Remove religious-based barriers to universal reproductive healthcare, RSA tells committee

Si Gladman / 14 December 2022

The public funding of reproductive healthcare services should not remain hostage to religious dogma, the Rationalist Society of Australia has told a Senate committee.

In a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquiry into ‘Universal access to reproductive healthcare’, the RSA recommended that government funding of any hospital be conditional upon the facility providing advice and services for contraception, the supply of contraceptives, and medical and surgical abortion.

Read the full submission here.

The submission also recommended governments across Australia enact versions of the Health Legislation Amendment (Conscientious Objection) Bill 2022, which was proposed by former Reason Party MLC Fiona Patten in Victoria earlier this year.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig told the committee that it was untenable and unreasonable for women to continue to face barriers in accessing lawful health services on the public’s purse due to the privileging of religious dogmas.

The submission highlighted alarming testimony from workers at publicly funded religious hospitals in recent media reports that the application of strict religious code of ethics in their workplaces was putting patients’ lives at risk.

“There may be good policy reasons for permitting individual healthcare workers to conscientiously object to providing abortion services, but there are not good policy reasons for permitting a publicly funded hospital to have a blanket prohibition on its healthcare workers providing lawful healthcare,” she wrote.

The submission also urged the committee to address the major inequalities in accessibility of such services due to geographic location. It noted that accessibility was currently a “postcode lottery”, with women in different areas facing vastly different rules, costs (including for travel times) and levels of accessibility.

Dr Doig pointed to research by RSA Fellow Neil Francis that showed that most Australians, including most religious people, overwhelmingly support the right of women to access readily available abortion services.

“It’s important to note that religious clerics who claim to speak for their communities are out of touch with their own flocks on many social issues,” she wrote.

“The 2019 Australian Election Study (AES), by the Australian National University, showed that, overall, 93 per cert of Australians, including 90 per cent of Catholics, support abortion being available.

“Publicly funded hospitals operating under a religious code of ethics therefore are serving the interests of religious leaders rather than the interests of the general public or the people of the hospital’s faith background.”

Submissions to the inquiry are due by tomorrow, 15 December 2022, and can be lodged here.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Photo by Tofin Creations on Unsplash.

All the more reason.