Pregnancy counselling bill ignores support options: Catholic Social Services

The Government's Pregnancy Counselling Bill fails to address barriers to pregnancy support options and ignores the fact that most pregnancy counselling is unrelated to abortion, warns Catholic Social Services in a submission to a Senate enquiry.

The Senate committee is currently examining the Federal Government's $50 million package for counselling services for pregnant women, in a bid to reduce the abortion rate.

The Committee is looking into whether the proposed legislation can ensure the services are objective with information about all options - including abortion - available to women.

The Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) submission says that although Church services are available to all, they operate on "Catholic ethos" and people who use such services are aware that of their "underlying values system."

Highlighting one of CSSA's objectives of supporting "the sanctity and dignity of human life from the moment of its conception until death," the submission states that "it would be beneficial to Australian society if the underlying values systems of all service providers were equally transparent."

Although the Bill calls for prohibitions on misleading or deceptive advertising or notification of pregnancy counselling services, "the current draft of the Bill is itself misleading and likely to cause more problems than it solves", the submission continues.

In its current form, the submission says, the Bill ignores the fact that most pregnancy counselling is entirely unrelated to abortion. If the current Bill became law, such services would have to "advertise the self evident fact that it does not refer people for abortions."

Other issues raised by the CSSA submission include an inadequate definition of pregnancy counselling services which would include "all medical practitioners, hospitals and many other services including natural family programs."

As drafted, the Bill "could require pregnancy counselling services, which may not be in possession of all the relevant medical and other facts, to refer directly to termination services when an intermediate step, such as referral to a General Practitioner better placed to deal with medical and mental health concerns, may be more appropriate", the CSSA submission warns.

"This Bill, as currently drafted, is inadequate as its core concern is referral to abortion. If it became law it would not achieve its stated objective, but it would result in considerable disruption to many professional services that currently assist people considering pregnancy or who are already pregnant," the submission concluded.

According to Catholic Health Australia's submission, the Church provides up to 15 percent of Australia's health care systems and is the major private provider of acute obstetric and gynaecological services.

A range of other community groups and individuals have also presented over 80 submissions to the Senate committee. Adelaide Archdiocese's Office of Family and Life, Sydney Archdiocese's Life Office and the Catholic Women's League Bioethics Working Party were among other Catholic organisations to respond.

Anne Rampa and Jim Dowling, who were involved in a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in Brisbane from 1980-2000, stated in their submission that "it is apparent this bill is the product of an obscene modern day witch-hunt against important groups supplying invaluable services largely with volunteer labour."

The Senate committee is due to table its report on 17 August.

(Pictured: Frank Quinlan, CSSA Executive Director)

CSSA Submission on Transparent Advertising and Notification of Pregnancy Counselling Services Bill

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Inquiry into Transparent Advertising and Notification of Pregnancy Counselling Services Bill 2005 - Submissions

Life Office applauds PM's pregnancy hotline (CathNews 3/3/06)
Catholic Welfare pushes for more abortion counselling (CathNews 20/2/06)

26 Jun 2006