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Abortion law must respect dictates of conscience

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The AMA has called on the Tasmanian Government to axe proposed laws that would compel doctors who conscientiously object to performing an abortion to refer their patient to a doctor willing to terminate the pregnancy.

While applauding provisions in the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 that remove the threat of criminal sanctions for women and medical practitioners regarding abortions, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has voiced concerns that the Bill would also coerce some doctors to act against the dictates of their conscience.

The Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Tasmanian Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne, seeks to remove the provision of abortions from the criminal code and make it easier for women to obtain a termination of their pregnancy.

In a letter to the Chair of a Parliamentary inquiry into the Bill, Paul Harriss,  Dr Hambleton said the AMA respected the right of medical practitioners to hold differing views regarding the termination of pregnancies.

He said that both the AMA’s Code of Ethics and Medical Board of Australia guidelines affirmed the right of practitioners not to provide treatment that contradicted their moral judgement or religious beliefs.

“Neither document requires the medical practitioner to assist the patient access the treatment elsewhere,” Dr Hambleton said.

He said this principle was expressly contravened by subclause 7(2) of the Bill, which requires a doctor with a conscientious objection to terminations to still refer a woman to another medical practitioner who does not hold such objections. Under the proposed law, failure to do so would constitute a criminal offence.

“As such, subclause 7(2) removes the rights of medical practitioners to conscientiously object to particular treatments without having to facilitate the patient’s access to the treatment,” the AMA President said.

“Respect for a conscientious objection is a fundamental principle in our democratic country, and medical practitioners expect that their rights in this regard will be respected, as for any other citizen.

“Accordingly, subclause 7(2) should be removed form the Bill,” he said.

Adrian Rollins