The Federal Government reiterated its support for anti-choice organisations last week when a Government-dominated Senate Committee recommended against the Transparent Advertising and Notification of Pregnancy Counselling Services Bill 2005. Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, whose office received $30,000 in donations from ACT Right to Life in the lead up to the last election, used his casting vote as Chair of the Committee to ensure the majority would be against the Bill.
The Private Member’s Bill, which was put forward by Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, was aimed at making sure pregnancy counselling services that have an anti-choice agenda make this position clear in their advertising.
Submissions to the Senate Inquiry into the Bill detailed testimonies from women who had been told by pregnancy counselling services, both public and private, that abortion is sinful, that they risked breast cancer and infertility, and that they were ‘killing the baby.’
In one submission, a doctor told how some women had been shown photos by pregnancy counsellors of aborted foetuses that were much more developed than those that the women were carrying (96 per cent of Australian terminations occur prior to 12 weeks gestation).
Pregnancy Counselling Australia (PCA), which is a privately funded anti-abortion pregnancy counselling service, claims on their website to be a ‘non-political, non-denominational organisation which has given free, practical and emotional support for women experiencing crisis pregnancies ‘ Yet the section on abortion simply states:
Abortion may be explained as a clinically safe surgical procedure. However, the aspects of the so called ‘safe’ procedure can leave permanent physical damage as well as the potential of chronic psychological problems. Abortion may seem to be the right decision at the time. However, those who experience abortion are seldom told about the likely physical and psychological side effects which may stay with them for the rest of their lives.
The site claims that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, citing a study by the Populations and Pensions Research Institution (UK), which found ‘that up to 50 per cent of breast cancer cases in England and Wales over the next 26 years will be œattributable to abortion. ’ This is despite the fact that study’s findings have been widely disputed by medical professionals, and that the World Health Organisation has dismissed any link between abortion and breast cancer .
This is the same helpline that reportedly told the father of an alleged rape victim who wished to find out information on abortion that he was ‘nothing but a bloody murderer.’
Other side effects that are listed on PCA’s website include ‘Post Abortion Syndrome,’ infertility, mental health problems, death, infections and a ‘damaged spirit.’
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has come out strongly against the use of misleading information by the PCA. The PHAA’s Dr Angela Taft told the Senate Inquiry: ‘There are many more examples on this website of exaggerated, unreliable, unreferenced and misleading comments about incomplete abortion, allergic reaction to drugs, tearing of the cervix and perforation of the uterus.’
One anti-choice organisation, the Australian Federation of Pregnancy Support Services (formerly known as the Australian Federation of Pro-life Pregnancy Support Services), which trades under the name Pregnancy Help Australia, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of Government funding. The AFPSS received $240,000 in 2003-04, $245,000 in 2004-05 and almost $300,000 in the last financial year, and is the only organisation that deals exclusively with pregnancy counselling services to receive Federal funding.
The organisation operates 29 pregnancy helplines across Australia. According to a submission to the Senate Inquiry, t he South Australian Pregnancy Advisory Centre has received complaints from women who claim that these helplines are using the same tactics of misinformation as the privately funded Pregnancy Counselling Centre.
The AFPSS is expected to submit a tender for the Government contract to run a new 24-hour pregnancy helpline, which was proposed as part of an appeasement package for Health Minister Tony Abbott after he was stripped of his powers to veto RU486 earlier this year. The helpline is expected to cost $15 million over four years, and aims to reduce the number of abortions in Australia each year.
The tender for the helpline is only open to organisations which do not have a perceived financial incentive for recommending abortion. This effectively means that any counselling service that is financially linked to an abortion clinic will not be eligible to tender. However, as Dr Leslie Cannold, spokeswoman for Reproductive Choice Australia, pointed out in the The Age, ‘organisations with a religious or philosophical opposition to abortion have been deemed to have the professionalism and even-handedness necessary to apply.’
According to a Government press release the new helpline ‘will include advice on all options available, including adoption.’
You would be forgiven for wondering whether the Government’s definition of ‘all options’ includes abortion.
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