I am opposed to abortion except in cases when the woman’s life is definitely in danger, however this submission concerning the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 will only focus on the bill’s sections which deal with referrals and protest exclusion zones which I regard as draconian and an attack on freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and the right to protest.
Referrals by conscientious objectors
Under this legislation a doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion does not have to perform an abortion except “to save the life of a pregnant woman or to prevent her serious physical injury” (6. (1), (3))
However, in other circumstances if a doctor has a conscientious objection to abortion, he must refer the woman to a doctor without an objection (7. (2)).
Likewise, a counsellor, who has a conscientious objection to abortion, must refer a woman who “seeks pregnancy options advice” to a pro-abortion counsellor. Those, who do not comply, face a maximum fine of $32500 (250 penalty units at $130 per penalty unit). (7. (3))
This bill only goes one way. It does not say a pro-abortion counsellor must refer a woman to an anti-abortion counsellor so they can hear both sides and learn about the negative emotional and psychological effects of abortion. It ensures that the pro-abortion case is always heard, but not the anti-abortion case.
If you asked me to kill somebody and I said no because murder is wrong, but I will tell you about someone who will kill them for you, I would not be completely innocent of the crime. Likewise, doctors and counsellors, who object to abortion, but must refer them to pro-abortion doctors and counsellors, would also believe they are complicit in the killing of the unborn.
If a doctor or counsellor will not refer a woman to a pro-abortion doctor or counsellor, why can’t the woman simply use Google or the Yellow Pages and find one themselves? (She managed to find the first doctor or counsellor). These provisions are completely unnecessary. They are a vindictive attack on those who object to abortion.
This bill defines a counsellor as “a person who holds himself or herself out as a provider of a counselling service, or conducts himself in a manner consistent with a provider of a counselling service, whether or not that service or conduct is engaged in, or provided, for fee or reward.” (7. (1))
This bill does not seem to have taken into account that many churches and religious organisations offer counselling services. Under this definition almost every Christian minister or priest and many laypeople would be a counsellor. This presumably means that if a teenage girl in a church gets pregnant and goes to the minister for advice, the minister must refer her to a pro-abortion counsellor who will give her information about having an abortion. This legislation would force ministers to go against their consciences and religious beliefs and contribute to the killing of the unborn.
Since this bill coerces people to act against their religious beliefs and consciences and be complicit in the abortion proces, it arguably violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) which says,
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” (Article 18:1)
“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” (Article 18:2)
“No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor” (article 8:1(a))
Could Article 8:1(a) be applied to doctors and counsellors who are compelled to refer women to pro-abortion doctors and counsellors?
Doctors, counsellors and ministers, who believe this bill coerces them to go against their religious beliefs and consciences, could appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee because it violates the Universal Declarations of Human Rights, like Tasmanian gay law reform activists did in 1994.
Protest exclusion zones
This bill bans anti-abortion protests within 150 metres of an abortion clinic with a maximum penalty of a $65,000 fine (500 penalty units at $250 per penalty unit) or 12 months in prison (9 (1), (2)). I could assault someone, break into a home or steal a car and get a lighter sentence.
Until this year I had not heard of any anti-abortion protests in Tasmania, let alone aggressive and intimidating ones which this bill appears to address, so I am not sure what the motivation behind this section is, apart from an attack on freedom of speech and the right to protest.
The only anti-abortion protests I am aware of in Tasmania were in response to this bill. It is likely to provoke more protests rather than stop them. In 1988 the Hobart City Council banned the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group’s stall in Salamanca Market. This only led to bigger protests. People like to know they have the right to protest even if they have no intention of protesting. Taking away their right to protest is only going to make some people protest when they otherwise would not have and may lead to more aggressive anti-abortion protests which otherwise would not have happened.
In Hobart abortions are performed at the Specialist Gynaecology Centre at 1a Victoria Street. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is about 100 metres away on the corner of Harrington and Macquarie Streets. St. David’s Anglican Church in Murray Street is also within 150 metres of part of this building. Will this anti-protest exclusion zone have any effect on what they are allowed to say about abortion on church grounds?
This bill is an attack on freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and the right to protest. It could generate social division and conflict. Abortion in Tasmania could be legalised without these draconian sections. It is as though its drafters are trying to pick a fight. It should not be supported.