Thaddeus Baklinski

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‘Draconian’ Tasmanian bill would penalize conscientious objectors to abortion

Thaddeus Baklinski

HOBART, March 13, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A private member's bill that proposes complete decriminalization of abortion in the Australian state of Tasmania has been condemned by critics as a draconian measure that would violate Tasmanians’ human rights. The bill also imposes severe penalties for conscience objection by health professionals and even public protest against abortion.

“This isn’t about women’s access to abortion,” said Mishka Gora of the pro-life group Human Rights for the Unborn – Tasmania, a new umbrella organization created in response to the draft Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 tabled on March 8 by Tasmania's health minister Michelle O'Byrne.

“Abortion was legalized in Tasmania in 2001, right up until birth. This legislation introduces a number of draconian laws that severely restrict the right of conscientious objection and freedom of speech.  It also discriminates in favour of and against certain groups,” Gora said. 

The proposed legislation places a "duty to treat" on doctors and nurses if a pregnant woman is deemed to be at risk of serious injury. (Sec 6-3)

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"This means that doctors who believe it is best to treat the symptoms arising from pregnancy or to terminate the pregnancy via caesarean section or induction rather than an abortion would be forced to directly destroy a human embryo or foetus against their conscience and better judgment. It also means that Catholic hospitals will be required to offer abortion as a treatment option," Gora wrote in an article published by MercatorNet.

The bill mandates that doctors and counselling services who have a conscientious objection to abortion will have to refer women to a doctor/counsellor who does not have a conscientious objection. The proposed penalty for non-compliance is up "500 penalty units," or A$65,000. (Sec 7) 

"If this bill passes, a part-time volunteer counsellor for an organization supporting pregnant women could be jailed for a year and fined up to A$65,000 if she refuses to refer a woman to a place where she can get an abortion," Gora said 

"Overnight, all agencies which disagree with abortion will be forced to shut down."

The proposed Bill also imposes a 300-metre-wide exclusion zone around abortion centers, prohibiting a range of activities that include peaceful protests, church rallies, and even street photography.

The exclusion zone around Hobart's CDB abortion clinic includes four major thoroughfares, St Joseph’s Catholic Church and the Anglican cathedral. In Launceston, the other major city in Tasmania, the exclusion zone includes part of a Catholic hospital and a major park. 

"A priest preaching against abortion in his own church, or participants in a prayer vigil, or someone wearing a pro-life T-shirt while walking through the city, or a photographer taking candid shots of street life could all be arrested," Gora said.

Of great concern to critics of the proposed legislation is the Green-Labor Coalition government's allowance of only two weeks for public input on the Bill.

The Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services has invited written comments on the draft legislation, but all responses must be received by 5:00pm Friday, March 22, 2013.

Liberal MP Jeremy Rockliff said the Bill and the short time allowance for public input is a smokescreen put up by the state government to hide its mishandling of the economy. 

"The distraction of even the abortion legislation today – of course we'll make a contribution to that and a very considered one, and passionate debates of all sides when it comes to these matter of conscience vote," he said according to ABC News. "But really the government needs to wake up."

“Abortion has effectively been legal in Australian states for more than 40 years, although it has remained in the criminal code. The number of prosecutions in all that time can be counted on one hand. So why the sudden enthusiasm for decriminalization?" asked Ms Gora. 

“Because the real aim of the Labor-Green coalition which is running Tasmania is to criminalize abortion dissent. With only two weeks for the public to respond, the Health Minister, Michelle O’Byrne, has drafted what may be most draconian abortion law anywhere," Gora said.

“The neighbouring state of Victoria decriminalized abortion in 2008. Ms O’Byrne says that this is the model for her bill. But the Victorian bill contains no penalties for conscientious objectors; the Tasmanian bill does. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention counsellors; the Tasmanian bill threatens counsellors with jail. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention protests; the Tasmanian bill threatens protesters with jail,” she said. 

The full text of the proposed Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 is available here

Human Rights for the Unborn – Tasmania has launched a Facebook page with information about the proposed abortion legislation and actions that can be undertaken to oppose it. 

Information on commenting procedure is available of the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services website.

Comments on the draft Bill must be in writing and emailed to [email protected] or posted to Population Health Equity, GPO Box 125 Hobart, TAS, 7001. All responses must be received by 5:00pm Friday 22 March 2013.

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