Abortion is back on the national agenda this week after a group of the country’s religious leaders released a statement calling on federal, state and territory governments to restrict late term abortions and provide accurate statistics on how many are currently being performed.

The statement was signed by representatives of the Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Assemblies of God and Greek Orthodox Churches, the Salvation Army, Wesley Mission and Seventh Day Adventists along with those from the Mormon, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Sikh faiths at a meeting held at the Salvation Army headquarters in Sydney on Monday night.

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CHURCH VIEWS: Monday night's meeting of religious leaders came after the publication of a booklet last year in which they stated their views on the issue.

As well as asking for restrictions on late-term abortions of foetuses older then 20 weeks, the document calls on federal, state and territory governments to enact laws requiring those performing abortions to provide non-identifying details to enable the compilation and publication of accurate statistics on abortion in Australia.

It says laws should be be enacted which require an independent medical practitioner to provide women considering abortion with information on the methods to be employed, the potential health risks and a description of the foetus’ developmental stage and asks that a statutory “cooling off” period of seven days pass between the provision of the information and any abortion procedure “so that women proceed only on the basis of properly considered and informed consent”.

The leaders have also asked that counselling and referral resources be made available for post-abortion follow-up.

Tracy Gordon, spokeswoman for the religious leaders forum and chief researcher for the Social Issues Executive at the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, says this week’s unprecedented meeting came about after the various religious leaders shared their views on abortion in a publication last year and found “they were very united on the issue of abortion”.

This week’s meeting represented an effort to harness their united power, she says.

“All the leaders spoke of the value of life - both for women and for unborn children - and they were very united in their call to offer a greater degree of protection.

“What we have here is a diverse group of religious leaders who expressing a united belief on behalf of their faiths...that abortion hurts women and abortion hurts unborn children. And they didn’t want to remain silent on the issue.”

THE FULL TEXT OF MONDAY NIGHT'S DOCUMENT...

We, the undersigned, hereby call upon the
Federal, State and Territory Governments of Australia


(1) To enact laws requiring those performing abortions in all States and Territories to provide details of such abortions, as required in South Australia, including such details as age of mother, postcode area, reasons and gestational stage without in any way identifying the mother, based on such mandatory reporting, the Government thereafter to make available to the public on an annual basis accurate records and statistics on abortion in Australia.


(2) To enact laws requiring that accurate and objective information be provided by an independent medical practitioner, both orally and in writing, to women considering an abortion which:

(a) describes the methods of abortion to be employed;


(b) outlines the nature of potential health risks, both physical and psychological, to the mother resulting from abortion procedures;


(c) describes to what stage the foetus has developed; and


(d) which also provides for a statutory ‘cooling off’ period of seven days between the provision of such information and any abortion procedure so that women proceed only on the basis of properly considered and informed consent.


(3) To guarantee as an initial measure the protection at law of the viable foetus (after twenty weeks) in the interests of women’s health and protection of the unborn child. 

(4) In the interests of patient care, to make resources available for adequate post-abortion follow-up including counselling and referral.

The issue of abortion was raised last year after Health Minister Tony Abbott prompted national news headlines when he told an Adelaide audience that “even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year”.

It received a further boost into national prominence this week when the National Party’s Senate leader, Senator Ron Boswell, tabled 16 questions for Health Minister Tony Abbott, asking for, among other things, details on abortion numbers and locations, expected future trends, definitions of late-term abortion, Medicare funding for such procedures and the impact of counselling on abortion rates.

Among those at the Monday night meeting was the superintendent of the Wesley Mission, Rev Dr Gordon Moyes. 

Rev Dr Moyes - who says he represents the “pro-life” stance within the Uniting Church - said in an article this week that he was of the “whole-hearted view that as humans we are obligated to value and respect life at whatever stage of its development”.

“As a Christian, guided by a Judeo-Christian ethic as exemplified in the Holy Bible, I hold the strong opinion that life begins at conception,” he wrote.

Rev Dr Moyes said he was “particularly grieved” by the practice of late term or “partial birth” abortions and said there was an “absence of information” on how many were conducted in Australia. 

The Anglican Church was also among those represented at Monday’s meeting. The Anglican Primate of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley, told the ABC’s AM program this week that while there was “no harm” in gathering more data on abortions, “I think it’s fairly clear that from the moment of conception we’re dealing with an independent human life with an independent heartbeat, an independent blood circulation, an independent brain activity”.

Dr Carnley said that while there was a right to choose what a person does with their own body, there wasn’t a right to choose “what you’re going to do with somebody else’s body and conceived human individuals are other people”.

He said he was opposed to abortion and supported making changes to legislation that would make them harder to get as well as education programs.

Catholic representative, Bishop Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and among those at Monday night’s meeting, told Sight this week that “no reason, however serious or tragic, can ever justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being”.

“The Catholic tradition recognises that the principles of the inviolability of human life is shared by all the great religious traditions of the world and is capable of being accepted by all people by the light of reason and the natural moral law written on the human heart,” he wrote in a statement.

“The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is not a sectarian idiosyncrasy. Revelation leads us to reverence human life, but so too does reason.”

Bishop Porteous said that while the “destruction of innocent human life is our first concern with abortion”, the church was aware that the moral tragedy of abortion also “harms the child's parents, wider networks of family and friends, the practice of law and medicine, institutions and society generally”. 

The Federal Government have said there were no plans to change their current position on the issue.

Tracy Gordon, meanwhile, says a working party is being established from among the various groups represented at Monday night’s meeting but that no further meetings were planned at this stage.