The Australian, January 11, 2007

Church bars raped women from pill

By Adam Cresswell

SEXUALLY assaulted women who seek help at Catholic-controlled hospitals cannot be referred to rape crisis centres that supply morning-after pills, under church policy.

The policy, spelt out in an 80-page ethics document, has heightened concerns among doctors and rape counsellors about the Catholic Church's growing control of hospitals.

And The Australian reveals today that another fertility centre has been told to move out by the Catholic buyers of the hospital where it is based. One prominent doctor said she had long been concerned at the church's rape policy, which is contained in an ethics document approved by the Catholic hierarchy in 2001.

The Code of Ethical Standards, compiled by Catholic Health Australia, says direct referral of raped women to centres that offer the morning-after pill ''should only occur if reasonable steps have been taken to exclude the likelihood of pregnancy''.

Senior Catholic spokesmen defended the policy as a logical and ethical extension of the church's opposition to the morning-after pill, which it considers morally no different to abortion. But Melbourne GP and medical broadcaster Sally Cockburn said she was ''blown out of the water'' when she read the policy.

''If this is the way their staff are mandated to behave, then I don't believe rape victims should be taken to their hospitals at all,'' Dr Cockburn said.

''They have no right to make us follow their point of view, and if they're going to be taking over more hospitals, I'm concerned.''

Karen Willis, of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, said it was standard practice for a raped woman to be offered the morning-after pill, if there was a real risk of her becoming pregnant with her attacker's child. ''To not offer someone the morning-after pill would be negligence as far as we are concerned,'' she said.

Catholic-controlled health organisations control more than 70 hospitals in Australia -- and added one more this week, the Wesley Hospital in Townsville.

The buy-out by the rival Catholic Mater Misericordiae Hospital is subject to approval by competition regulators. But the Queensland Fertility Group, which offers in-vitro fertilisation and other fertility treatments at the site, confirmed yesterday it had already been told it must find new premises elsewhere. Catholic doctrine is opposed to IVF.

QFG Townsville director Ron Chang said the forced relocation was annoying, but predicted it would not interrupt services.

The Australian revealed on Tuesday that Canberra's John James Hospital -- bought in October by a Catholic-controlled organisation -- had begun withdrawing services to the Canberra Fertility Centre, which was based on its premises.

Catholic Health Australia chief Francis Sullivan said that as well as private hospitals, Catholic organisations ran 21 public hospitals around the nation that would also have to follow the ethics policy.

Mr Sullivan said health workers in Catholic hospitals ''are not prevented from giving information'' about abortion, the morning-after pill or any other treatment. ''The only restriction would be that the staff are not permitted to directly refer women to abortion services,'' he said.

Catholic health ethics spokesman Bishop Anthony Fisher said the ban was a logical extension of the church's position on use of the morning-after pill.

<< The Australian -- 1/11/07 >>

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