Protection of conscience provision in new Tasmanian abortion law

The Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 passed the Tasmanian  Legislative Council 9-5 on 21 November [ The Examiner] and received Royal Assent today.  Abortions after 16 weeks will require the approval of two physicians.  The new Act includes a protection of conscience provision that exempts those who object to the procedure from participating in it, except when necessary to save the life of a woman or prevent serious physical injury.  There is no requirement for referral, but an objecting physician must provide a woman “seeking a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” a “list of prescribed health services” from which she may seek advice.  Since, subject to the content of the list, this does not seem to be the equivalent of referral for abortion, the requirement may not be problematic for those concerned about indirect moral complicity.

What is not clear is whether or not the Act actually prohibits an objecting physician from providing information or advice about pregnancy options beyond the “prescribed” list.  Section 7(4) states that an objecting physician may continue to “provide treatment, advice or counselling, in respect of matters other than a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” (emphasis added) which could be taken to imply that an objecting physician is not permitted to offer a woman anything other than the prescribed list.


Some Tasmanian legislators concerned about freedom of conscience

A bill to legalize abortion is before the Tasmanian Legislative Council.  It proposes severe penalties on physicians and counsellors who are unwilling to facilitate the procedure by referral.  The Tasmanian chapter of the Australian Medical Association is opposed to the provision, and the state regulator, in supporting it,  misrepresented the physicians’ ethical obligations.  MLC Paul Harriss, though generally supportive of the bill, has described its treatment of conscientious objection as “heavy handed.”  Another MLC, Tony Mulder, also appears to have some concerns regarding conscientious objection. [The Examiner]

Australian regulator misrepresents physician obligations

Claim that practitioner codes require referral disproved by Australian Medical Association

Sean Murphy*

According to a report in The Examiner, a representative of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Association told a Tasmanian legislative committee that physicians who object to a procedure for reasons of conscience are obliged by professional codes of ethics to refer patients to another physician.  Lisa McIntosh was addressing the Committee concerning a proposed Reproductive Health Bill.

Her assertion is contradicted by a submission by the Australian Medical Association Tasmania, which protested the section of the bill that would force objecting physicians to facilitate morally contested procedures by referral.  The AMA Tasmania submission included quotes from the AMA Code of Ethics and a document from the Medical Board of Australia Good Medical Practice to demonstrate that the draft legislation information paper falsely claimed that there was a duty to refer.

The Committee also heard from Catholic Archbishop Adrian Doyle, whose concerns about the proposed bill included the mandatory referral provision.


Australian Medical Association Submission to the Tasmanian Government

On the law governing termination of pregnancy


The Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association expressed qualified support for statutory legalization of abortion in a submission to the Tasmanian state government concerning its proposed Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013.  However, the Association also emphasized its opposition to parts of the proposed bill that would suppress freedom of conscience among physicians.  Those parts of the submission are reproduced below. [Read more . . .]

New frontiers in repressing dissent

Re:  Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill (2013)
(State of Tasmania)

  • Mishka Gora* | Tasmania may be small, but it will punch far above its weight on the world stage in shutting down protests against abortion if a new bill is passed. . . the real aim of the Labor-Green coalition which is running Tasmania is to criminalize abortion dissent.
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