Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2612 ..
MS TUCKER (9.49): As Mr Berry said, this is inconsistent with the amendment that I will soon move. The clause allows a medical practitioner or other person to refuse to be part of providing an abortion, which is reasonable. Freedom of conscience and freedom of belief are important principles.
However, as before, we also have to focus on the protection of the right to freedom of conscience and belief for the woman who wants to consider having an abortion. In a worst case scenario, a doctor could refuse to tell her anything about how to go about obtaining an abortion, even or whether it can be lawfully provided. It is important to ensure that, while a medical practitioner may not want to carry out such a procedure, that practitioner has a responsibility to ensure that that woman can access her rights. I think that not doing this equates to coercing that woman to avoid an abortion.
Paul Osborne introduced a clause that allowed medical professionals to avoid giving their care to a woman in an abortion procedure, and to avoid performing the procedure. The Australian Medical Association has an ethical standard for doctors which incorporates this principle. I will quote here from a letter from the president of the AMA of 5 April this year:
The AMA code of ethics states: "When a personal moral judgment or religious belief alone prevents you from recommending some form of therapy, inform your patient so that they may seek care elsewhere."
The above extract clearly implies that a medical practitioner has a right to refrain from recommending a form of therapy on moral or religious grounds, providing the doctor informs the patient of alternative places to seek that care. The amendment I will move brings the regulation closer to the AMA's ethical guidelines.
Mrs Dunne has suggested that this amendment could prevent Catholic and Muslim doctors from practising. That is an interesting proposition. I would be surprised to hear that someone with a calling to medicine would let the fact that one of their patients might have different views on abortion prevent them from going on into the profession. Obviously, that would be their own ethical choice.
There is nothing to prevent doctors explaining their point of view to a patient, and explaining sources of counselling or other support in accordance with their own views, as long as the patient is interested. However, why should someone in a position of professional responsibility be allowed to refuse to provide information that they have a professional responsibility to provide, and which will enable the patient's access to lawful treatment and service? Many women, of course, might just find another doctor and keep trying. However, people with fewer skills, or who are distressed or unfamiliar with the laws, may well be intimidated into the belief that there is no way for them to obtain an abortion.
MS DUNDAS(9.52): I cannot support this amendment. The original bill will ensure that no-one will be compelled to take part in an abortion if they have a conscientious objection, and I have no difficulty supporting this provision. Just as I believe that it is a woman's right to decide what happens to her own body, I believe that it is the right of any person to refrain from doing something that his or her conscience forbids. On that