Catholics win exemption in ALP plan to link hospital funding, abortion

The Catholic sector will be exempt from federal Labor's plans to tie hospital funding to the provision of abortion services.

It comes as Labor walked back from its "expectation" that all public hospitals be consistently required to offer access to abortions to qualify for federal money under a renewed funding agreement.

Announcing the opposition's new women's health policy on Wednesday, health spokeswoman Catherine King and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said a new funding agreement between a Labor government and the states and territories would "expect that termination services will be provided consistently in public hospitals".

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

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However, a spokesman for Ms King said on Thursday "obviously" this would not be possible in every hospital, and the plan was about "working with states and territories to achieve legal, safe, affordable and accessible reproductive health services for women".

"Obviously not every hospital provides every medical procedure – for example, not every hospital does brain surgery or heart surgery. That's the same for terminations," he said.

"But we'll work through everything with the states and territories and local health districts to make sure our public health system offers all Australian woman access to safe, legal termination services if they need them."

On Wednesday, Ms King's office phoned leaders from the Catholic health sector to assure them that a Labor government would not withhold funding from Catholic hospitals refusing to perform terminations on religious grounds.

A spokesman for St Vincent's Health Australia said the sector was confident nothing would change for their facilities.

"Along with other non-government providers of public heath services, St Vincent's Health Australia's facilities have long-standing arrangements in place to care for women who request termination which ensures that they are able to access care and support from other providers if that is their wish," the spokesman said.

"Labor has confirmed that those arrangements will be respected under its new policy on women’s reproductive rights and will remain in place."

A spokesman said the details of the plan would be worked out with the states and territories during the negotiations of federal funding agreements, should Labor win office in May.

The next hospitals funding agreement is due to take effect in next year.

Victoria's Australian Medical Association general practice chairwoman Ines Rio said access to safe abortion was a "fundamental element of healthcare".

She said more should be done to improve access to medical terminations (the so-called abortion drug RU486), and overhaul the Medicare rebate system for GPs.

"Yesterday I inserted an IUD for a patient, which took 45 minutes and required nursing staff, and I got back $59 from Medicare," she said.

"It's not a financial model that's sustainable. The general practitioners are paying for that to be provided."

Suzanne Greenwood, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, said while the details of Labor's policy remained unclear, the Catholic sector would never support abortion services.

"The deliberate killing of that innocent person in those early stages of life is not something we can participate in," she said.

About one quarter of Australian women will access an abortion service across their reproductive lives, says family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia. It also estimates between 0 and 10 per cent of abortion services are provided by public hospitals, depending on the state.

https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/catholics-win-exemption-in-alp-p...