Justice and Freedom of Conscience
With regard to the decision of the High Court of Australia on the legality of the Marriage Equality Law in the ACT, as reported in Good News Update 82, the Chief Justice announced late on 3 December,
The Court will reserve its decision.
The Court hopes to be in a position to announce a decision on 12 December.
This gave each judge more time to deliberate on their decision and more time for us to pray. You can read more details in this interesting blog. This decision, to be delivered at 12.15 pm on 12 December, could be a turning-point for our Australian way of life. Please continue to pray.
But now we turn to another pressing situation which also needs our prayerful attention.
For the last seven months, Dr Mark Hobart, a Melbourne GP and practising Catholic, has been under investigation by the Medical Board of Victoria. As a conscientious objector to providing abortion, he refused to refer a couple
to another doctor for the abortion of a healthy 19-week unborn baby, simply because it was a girl. By doing this,
Dr Hobart openly admits that he has broken the law. "But" as Dr Hobart shared with a Melbourne newspaper,
"just because it's the law doesn't mean it's right". He has decided to risk his career and livelihood as a doctor because of his deep conviction that abortion is morally wrong.
In October 2008, the Victorian parliament passed what could be the most extreme abortion legislation in the Western world - the Abortion Law Reform Act. In addition to allowing abortion right up to the day of birth (with the consent of two doctors after 24 weeks), there is Section 8 which strips away the freedom of conscience of health practitioners. This law forces conscientious objectors to refer their patients to other health practitioners who would carry out an abortion.
Sadly, the laws of the Tasmania Reproductive Health Act passed on 21 November 2013, are even more extreme and draconian. These laws infringe on freedom of speech by imposing stiff penalties of up to $9,750 in fines or 12 months in prison for anyone protesting within a 150 metre exclusion zone of an abortion facility. This would apply to even peaceful prayer vigils by groups such as 40 Days for Life which take place in hundreds of cities in the USA, seven in Australia and an increasing number around the world. Read more about how these laws trample our freedoms of speech and conscience here.
When the Victorian Bill was first passed, the President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association sent a letter to the then Premier, Mr John Brumby, asking for the removal of Section 8. He wrote "Respect for conscientious objection is a fundamental principle in our democratic country, and doctors expect that their rights will be respected, as for any other citizen".
The irony is that Victoria's abortion laws were voted in according to a bi-partisan feminist agenda strongly influenced by MPs who belonged to EMILY's List, the powerful pro-abortion feminist faction of the ALP. Now those laws are being used to reprimand
a doctor who refused to be part of the abortion of an unborn baby, simply because it was a girl. Yet today there is an international outcry against the sex-selective abortion
of millions of baby girls in countries such as India and China.
There have also been attempts to discredit Dr Hobart simply because he had been an active member of the Democratic Labor Party which is anti-abortion. At the time of the accusation, there was a bill sponsored by the DLP Senator from Victoria, John Madigan, to remove Medicare funding for sex-selective abortion. But in spite of there being over 1,000 submissions, mostly in favour of the Bill, it was dismissed by the Senate Committee without any public hearings on 25 June.
In the case of Dr Hobart, neither the woman or her husband, who requested the abortion, made the complaint. Rather it was made by a member of the Medical Board of Victoria. Without an explanation, Dr Hobart's repeated requests for the identity of his accuser and the substance of the accusation have been rebuffed. Nor has he been permitted to face the board in person. For Dr Hobart, the members of the Medical Board of Victoria are both the accusers and the judges!
In October, a group of leading women's doctors accused Dr Hobart and his supporters of running a campaign against Victoria's abortion laws by undermining all that had been so hard fought for in relation to 'women's rights'.
Some good news for freedom of conscience comes from an ad hoc group of doctors and nurses, of many faiths and no faith, who call themselves Doctors Conscience. They came into being in 2008 in response to the new laws. Their purpose was to oppose the enactment of Section 8 in order to protect the freedom of conscience of healthcare workers. With the Medical Board of Victoria's investigation of Dr Hobart pending, they brought together a petition with 4,314 signatures.
This petition was tabled in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in the final days of November and on 1 December a motion was passed at the Victorian Liberal State Conference to support any such amendment. Now the abortion debate has ignited further as independent MP, Geoff Shaw, who holds the balance of power in the Assembly, signaled his intention to draft a private member's bill to remove Section 8. You can read an article or listen to an interview on ABC local radio to understand the details of this debate.
This year's annual March for the Babies in Melbourne on 12 October shows how we cannot take our freedoms of speech, conscience and assembly for granted. Marchers were met by a vulgar and violent pro-abortion mob. The fact that the police stood back and let some of those marching be physically and verbally abused is something not often seen in Australia.
So what can we do?
1. Please pray for Dr Hobart that justice will prevail and will come quickly.
2. Please write a letter to The Hon Dr Denis Napthine MLA, Premier of Victoria urging him to intervene in Dr Hobart's situation and repeal Section 8 (contact details). He voted against the Abortion Law Reform Bill in 2008. On the Doctors Conscience website, he is quoted as saying, "Health professionals of the highest caliber and with the highest levels of experience are saying to us that clause 8 is fundamentally wrong and clause 8 is fundamentally wrong".
One of Jesus' parables describes a widow who had to face an unjust judge, "who neither feared God nor cared about men". She pleaded for justice. Through this parable, he showed his disciples that "they should always pray and not give up". Jesus concluded, "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" (Luke 18:1-8).
Yours for justice and freedom in our land,
David Rowsome and Warwick Marsh