This morning Frank Brennan, the media savvy Jesuit priest, wrote in his order’s own publication, Eureka Street, that the new proposed Victorian abortion law is unjust and “carries the hallmarks of totalitarianism.”

“Any self-respecting civil libertarian” should support medical professionals who refuse to obey the law, Brennan said, “regardless of their views on the morality of abortion on demand.”

Well Frank this is one self respecting civil libertarian who does not agree with your authoritarian edict.

The Victorian Catholic Church’s stance on the new abortion laws is wrong. It puts ideology and religious belief in front of the right of a woman to have medical treatment, and it exposes those who work in Catholic hospitals to criminal charges or at least to claims for damages for gross medical negligence.

The Catholic Church objects to those clauses in the proposed law which allow a medical professional to refuse to perform a termination of a pregnancy but which says that if that person does, they must refer the patient to another medical professional who does not have such an objection. The Bill also says that despite “any conscientious objection to abortion, a registered medical practitioner is under a duty to perform an abortion in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.” The Catholic Church is telling medical professionals to ignore that clause.

In telling Catholic medical professionals that they should break these laws, the Catholic Church is itself inciting human rights abuse.

Take a situation where a pregnant woman in a Catholic hospital faces death if an abortion is not performed by the medical professionals in that hospital. The Catholic Church is saying that in such a case the woman must be left to die, because it will not allow, in hospitals run by it, medical professionals to refer the pregnant woman to a medical professional who will perform the abortion.

In allowing the woman to die, the Catholic Church is sanctioning medical professionals clearly breaching their duty of care to a patient and possibly exposing them to manslaughter charges because of their deliberate inaction.

And the Catholic Church is essentially saying in such a case that a woman’s right to life is subjugated to a religious, ideological and doctrinal belief system which must be enforced no matter what the consequences.

Even in refusing to refer a woman to a medical professional in cases where her life is not endangered, the Catholic Church is clearly putting its own views above those of the will of the people as expressed through the Parliament. This is a case of the Church seeking to override the democratic state – something which offends the principle of the seperation of church and state.

And what of the civil liberties of the pregnant woman? Does the Catholic Church really think it is humane to tell a 16-year-old school girl who has been raped by her uncle or another family member and who has become pregnant as a result, that it will turn her out onto the street and refuse her request for a termination in circumstances where one is clearly a sensible and compassionate option?

The Victorian abortion law represents a sensible balance in respecting the rights of medical professionals to follow their conscience but in doing so, not override the rights of the pregnant woman – what could be fairer than that?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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