Protection of conscience provision in new Tasmanian abortion law

The Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 passed the Tasmanian  Legislative Council 9-5 on 21 November [ The Examiner] and received Royal Assent today.  Abortions after 16 weeks will require the approval of two physicians.  The new Act includes a protection of conscience provision that exempts those who object to the procedure from participating in it, except when necessary to save the life of a woman or prevent serious physical injury.  There is no requirement for referral, but an objecting physician must provide a woman “seeking a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” a “list of prescribed health services” from which she may seek advice.  Since, subject to the content of the list, this does not seem to be the equivalent of referral for abortion, the requirement may not be problematic for those concerned about indirect moral complicity.

What is not clear is whether or not the Act actually prohibits an objecting physician from providing information or advice about pregnancy options beyond the “prescribed” list.  Section 7(4) states that an objecting physician may continue to “provide treatment, advice or counselling, in respect of matters other than a termination or advice regarding the full range of pregnancy options” (emphasis added) which could be taken to imply that an objecting physician is not permitted to offer a woman anything other than the prescribed list.

 

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