Professor Michael Quinlan is Dean of Notre Dame Law School and a Freedom For Faith board member
The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 which was introduced into the New South Wales Parliament on 1 August 2019 has attracted some media attention.
Since 1971 in NSW, it has been lawful to terminate a pregnancy where an honest belief is held that the procedure is “necessary to preserve the women involved from serious danger to their life, or physical or mental health.”
This Bill provides that the termination of any pregnancy up to 22 weeks will be permitted without restriction.
After 22 weeks, the Bill proposes that pregnancies may be terminated subject to certain conditions taking into account the woman’s “current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.”
Freedom of Conscience and Religion
One part of the Bill which has not attracted much attention is the impact it has on the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion of registered health professionals.
In NSW, no referral is required to obtain a termination of pregnancy and information on the availability of such services is widely available on the internet.
Despite these facts, the Bill imposes a referral obligation on all registered health professionals who have a conscientious objection to disclose their conscientious objection to a person who asks them about those matters.
They must then refer the person or transfer their care to another health professional who they believe can provide the service and does not have a conscientious objection. In this way the Bill requires registered health professionals – which is a very broad group of people – who have a conscientious and often religiously grounded objection to participate in the procedure at least to the extent of a referral.
This is so, whether they object to abortion at all, or to abortion after a particular stage of gestation, or for sex-selection or disability grounds.
These obligations impact on all registered health professionals with conscientious objections but they are particularly onerous for Catholic health professionals because, in that tradition, participation in abortion causes an automatic excommunication from the Church.
If the State wishes to further liberalise the law in relation to the termination of pregnancy, it should not do so at the expense of health professionals with a conscientious or religious objection to participating in the procedure.