Centacare defends pregnancy counselling role

Centacare has defended its role in the Government's new pregnancy counselling service, saying the agency would be involved in developing a manual for counsellors and is "well suited" to the task.

The Catholic Weekly reports that Centacare Catholic Community Services, the official welfare arm of the Church in the Archdiocese of Sydney, was defending its role in a $15.5 million national telephone pregnancy counselling helpline after coming under attack by pro-choice organisations.

The critics claimed that the Church's staunch opposition to abortion cast doubt on its ability to give women unbiased advice on pregnancy.

The chief executive officer of Centacare, Bernard Boerma, told the Weekly that although the Church's stance on abortion is known, the Church also recognises the "value of a decision-making counselling model which is non-directive and independent".

Centacare is one of the sub-contracted partners in a consortium awarded the contract which begins in May.

The Government has awarded the tender to run the service to counselling group McKesson Asia Pacific.

McKesson will take advice from a group of clinicians, including representatives from Centacare and the Victorian-based Caroline Chisholm Society.

Mr Boerma said the group was a junior member of the consortium and would be involved in preparing an information manual - not providing counselling.

"A clinician working for Centacare will form part of a small working party to assist in the development of an information manual for use by McKesson counsellors," he said.

"Using the information manual, counsellors will share comprehensive clinically based information on options and the services available.

"Centacare Sydney staff are well suited to this advisory task and can carry it out while maintaining both our commitment to the value of human life and our commitment to improving women's access to unbiased and objective information and to non-directive counselling."

Mr Boerma says the new helpline is about providing comprehensive information to enable women with unintended pregnancies to make informed decisions.

He says the service will also be available to the families and partners of women who are pregnant.

Controversy over hospital refusal to supply morning-after pill

Meanwhile, the Australian reports that doctors and rape counsellors are concerned that Catholic-owned hospitals will not supply morning-after pills to women referred by rape crisis centres.

The report in today's Australian cites the Code of Ethical Standards, compiled by Catholic Health Australia, which says direct referral of raped women to centres that offer the morning-after pill "should only occur if reasonable steps have been taken to exclude the likelihood of pregnancy".

Catholic health ethics spokesman Bishop Anthony Fisher was quoted as saying the ban was a logical extension of the church's position on use of the morning-after pill.

But Karen Willis, of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, told the paper that it was standard practice for a raped woman to be offered the morning-after pill, if there was a real risk of her becoming pregnant with her attacker's child.

"To not offer someone the morning-after pill would be negligence as far as we are concerned," she said.

Following a recent report that the Canberra John James Hospital was withdrawing services to the Canberra Fertility Centre, which provides IVF services, the paper adds that the Queensland Fertility Group which also offers IVF has been told that it will need to find new premises following the takeover of the Townsville Wesley Hospital by the Catholic Mater Misericordiae Hospital.

Church's key role in abortion advice (Catholic Weekly, 14/1/07)
Church bars raped women from pill (The Australian, 11/1/07)
Giving pause to the pregnant (The Australian, 11/1/07)
Townsville may get first regional women's, children's hospital (ABC News, North Qld, 10/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Calvary John James Hospital
Little Company of Mary Health Care
Little Company of Mary
Mater Misericordiae Townsville

Expect more clashes over IVF: health expert (CathNews, 10/1/07)
Canberra Calvary courts controversy over hospital purchase (CathNews, 29/12/06)

11 Jan 2007