Women's groups concerned over helpline privacy
Women activists have expressed concerns over the Government's 24-hour pregnancy helpline which will store recorded conversations between callers and counsellors for seven years.
The Brisbane Times reports women's health activists are concerned the Federal Government will mine information received for ammunition to eventually restrict access to abortion even though the callers will be able to opt out of having the calls recorded and will not have to use their real names.
The helpline, which will start operating on Tuesday, is part of a $5 million package aimed at reducing the abortion rate which Health Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, has described as a national tragedy.
The Department of Health and Ageing confirmed yesterday the recorded sessions would be stored for seven years and would be used for "training purposes or to check complaints should they arise".
Monthly summaries of the calls, with information such as age of caller and type of call, would be provided to the department.
Leslie Cannold, president of Reproductive Choice Australia, a pro-choice lobby group, said the data could be used to "further the Government's stated agenda of reducing abortion".
The summaries might reveal that many women sought late-term abortions, or wanted abortions outside legal grounds. In NSW, Victoria and Queensland, abortions are legal only to protect the physical or mental health of the woman.
The Health Department said that the data will include the reason for the call, the caller's age and whether she was uncertain about continuing the pregnancy. Other items concerned operational matters, such as average call duration and number of prank calls.
Dr Cannold said the response from the Health Department provided no reassurance while Mr Abbott remained Health Minister and the aim of the helpline was to reduce the abortion rate. She said McKesson's advisers included two Catholic welfare agencies but no representative of a pro-choice organisation.
"We have no reason to think that at best this helpline will be useless, given it will not make referrals to services, and at worst will be used to reduce women's access to terminations," she said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said the Government had previously ruled out making changes to access to termination services.
Photo source: Stock.xchng
Pregnancy help centre to keep call recordings (Brisbane Times, 26/4/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Welfare Australia
Life Office (Archdiocese of Sydney)
Centacare defends pregnancy counselling role (CathNews, 11/1/07)
Life Office applauds PM's pregnancy hotline (CathNews, 3/5/06)
Catholic Welfare pushes for more abortion counselling (CathNews, 20/2/06)
26 Apr 2007