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Australian Archbishop Says Catholic Hospitals Set to Close in Face of Mandatory Abortion Bill

LifeSiteNews.com

By Kathleen Gilbert

MELBOURNE, September 22, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has warned that, in the event that a new bill passes the Victoria Parliament requiring that all medical personnel either perform abortions or give abortion referrals, all Catholic hospital maternity and emergency departments could close, lest Catholic doctors and nurses be forced to go against Catholic teaching and their consciences and kill unborn children.

"In the worst-case scenario, if a government is determined to enforce such laws, we have no option. We might get out of hospitals altogether," Archbishop Hart told The Age.

This would pose a serious problem for the local medical community, since, according to The Age, Victoria hospitals are already straining to provide services. Currently fifteen Catholic hospitals accommodate one third of Victoria’s births.

According to Archbishop Hart, the new regulations imposed by the Victorian Abortion Reform Bill necessitate nothing less than drastic action from the Catholic community.  "Catholic hospitals cannot be part of any abortion. That has to be respected in the community. Even providing a referral is a co-operation in evil, and that impacts very strongly on us as Catholics," said the Archbishop.

"It makes a mockery of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Act in that it requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients seeking an abortion to other health professionals who do not have such objections.

"It also requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to perform an abortion in whatever is deemed an emergency," he added. 

Currently abortions in Victoria are governed by the 1969 Menhennitt Supreme Court ruling, which allows abortion in case of a threat to the mother’s health. Hence, while abortion in practice is performed on demand in the state, it technically remains illegal.

Though some claim that the new bill only codifies current clinical practice, Archbishop Hart says this is false, arguing that the bill involves much more than simply decriminalizing abortion.  Hart lamented that certain "draconian" clauses coerce and suppress the religious rights of doctors to an unprecedented degree, a move that he fears other Australian states will soon follow.

Archbishop Hart has written to Members of the Legislative Council urging them to reject the measure for violating citizens’ rights to hold and exercise their basic religious beliefs.  He has also issued a pastoral letter calling upon the faithful to join in a "day of intercession" on October 5 to defeat the bill both through prayer and public petition.

In the letter, the Archbishop warns that while on its surface the bill simply removes abortion from the Crimes Act, it will cause citizens to confuse what is "legal" with what is "right," and since "the Law is a great educator" many will begin to accept the grave evil of abortion. 

The letter also lists the "particularly disturbing" qualities of the Bill, such as the fact that it would compel pharmacists and nurses to administer doctor-ordered abortifacients.  The Archbishop considers the Bill flawed "as much by what it omits as by what it contains," since there are no provisions to ensure informed consent, to protect women from underqualified doctors, or to ban gruesome partial-birth abortions.  

"As one commentator has put it, it is an insidious irony that this coercion of conscience is being carried out in the name of choice," writes the Archbishop.  "Parliamentarians are being afforded the opportunity to exercise their consciences to remove the right of health professionals to exercise theirs."

The Abortion Law Reform Bill has already been passed in the lower house, and is due to be debated in Victoria’s Legislative Council on October 7. 

To see the full text of Archbishop Hart’s pastoral letter, including a list of Legislative Council Members’ addresses, go to:
http://www.cam.org.au/abortion/pastoral-letter-and-day-of-intercession.html

See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Abortion Bill Passes Lower House in Victoria, Australia
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08091112.html

Emotional Debate on Victoria, Australia Abortion Bill
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08090909.html

Victoria, Australia Set to Drop Abortion from Crimes Act
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08090810.html

Australian Archbishop Rejects Government Abortion Report
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/may/08053002.html

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