Do Catholic hospital bans on abortion and contraception breach international human rights law?

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) is responsible for the administration of over 20 public hospitals nation-wide. Their Code of Ethical Standards, which applies to staff in all CHA facilities, stipulates that:

a. Women diagnosed with a fetal anomaly, even one so drastic it means no chance of a successful birth, will not be offered an abortion, nor have a request for one granted, nor be referred to another hospital or provider who may provide this service;

b. Women whose fetuses die in utero will not be offered any drugs or surgery to help speed the inevitable miscarriage process;

c. Rape victims presenting at a Catholic hospital will not be offered emergency contraception, or be told of its existence, or be referred to a rape crisis centre which would discuss this with them, until the hospital has ‘taken steps to exclude the likelihood of pregnancy’.

A report into the Guidelines and their impact on women found that they may breach the International Convention on the Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, to which Australia is a signatory.

Download ‘Catholic Healthcare Australia Guidelines as Torture, and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment: a human rights enquiry’, by Melanie Poole from the Law Reform and Social Justice Centre at the Australian National University.


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