeping a child, adoption or termination), with many women facing the prospect of not receiving the information they are looking for from the service.

This could have a particularly detrimental effect on those in regional areas with less services at their finger tips, and those hiding their pregnancy from an abusive partner, who may have found it difficult to find the time to make the initial call to the helpline.

The Federal Government must ensure that advertising of the helpline will make it clear to women that the service does not provide referrals to organisations which provide more specific information on the three pregnancy options.

Women have the right to know what sort of pregnancy counselling organisation they are contacting when they seek information or advice on these sensitive issues, which is why, in 2005 I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to ensure pregnancy counselling services must be upfront and transparent in their advertising, including whether they provide referrals for terminations.

In December last year, my bill was co-sponsored by Liberal Senator Judith Troeth, ALP Senator Carol Brown and Greens Senator Kerry Nettle and re-introduced. More information about our campaign for transparent advertising by pregnancy counselling services is available here.

My suspicions about the Government’s motives in providing this helpline were confirmed in March last year, when the Prime Minister said in launching the helpline that one of the aims of the service was to “achieve a reduction in the abortion rate.”

I will continue to monitor the helpline and campaign for transparency in advertising of pregnancy counselling services.

Peter Fray

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