RSA calls for Victorian pledge to improve access to services in religious hospitals

Si Gladman / 29 August 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia has called on the Victorian government to commit to expanding access to abortion services and other services in publicly funded religious hospitals if it wins election this year.

RSA president Meredith Doig has expressed her disappointment that the Andrews government rejected legislation that would have improved access to lawful services, such as abortion, contraception and assisted dying, in the Victorian health system.

Earlier this month, the state government and opposition voted against the Health Legislation Amendment (Conscientious Objection) Bill, proposed by Reason Party leader Fiona Patten (pictured).

In a letter to health minister Mary-Anne Thomas, Dr Doig said Victorian taxpayers had every right to expect that all hospitals and services that receive public funding, including those with religious affiliations, would provide the same services available in the public health system.

“While the proposed legislation would have, rightly, protected the right to conscientious objection of individual health practitioners, it would have prevented publicly funded hospitals from directing a practitioner to refuse to provide advice or services on the basis of some mythical ‘institutional’ conscientious objection. By definition, institutions don’t have consciences, people do!” she said.

Dr Doig told Minister Thomas the Andrews government needed to do more to remove barriers to lawful services such as abortion, contraception, and voluntary assisted dying, for all Victorian taxpayers.

With the current laws, publicly funded religious hospitals can prevent services being offered in their hospitals even if the community, the government, individual doctors and patients all agree the services should be provided.

“Even if one patient each week is being turned away from seeking a termination at a publicly funded Victorian hospital – as was suggested in media reports last week – surely this is one person too many,” she said.

Dr Doig told Minister Thomas the government would have had overwhelming public support if it backed Ms Patten’s bill, or introduced similar legislation of its own, given that an overwhelming majorities of Australians are in favour of legalised abortion.

She pointed to social researcher Neil Francis’s authoritative work in the Religiosity in Australia series, which clearly shows that a significant majority of Australians, including religious Australians, support issues such as access to safe, legal abortion and voluntary assisted dying.

Francis notes that, in the Australian Electoral Study of 2019, 93 per cent of Australians were pro-choice, including 90 per cent of Catholics, 92 per cent of Anglicans, 95 per cent of Uniting/Methodists, and 85 per cent of minor Christian denominations. More than two-thirds of Australians support abortion availability on demand, including a majority of religionists – 61 per cent of Catholics, 64 per cent of Anglicans, 58 per cent of Uniting/Methodists and 81 per cent of non-Christian denominations.

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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

All the more reason.