•by: ANGELA SHANAHAN
•From: The Australian
•November 30, 2013 12:00AM
WHERE are the civil libertarians when you need them? Where are the defenders of free speech and freedom of conscience?
Not long ago the commentators were bristling with outrage over former federal attorney-general Nicola Roxon’s attempts to curb free speech and, of course, the so-called Bolt law.
However, far more serious infringements of human rights have been enacted into law.
The anti-freedom of conscience provisions for doctors in the Victorian abortion laws of 2008, and the similar stifling of freedom of conscience provisions in the new Tasmanian abortion laws, which also include curbing of freedom to protest, are blatantly against human rights. With the exception of Miranda Devine, most of the right-wing columnists or commentators couldn’t care less, and the left-wing ones are desperate to deflect the issue.
So why have the anti-freedom of conscience provisions not caused universal outrage? Because this is about abortion.
In what other area would doctors need coercion? In what other area of life would even silent protest be curbed? In what other area would progressive lefties not say boo about that? Tasmanian legislators should try doing the same to anti-logging greenies and see how far they get.
In Victoria the legislation that forces doctors to refer for abortion has already meant one general practitioner, Mark Hobart, has faced censure by the medical board. Hobart, who wrote of his refusal to refer a patient 19 weeks pregnant for a sex-selective abortion because she wanted a boy, has been cautioned by the board.
He was referred to the board by an unknown accuser. His repeated requests for the identity of his accusers have been rebuffed by the board and its parent body, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency.
Nor was he permitted to face the board in person.
The reason for his persecution in following his conscience and good medical practice was, as he stated in a letter to the Victorian parliament, “the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 allegedly requires it” and “the law supersedes both professional guidelines and personal opinion”. This, mind you, in a case of sex-selective abortion. Hobart’s colleagues, even those with no objection to abortion per se, were appalled that the law would compel them to be party to such a thing.
This week Christine Campbell, a Victorian Labor MLA, tabled a petition in the Victorian parliament to amend section 8 of the act.
The petition attracted 4026 non-medical signatories and 249 medical ones. The aim is to treat referral in cases of abortion as in any other aspect of medicine.
Conscience provisions apply in every aspect of medicine. Conscientious objection is already covered by codes of practice, as established under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009.
The 2008 laws in Victoria negate conscientious objection by placing an obligation to refer for a procedure that kills the unborn.
Then there is clause 7 of the new Tasmanian abortion bill. It legalises abortion to term and an obligation for doctors to provide women with a list of “prescribed health services” from which they may seek advice, information or counselling on the “full range of pregnancy options” – that is, abortion.
This differs from the standard codes of practice by obliging practitioners to facilitate access to, rather than not impede access to, abortion. It changes the negative duty not to impede into the positive duty to facilitate abortion, a serious breach of the fundamental human rights of medical practitioners who cannot in conscience be party to abortion. Both laws compromise the right to freedom of conscience.
But as if it were not enough to try to bully doctors to be complicit in abortion, the law in Tasmania is trying to stop people exercising their rights as public citizens by curbing the right to protest in any form, even passively or silently, within 150m of an abortion clinic, risking a $9000 fine or imprisonment.
A range of activities are prohibited, including protests that can be seen or heard by a person attempting to access the clinic. There is an assumption that this also means silent protest, including groups of mothers holding babies.
It is strongly argued by Australian constitutional law expert Michael Stokes, of the University of Tasmania, that the prohibition against protesting may be an infringement of the Constitution’s implied right to political communication. The Tasmanian parliament should have prohibited only protests that are violent.
The law could be challenged in the High Court, and not just because it prevents protest. Perhaps its greatest impact is that it proposes specific regulation for people holding specific views: namely people who oppose abortion.
This regulation of protest will effectively characterise their viewpoint as illegitimate by preventing its expression.
So why do this? You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the shrill edge of fear in the howls of frustrated feminists losing their cred.
Anything that remotely compromises abortion, even a reference to the humanity of the unborn, as with NSW’s proposed Zoe’s Law, provokes them. They are scared their message of sexual freedom and control through unfettered killing of the unborn is wearing thin. The young don’t buy it. In the US they have turned against it in droves. No wonder they have to pass coercive laws to silence dissent. Unfortunately, they are succeeding.