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Putting the Patient First

May 13, 2014

The cheers had barely diminished and the ink of the Governor’s signature was barely dry, when the campaign to overturn Victoria’s historic Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 began.

Anti-abortion campaigners began to misrepresent the amendments that were rejected by the Parliament, and to misrepresent the act itself.

Bernie Finn a Liberal MLC from the Western Metropolitan Region initiated his March for the Babies, which each year marks the anniversary of reforms passing through Parliament. Geoff Shaw, elected as a Liberal but now the Independent MLA for Frankston, was accused of improper behaviour and has threatened to use his balance of power in the assembly to extract repeal of the current abortion laws from the Napthine government.

All the while protesters continue to harass and intimidate patients and passers by at the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne.

The current attack on abortion rights in Victoria concerns the issue of conscientious objection. Anti-abortion campaigners are arguing that the right of medical professionals to exercise a conscientious objection to abortion is impeded by Section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008.

A small group of doctors have signed a petition calling for the repeal of Section 8. Their cause has been taken up by a few anti-abortion MPs including Christine Campbell, the Labor MLA for Pascoe Vale, who tabled a larger petition calling for an amendment to Section 8 removing the requirement to refer a patient.

Their arguments misrepresent the act, arguing that Section 8 requires a doctor with a conscientious objection to refer a patient for an abortion, when in fact it only requires a practitioner to notify a patient of their conscientious objection and to refer the patient to another health practitioner in the same regulated health profession who the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion.

The ability of a woman to make informed decisions about her body and access healthcare must not be compromised.

The requirement to notify ensures a patient is aware of their health practitioner’s conscientious objection. The requirement to refer ensures that a woman seeking an abortion receives objective advice, free of religious interference. Section 8 recognises that a health practitioner has professional duties and obligations to their patient, ahead of any conscientious objection.

Despite any conscientious objection to abortion, a registered medical practitioner is under a duty to perform an abortion in an emergency where the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.

Section 8 of the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act protects a woman’s right to access abortion fully informed, while also allowing a doctor to exercise their conscience. Let’s keep it that way.

Keep Section 8 Sex Party Red

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