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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Legal Commentary

Responses to Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008

State of Victoria, Australia

The Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008 legalized abortion in the State of Victoria, Australia.

Section 8 of the bill demands that physicians who object to abortion for reasons of conscience refer a woman to a colleague who has no such objections in order to facilitate the procedure, and requires physicians to perform abortions if necessary "to preserve the life of the pregnant woman." Many physicians who object to abortion also object to referral for abortion on the grounds that to refer or otherwise facilitate the procedure makes them morally complicit in it.

A number of individuals and groups spoke out against the bill, often for a combination of reasons.

Doctors in Conscience Against Abortion Bill

  • . . .We believe it to be an attack on the basic human rights of health professionals which undermines their moral integrity and professional autonomy. The state should not coerce its health professionals to participate in the taking of human life. . .
    Position Statement

Dr. John Neil

  • . . . It is ludicrous that a "registered medical practitioner" should have to perform an emergency abortion. Firstly it is coercive, and others will speak about this. Secondly, it is based on a false premise that an emergency abortion actually is ever necessary. Coercion to make an "effective referral" is also unnecessary and prejudicial. . .
    Full Text


  • . . .This Bill misrepresents and undervalues the process and responsibilities of professional referral. This Bill implies that referral removes obligation and participation. However, referrals between medical professionals imply a partnership of care. . . There is no way that a practitioner can make or receive such a referral in good conscience if they do not agree with the procedure and care to be undertaken. . .
    Full Text

Jacinta Le Page (Medical Student)

  • . . . Firstly, referring personally to another medical practitioner, as this Bill states, seems to be clearly participating in abortion. . . we fear we will be required to research for a colleague who will readily 'help' her have an abortion. Such a personal referral equals participation in the killing. . .
    Full Text

Joanne Grainger (Registered Nurse, Bioethicist)

  • . . . I am not here representing all Victorian nurses - that would be a presumptuous assertion. However, there are over 80,000 registered nurses in Victoria - and I speak on behalf of those many nurses who have a conscientious objection to their participation in an abortion on religious, cultural, personal or ethical grounds. . .
    Full text of speech

Justine Armstrong (Victorian Division One Theatre Nurse)

  • If passed, this Bill would force me to directly participate in abortions as a theatre nurse. This is totally unacceptable to me and my family. It is immoral. It violates my personal and professional ethical framework. It is an affront to my faith and it strips me of my fundamental rights as a human being and as a professional, to object to an action that contravenes my personal conscience.
    Full Text

The Australian Egyptian Doctors and the Coptic Doctors

  • . . .The bill as it stands . . .coerces the health practitioner to behave or act in a manner which comprises his or her ethics, morals, culture and religious beliefs. . .(Egyptian Doctors)
    Full Text

George Cardinal Pell

  • The rights of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief are fundamental. The ability to exercise conscientious objection is a keystone of democracy. All of us should have the right to hold a belief and not be compelled by the state to act contrary to that conviction. It is the difference between the free society and the one subject to tyranny.
    Full text of news release

Greg Craven

  • . . .This centrality of conscience in rights discourse hardly is surprising. Of all the rich and varied freedoms, the freedom to think and believe is fundamental. Without it people not only have fewer human rights, they are less human. . .
    Full text

Michael Cook

  • . . . One of the most objectionable features of this legislation is that it effectively removes doctors' right to conscientious objection. It requires doctors-who-won't to refer women to doctors-who-will. Furthermore, "in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman", the doctor must perform it. . .
    A question of conscience
  • . . . corrupting the medical profession by forcing doctors and nurses to collude in this is a clear violation of a universally acknowledged human right to freedom of conscience. Nowhere else in the world does such a draconian law exist, not in New Zealand, not in the United Kingdom, not in Canada, not in the United States. . .
    Forcing compliance

Liberty of Conscience in Medicine: A Declaration

  • . . . Liberty of conscience is critical for individual doctors as it lies at the very heart of our integrity and self-identity. It is conscience that must compel doctors to refuse to participate in treatments they believe to be un-ethical or that they consider not to be in the best interests of patients. . .
    Full Text of Declaration

Conscience Laws and Healthcare Conference

  • Dr. Lachlan Dunjey:  In this video, Dr Lachlan Dunjey speaks on the topic: The Coercion of Doctors: What is happening to modern medicine?
  • Francis Sullivan:  In this video, Francis Sullivan speaks on the topic: Freedom of Conscience and Good Medical Practice: The Australian Medical Association's position.
  • Martin Laverty:  In this video, Martin Laverty speaks on the topic: The Victorian Abortion Law and the threat to religious affiliated healthcare.
  • Nigel Preston:  In this video, Nigel Preston speaks on the topic: The Victorian Abortion Law and Conscientious Healthworkers: Is there a way out or do we need a test case?
  • Julian McGauran:  In this video, Julian McGauran speaks on the topic: The Coercion of Conscience: A Federal Political Response.


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