I welcome the debate sparked by Kathy Woolf's recent opinion piece in On Line Opinion about my Private Member's Bill, which aims to make advertising by pregnancy counselling services more transparent. However, a number of statements in Ms Woolf's piece are inaccurate and misleading, and require correction.
First, my Bill would not "force pregnancy counselling services to refer women to abortion clinics when requested". While it would be ideal for all pregnancy counselling services to respect women's choice regarding their pregnancy, including the decision to have an abortion, I recognise that many pregnancy counselling services are run by anti-choice organisations, and it would be unrealistic to expect them to provide abortion referrals on request.
What my Bill would actually do is ensure pregnancy counselling services which do not refer for terminations must include a statement, along the lines of, "This service does not provide referrals for terminations of pregnancy", in all their advertising and notification material.
These facts should also clear up Ms Woolf's next claim - that my Bill is "an attack" on groups which "don't refer for abortion". Unless Ms Woolf considers transparent advertising and notification by these services to be an attack, her claim clearly does not hold up.
Ms Woolf asks whether my Bill will call on "pro-abortion" pregnancy counselling services to "declare their bias". I am yet to meet anyone who is "pro-abortion". My Bill would ensure women were informed which services provide referrals for abortion on request, because those which do not would be forced to advertise the fact. If my Bill became law, women could assume all other organisations offered information and support on all pregnancy options.
My Bill is a far cry from "an attempt to shore up the business of abortion clinics and the agencies that refer women to them". What it does attempt to do is put a stop to the current situation, where unsuspecting women, who are considering or have decided on abortion, contact anti-choice pregnancy counselling services. They are sometimes given information which has been disproved by research, for example, that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, or between abortion and mental illness.
A Melbourne abortion clinic was recently contacted by a distressed young woman who had previously been in touch with Pregnancy Help Geelong, in the belief they could provide her with a referral to an abortion clinic. Instead, the "counsellor" who spoke to her told her having an abortion would cause breast cancer, infertility and mental problems, and praised the "brave" women who become single mothers.
Most disturbingly, this pregnancy counselling service claims to receive government-funded training for its volunteers and staff. Last week, I lodged a series of questions on notice to the Minister for Health about this case, and about the broader question of the training and qualifications of those counselling women in such vulnerable positions.
This issue - of women's control over their bodies and their lives - should be all about choice. I am all for women who freely choose to continue their pregnancies being provided with the support they need throughout the pregnancy and birth. But under no circumstances should women be misled about the facts about pregnancy or abortion, or coerced or frightened into continuing a pregnancy.
Pro-choice pregnancy counselling organisations do provide information about the possible risks of an abortion, and do discuss alternatives to abortion if the woman is undecided, but this information is balanced with respect for the woman's decision.
Australians overwhelmingly support the right to choose. Ms Woolf mentions research by the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, which has already been the subject of debate and dispute. I will not reiterate those debates here, except to say other recent surveys have revealed very different results. For example, the recent survey on Australian Social Attitudes found over 80 per cent of the more than 4,000 people surveyed support choice on abortion.
My Bill would reinforce the right to choose, by allowing women to know exactly which sort of pregnancy counselling service they are contacting when they seek information in relation to a pregnancy, or a referral for abortion. Who would deny them that right?
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