Freedom of religion, thought and conscience is a declared human right. It is cited in the Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. It does not specify that believers have a right to impose their beliefs on others.

If Catholics have a religious belief that compels them to oppose abortion, then it is their right to hold that belief. Others are entitled to hold beliefs that do not compel them to oppose abortion in all circumstances.

If a prospective patient seeks an abortion then it is apparent that that patient does not have a belief that accords with Catholic doctrine. Yet the Catholic Health Australia wants to impose their beliefs on such patients by refusing to counsel them on the options available. It is quite right that the proposed abortion Bill seeks to prevent the Catholic hierarchy from imposing their doctrines on patients in this way.

The objections of the Church raise a deeper question. In a secular society it is anomalous that religions should be in charge of running what are effectively public hospitals. If the Catholic hospitals refuse to respect the human rights of patients, then the State should take over the running of these hospitals.

Oct 6, 2008