VICTORIA: by Terri M. KelleherNews Weekly
Melbourne GP may be struck off after refusing abortion referral
, October 26, 2013
Dr Mark Hobart, a Melbourne GP, is being investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for allegedly refusing to refer a couple for an abortion of their healthy 19-week unborn baby, simply because she was a girl.
Dr Mark Hobart
This case highlights the likelihood of coercion of doctors under Section 8 of Victoria’s controversial Abortion Law Reform Act 2008. Under its provisions Dr Hobart could face suspension or even be deregistered.
Section 8 of Victoria’s abortion law requires a doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer a woman seeking an abortion or advice on an abortion to another doctor who he/she knows does not have a conscientious objection.
Dr Hobart, 55, has been practising as a GP in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine for 27 years.
He is a devout Catholic and a former activist in the Democratic Labour Party. He has since resigned from the party.
The Medical Board of Victoria launched its investigation of him after he had disclosed to Melbourne’s Herald Sun in April that a couple had asked him for a gender-selective abortion.
Three weeks after his comments appeared, he received a letter from the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA), advising him that the board had initiated an inquiry into “your professional conduct, following receipt of information that indicates you may have… failed in your obligation to refer a female patient seeking treatment or advice on abortion to a non-objecting practitioner”.
AHPRA informed Dr Hobart that some unidentified board members initiated the “Own Motion” against him at a meeting on May 9, with the support of a majority of members who were present.
In Dr Hobart’s case there was no complaint by a patient nor any allegation of harm to a patient. He is being investigated by the board solely for refusing to refer a woman for a gender-selection abortion of a healthy baby, which polls consistently show most Australians are opposed to.
Miranda Devine, writing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun (October 5), remarked: “The irony is that Victoria’s abortion laws, among the most extreme in the world, were driven by a bipartisan feminist agenda. Yet now those laws are being used to punish a doctor who refused to participate in the sort of selective abortion of female foetuses which has made girl babies an endangered species in India and other patriarchal societies.”
Dr Hobart told LifeSiteNews.com (October 8): “My belief that abortion — specifically, foeticide — is morally wrong is based on scientific evidence, reason and logic.” He said that the current abortion law in Victoria is wrong because “it compels doctors to perform or comply with an objectively morally wrong act”.
He told the Herald Sun that he doesn’t know any doctor who would agree to abort a healthy baby because of its gender. He said: “The general response from my colleagues is disbelief and revulsion.”
Dr Hobart is not the only doctor known to have fallen foul of the Medical Board of Victoria over Section 8. Another doctor earlier this year reported that he had been cautioned by the board for comments he had made about Section 8 in an online “conversation” with colleagues, one of whom complained to the board. Again, there was no patient complaint.
Dr Hobart risks being deregistered by the board and losing his livelihood. The other practitioner who was investigated was cautioned and warned that if he came before the board again the matter would be regarded very seriously.
Section 8 contravenes Section 14 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, which states: “14(1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.” Section 8 creates the anomalous situation in which medical and health professionals are denied the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all other Victorians by Section 14 of the state’s charter.
Section 8, by denying doctors the right to freely exercise their professional judgement and by interfering with their obligation to act and give advice in the best interests and for the welfare of their patients, can have far-reaching consequences.
Often, a woman presents to a doctor with her boyfriend, husband, partner or family members. Sometimes it’s one of these other parties asking for the woman to be referred for an abortion.
There are many recorded instances in which the pregnant woman is being coerced into the abortion, as is recognised even by Women’s Health Victoria (WHV), which ironically led the campaign for the 2008 abortion act.
In its 10-Point Plan for Victorian Women’s Health 2010-14, WHV says that “studies in Australia and internationally consistently indicate an emphatic association between partner violence and abortion”.
One of the largest studies of this kind was the 2007 La Trobe University investigation by Dr Angela Taft and Dr Lyndsey Watson. From surveys of over 24,000 women aged 18-27 they found that “partner violence is a strong predictor of termination and other reproductive outcomes among young Australian women”.
The researchers concluded that, as these women had a much higher incidence of depression, any strategy to reduce depression among women must involve “prevention and reduction of partner violence [which] may reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancy”.
This means that symptoms of depression in a woman asking for an abortion referral, particularly if it’s her partner or family members pushing for the abortion, is an indicator of a possible abusive relationship.
In such a situation, a doctor needs to be able to assess if the woman is depressed, and if her depression is impairing her ability to make a free choice.
The doctor needs to assess if the first priority is to refer the patient for the treatment of her depression (rather than for an abortion), so that she can make a free decision about her pregnancy.
The doctor also needs to assess if the patient is being coerced into an abortion and take appropriate action, depending on the level of abuse. If the young woman is also under the age of consent, a doctor has added reason to be concerned.
However under Victoria’s abortion law, a doctor with a conscientious objection is not even allowed to ask questions in order to make a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.
Section 8 also breaks down the doctor/patient relationship and the trust and confidence of both doctor and patient. Take, for example, if a woman’s usual doctor, who may have been her doctor most or all of her life, has a conscientious objection to abortion. The law requires her to be referred to a doctor with no such objection, a doctor she may never have met and whom she had not originally chosen to seek advice from. In this way, the law operates to deny women their right to consult the doctor of their choice.
Why then have the two doctors, discussed above, been the subjects of investigation for breaching the technical requirements of Section 8? It would appear to have less to do with standards of medical care and protection of patients from harm than with over-zealous and bureaucratic monitoring of Section 8 to ensure no conscientious objector escapes the letter of its coercive requirements, even if there was no patient complaint and no harm is suffered by any patient.
The only ones to suffer harm in these instances were the doctors with a conscientious objection who found themselves under investigation by the Medical Board of Victoria.
The law should uphold the right of medical professionals to act according to their conscience and to provide the best medical care to women.
Terri M. Kelleher is Victorian president of the Australian Family Association. The above article is a slightly longer version of the one that appeared in the printed edition of News Weekly.
Miranda Devine, “Doctor risks his career after refusing abortion referral”, Herald Sun (Melbourne), October 5, 2013.
AAP, “GP may be struck off after objecting to abortion”, Medical Observer (UBM Medica Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney), October 8, 2013.
Hugo Gye, “Australian doctor could be struck off after refusing to carry out abortion on woman who didn’t want to have a girl”, Daily Mail (UK), October 8, 2013.
Andrew Smith, “Doctor receives outpouring of support after refusing to refer for sex-selective abortion”, LifeSiteNews.com, October 8, 2013.