Australia

Victorian crossbench MP launches bid to force religiously affiliated hospitals to perform abortions

Religiously affiliated Victorian public hospitals would be banned from directing staff not to perform abortions on conscientious grounds under a new legislative push.
Reason Party leader and crossbench MP Fiona Patten has unveiled the Health Legislation Amendment (Conscientious Objection) Bill on Monday as state parliament resumes sitting after the winter break.
Under the bill, to be introduced to parliament on Wednesday, publicly funded denominational hospitals would be legally obliged to provide advice and services for medical and surgical abortions, voluntary assisted dying and contraception.

“A denominational hospital must not direct or otherwise cause a registered health practitioner … to refuse to provide mandatory advice and services on the basis of a conscientious objection,” it reads.

But workers within the hospitals would still be able to refuse to carry out those services on a conscientious basis, along with those in the private health system.
In Victoria, a woman or pregnant person can get an abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy, and can still get one from a medical practitioner beyond that if another agrees it is appropriate.

The push follows the US Supreme Court in June reversing its landmark Roe v Wade decision to guarantee abortion as a constitutional right.

Ms Patten, who wrote Victoria’s initial bill to introduce safe access zones to private abortion clinics, says the legislation is about expanding access while maintaining individual medicos’ rights.
“People who pay for the health system are being mistreated by the health system,” she said.
“This legislation is about universal, secular rights. Religion is a blessing to many … but imposed religious faith has no place in the public health system.
“The reliance of some institutions on the false construct of institutional conscientious objection has no rational, legal, or moral basis.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was asked on 20 July if he would force publicly funded hospitals to offer abortions and he shot down the suggestion.

“It’s a state matter. States control hospitals.”
Picking up the mantle, the Victorian upper house MP says proposed laws are a state-based response and should be supported across the political spectrum.
“This is about every human, and some stuff can be readily remedied,” Ms Patten said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said in May women were “sick and tired” of men telling what they should do with their bodies after outspoken MP Bernie Finn posted on social media that he was “praying” for an abortion ban in Australia.

“These matters are between a woman and her doctor,” Mr Andrews said.

The state government has been approached for comment on Ms Patten’s proposal, but AAP understands it will not be supporting it.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said she was yet to see the legislation and has reserved her position for now.
“I need to see the details in the bill. I’m very supportive of women’s rights and what are some of … these very serious issues around women’s choice,” she told reporters.

If it is passed unamended, the changes would come into effect from July next year.

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