Pro-life med students rethink careers after abortion reform
VICTORIAN pro-life medical students are reconsidering their careers after the state Parliament passed Australia’s most liberal abortion laws.
In a vote that surprised both sides of the debate, the Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed unamended, effectively removing the practice from the state’s criminal code.
The ACT is the only other state or territory where abortion has been completely removed from criminal legislation.
In Victoria women will now have access to abortion on demand up until 24 weeks’ gestation, and it will be mandatory for doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients requesting the procedure to colleagues who do not object.
The mandatory referral provisions have prompted Jacinta Le Page, a fifth-year medical student at the University of Melbourne, to rethink her career plans for a specialty in obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as her location.
“My husband and I are now thinking of moving to Darwin so I can finish my training,” she told MO, saying the new laws would make it hard for her to train in a public hospital. Her pro-life stance, she added, had been met with “abusive” disdain from colleagues.
Mrs Le Page said she knew several other students were rethinking their options in light of the new legislation.
Dr Maggie Kirkman (PhD), lecturer at Melbourne’s Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society, understood doctors’ concerns but sided with women’s needs, adding the clause to refer patients was “consistent with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Code of Ethical Practice”.
AMA Victoria has also voiced concerns over the new laws. According to board member Dr Tim Ross, while decriminalising abortion was a positive move, there were concerns doctors’ rights had been “trampled”.
AMA Victoria has requested the state medical board draw up guidelines on the new laws. Dr Ross added the organisation would “defend any members who are brought up before the board on this issue”.
Dr Mary Walsh, member of Doctors in Conscience Against Abortion Bill, said the group would ask the federal government to overturn the law, which she said contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
NEXT WEEK: Professor Caroline de Costa on medical abortion. See Update in Clinical Review.