Abortion counselling disclosure bill in doubt

A private members' bill that aims to compel pregnancy counselling services to disclose the fact that they will not refer clients for abortion has stalled after lobbying by Catholic agencies, reports say.

The Age reports that the bill's sponsors - Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Liberal senator Judith Troeth, Labor's Carol Brown and the Greens' Kerry Nettle - described yesterday's parliamentary debate on the issue as historic.

However, sources told The Age that the bill's supporters had earlier planned to bring on a vote during the time allotted for debating the bill but that conservative elements in the Labor Party had prevented this by ensuring speakers filled up this time.

According to The Age, both major parties are believed to be shy of addressing such a controversial issue so close to the election.

Under the bill debated yesterday, pregnancy counselling services would have to declare in their advertising either that they do not provide referrals for terminations or that they "provide referrals for all pregnancy options".

Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan said Catholic groups supported the idea of transparency in advertising, but that the current bill was biased against pro-life services and was not "honest about the limited options provided by other services".

There was nothing in the current bill, for example, that would reveal that some services were run by abortion clinics and were therefore more likely to refer women for a termination than adoption.

"We and Catholic Social Services Australia have been in negotiations for some time over this issue, particularly with Labor senators who have expressed a desire to come up with a suitable alternative," Mr Sullivan said.

"We made it clear that the bill going forward as it was not acceptable, because it was biased against organisations that do pregnancy counselling but don't refer to abortion services."

However, Reproductive Choice Australia president Leslie Cannold is reported to have said there was an urgent need for new laws because women were being tricked into contacting pro-life counselling services through carefully designed advertising.

Abortion stance bill stalls (The Age, 15/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Welfare Australia
Catholic Social Services Australia
Catholic Health Australia
Pregnancy counselling hotline launches (CathNews, 1/5/07)
Women's groups concerned over helpline privacy (CathNews, 26/4/07)
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)

15 Jun 2007