Dark Days Require Persistent Prayer: + Denis Hart's Pastoral Letter of Day of Prayer for Defeat of the "Abortion Law Reform Bill"
In a pastoral letter to all parishes in the Archdiocese of Melbourne yesterday, our Pastor-in-Chief, Archbishop Denis Hart, has declared October 5th to be a Day of Prayer for the Defeat of the "Abortion Law Reform Bill". I was going to simply put up extracts from his letter with a link to the full text here - but on second thoughts you need to read EVERY WORD of this. In particular the impression has been given that this bill is "just" up to 24 weeks (6 months folks - I have seen and buried a 22 week prem baby - something that has an effect on one, I can say), when in fact it legalises abortion UP TO BIRTH itself.
On top of that, as the Archbishop points out, this so-called "pro-choice" bill tramples the right of health professionals to conscientiously object to abortion. At the very least, this bill will be liable to legal challenge on these grounds alone.
Of course, as you will see from the letter, we do have one stick to hold over the head of parliament. There have been plenty of newspaper reports about the dire state of maternity services in this state's hospitals - basically, there are not enough of them. What effect then will this bill have upon the Catholic hospital sector, which currently provides one third of this city's maternity services? The Archbishop has declared that "Catholic hospitals will not perform abortions and will not provide referrals for the purpose of abortion... Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this state in their current form." This is something the Legislative Council should consider well before they vote.
I commend the letter to you all, and join the Archbishop in asking for your prayers.
A PASTORAL LETTER OF THE ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE TO THE CATHOLIC PEOPLE OF VICTORIA AND ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD WILLMembers and Addresses of Legislative Council. If you are unsure of which electorate you are in, check here.
19 September 2008
Early this year, my brother bishops and I issued a Pastoral Statement on the proposed ‘decriminalisation of abortion’ and made the following key points.
- A human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception and all living human individuals are entitled to the equal protection of the law.
- Every living human individual, including those imperfect physically or mentally, is equal to every other individual in respect of the right not to be directly or intentionally killed.
- The Church does not condemn women who have had abortions and encourages them to find hope, forgiveness and healing in the mercy of God. Together with their children, they are the principal victims of this new culture of death. Often women resort to abortion for complex reasons, abandoned or under pressure, or led on by false information.
- The motivation to decriminalise abortion seems to be to remove the “unlawful” stigma currently attached to “medical” abortion in virtue of the fact that it is named as an offence in the Crimes Act. But the Law is a great educator and if the Law approves something then people gradually accept a new understanding of what is right and what is wrong. People begin to think: “Abortion is lawful now, so it’s right.” This would betray the majority view in the community that the incidence of abortion should be reduced.
In late August, when the Abortion Law Reform Bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly, I again spoke out against the proposal in similar terms.
Sadly, the Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 11 September 2008 without amendment despite courageous attempts by many to have the Bill defeated or to have its effects minimised. It will soon be introduced into the Legislative Council and, if passed, could be become law as early as 15 October 2008.
I write now with a deep sadness for mothers-to-be and children yet to be born, and with a profound sense of anguish at the draconian clauses in the Bill which attack long held religious beliefs and practice.
Make no mistake about it, the Bill goes beyond codifying current clinical practice, as its proponents claim, and will set an unfortunate precedent which other states may follow.
This Bill is a breach of fundamental human rights with some particularly disturbing features.
Abortion Law Reform Bill
The Bill if enacted:
- applies to females of child bearing age;
- allows a female to have an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation performed by any doctor, regardless of their expertise;
- allows a pharmacist or nurse, without involvement of a doctor to supply or administer a drug to cause an abortion to a female up to 24 weeks gestation;
- permits abortions from 24 weeks up to childbirth for a female if two doctors reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate having regard to the woman’s relevant medical and current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances;
- repeals the offence of “child destruction”;
- compels a pharmacist or nurse employed or engaged in a public or private hospital or day-procedure centre, if directed in writing by a doctor, to administer or to supply a drug to cause an abortion to a female who is more than 24 weeks pregnant;
- imposes a legal obligation on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and psychologists who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer a woman requesting an abortion to another practitioner in the same profession whom the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion; and
- imposes a legal obligation on doctors and nurses, notwithstanding their conscientious objection, to perform an abortion on a female in an emergency where it is deemed that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.
Protection of mothers and unborn children
The Bill is seriously flawed as much by what it omits as by what it contains.
Notable flaws include:
- the failure to provide any protection for unborn children right up to 40 weeks gestation;
- the failure to ban partial birth abortions;
- the failure to safeguard the health of women by permitting abortions to be performed by doctors who have no qualifications or training in obstetrics; and
the failure to include informed consent provisions.
- Many of the so called “safeguards” in the Bill fail to protect either the expectant mother or the unborn child. For example, an abortion will be possible from 24 weeks up to childbirth provided the doctor consults one other doctor who agrees it is appropriate.
- The Bill does not require a consultation with the woman by the doctor to form a second opinion nor does it specify whether this colleague need have any expertise in the area or any specialist training or qualifications. In this way, it would not be difficult to gain the consent of one other colleague particularly if both worked in an abortion clinic. It would not matter that 5, 10 or more colleagues previously did not concur that the abortion would be appropriate.
- Nor does the Bill offer any provision for professional counselling to women with unplanned or difficult pregnancies, provide them with accurate information about the likely effect of an abortion, protect women in vulnerable positions from coercion, or contain any other provision likely to reduce the number of abortions carried out in this state each year. On the contrary, the Bill is most likely to lead to an increase in the number of abortions, including so-called “social” abortions.
Freedom of religious belief in the 21st century
The Bill is an unprecedented attack on the freedom to hold and exercise fundamental religious beliefs. 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.
The Bill is clearly intended to require Catholic hospitals to permit the referral of women for 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. Parliamentarians are being afforded the opportunity to exercise their consciences to remove the right of health professionals to exercise theirs.
Nurses are in a particularly vulnerable position, since many would be under a duty to assist in an abortion if a doctor so requires, and determines that it is an “emergency”. I do not believe that our community wants to force nurses, many of whom have a conscientious objection, to assist in late term abortions. I do not believe that the community wants to force them and other health professionals to act contrary to the law, leave their professions or leave Victoria.
Catholic hospitals and the large number of Victorians they serve are also in a vulnerable position. Catholic hospitals will not perform abortions and will not provide referrals for the purpose of abortion. If this provision is passed it will be an outrageous attack on our service to the community and contrary to Catholic ethical codes. It will leave Catholic hospitals and doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion in a position where they will be acting contrary to the law if they act in accordance with their deeply held moral convictions. This Bill poses a real threat to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this state in their current form.
This is a significant issue for the community at large having regard to the fact that Catholic hospitals account for approximately one third of all births and are seen by many as their hospitals of choice.
In its report on Abortion Law Reform, the Victorian Law Reform Commission created a false dichotomy in relation to conscientious objections, a dichotomy between “adequate justification” and “mere prejudice”. This was subsequently relied upon in debate in the Legislative Assembly. The position of the Church is postulated as “mere prejudice” and without “adequate justification”.
The Church’s position which it has held ever since the first century is clear. The procurement of and complicity in abortion in every circumstance is a moral evil. It is an affront to logic to suggest that a belief held over the life of the Church’s existence and which has been subject to rigorous examination by theologians over the centuries can be dismissed as a “mere prejudice”. If this argument were to prevail, the beliefs of all religious faiths could be similarly dismissed. The argument itself smacks of prejudice, is a direct attack on religious expression and unworthy of a place in a contemporary mature state which values diversity of thought.
Call to prayer and action
The time has come for all those who support life to rally in prayer and action to defeat the Bill. The challenge is daunting and every effort must be made.
I have declared Sunday 5th October 2008 as a Day of Intercession throughout the Archdiocese dedicated to the defeat of this Bill. I urge as many of you as possible to join me in an hour of prayer at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 12:15 pm on that day immediately following the 11:00 am Mass and stand in solidarity with women and the unborn who are directly at risk from this Bill.
I also urge you, as I have done, to make your concerns known to your representatives in the Legislative Council and when doing so, to act respectfully and argue from a position of reason. The addresses of Members of the Legislative Council are attached. Previous statements can be located on the diocesan web site at http://www.melbourne.catholic.org.au/ together with more comprehensive information on the Bill.
Yours sincerely in Christ
+ Denis J. Hart
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE