Despite the fact that they receive public financing, various hospitals are required to adhere ethics set by Catholic Health Australia.
When Sarah, a mother from Melbourne, was expecting her second child, her primary care physician gave her an unexpected piece of advice: if she experienced any severe complications, had concerns about the pregnancy’s viability, or believed that she might be miscarrying, she should go to the Royal Women’s hospital rather than the Mercy Hospital for Women, which was where she was planning to deliver the baby. Sarah was surprised by this recommendation.
The general practitioner explained to her that the reason for this was due to the fact that the Mercy, which is a public hospital located in Melbourne’s north-east, would not provide assistance in ending a pregnancy because of its Catholic affiliation.
Sarah explains, “Further along in the pregnancy, when I was a participant in the midwife program at the Mercy, I asked one of the Mercy midwives, and she confirmed that it was against the policy of the Mercy.”
“I must say, I was a little taken aback. Because this is a public hospital and because the United States is a secular nation, it didn’t make any sense. The midwife “agreed it was a silly policy, but their hands were tied” because of the restrictions placed on them. To our great relief, Sarah went into labor in March and gave birth without any problems.
Because of its religious association, the Mercy, like many other publicly financed Catholic hospitals throughout Australia, is restricted in the range of reproductive treatments it may offer its patients. “Sexual assault does not get seen at the Mercy specifically because they can’t provide morning-after contraception,” asserts a senior gynecologist who works in Melbourne and who has wanted to remain nameless. This individual has requested to keep their anonymity.
In most cases, a woman’s request for a tubal ligation, which is permanent method of birth control that entails medically blocking or clipping the fallopian tubes, will be turned down after she has given birth via cesarean section. This is because the tubal ligation treatment includes physically blocking or clipping the fallopian tubes. “The trainees are aware that it’s a Catholic hospital, and that you can’t tie tubes,” the gynecologist says to the other medical professionals. “That means that some of those women are being forced to get a second anaesthetic because they’re having their tubes tied six months later at the [neighboring] Austin hospital,” said the doctor. “The Austin hospital is right next door.”
Before the Covid epidemic, doctors would get circumvent the religious restrictions by escorting women who wanted Implanon contraceptive implants or intrauterine devices (IUDs) down the corridor to the Austin hospital, where they would have the procedures conducted. This was done in order to accommodate patients of all faiths. “It’s not a good feeling,” one of the doctors who provides abortion services in Melbourne said. It is a sign that you are still creating stigma for the patient if you are forced to exploit loopholes every time you do something. Since the epidemic, various forms of birth control are reportedly being provided on site at the Mercy Hospital by the medical staff.
The following statement was made by a spokeswoman for Mercy Health: “Patients present to Mercy with a wide variety of issues as well as situations, including sexual assault.” To ensure that patients get comprehensive care they require, clinicians employ clinical judgment, make reference to the Catholic Code of Ethics, and develop partnership arrangements with other public health services.
An investigation that was conducted by the Senate into access to reproductive healthcare was finally presented in May. This came after years of complaints regarding the availability of services for women’s health. However, medical professionals and people who campaign for family planning claim that the investigation did not adequately address one of the most vexing problems: the practice of publicly funded hospitals refusing to provide women with basic reproductive healthcare.
At least five of Australia’s Catholic public hospitals, including The Mercy, offer specialized care in obstetrics and gynecology, making Australia home to a total of fifteen Catholic public hospitals. Despite the fact that they receive public financing, various hospitals are required to adhere to the code of ethics set by Catholic Health Australia. This policy forbids birth control, IVF, and abortions under any circumstances, including after rape.
Women who give birth under the public healthcare system are normally assigned to a health service based on their residential location; if they happen to live within the catchment area of a Catholic hospital, then they will be taken care of there. As a result of the fact that many hospitals refuse to accept patients who live outside of their catchment area, access to services has been likened to a “postcode lottery” by some family planning workers.
Doctors at the Mater hospital in Brisbane, which numerous experts told Guardian Australia is the most advanced obstetric hospital in Queensland, are unable to give the pill or put Mirena IUDs without obscuring or falsifying the purpose of the contraceptives in question.
“The Mater will prescribe contraception for things like acne or heavy menstrual bleeding,” says a doctor who has served as an obstetrics registrar there. “The Mater” is a hospital in New Zealand. The practice of contraception in and of itself is not a valid justification.
“I have sent patients for medical termination to [a provider of abortion and contraception in Australia called MSI Australia]… It is up to the judgment of the attending physician. I deliver a speech in which I explain that this is a Catholic hospital and that we don’t provide that service, but I also provide information about other organizations that do.
Another physician, this one having received her obstetrics training at the Mater, recounts a senior colleague’s response to her inquiry over the possibility of prescribing an intrauterine device (IUD) to a patient: “You’ll need to adjust or modify the reason for why you would give her a Mirena.
They did not provide tubal ligation services to virtually any patient. Because it is a public hospital, they are required to do the same things as any other hospital.
The lack of reproductive services at the Mater, which is one of the largest obstetrics and training hospitals in Queensland, has been referred to as “the elephant in the room” by the chief executive officer of Children by Choice, Daile Kelleher. This is due of the Mater’s status as a hospital. She believes that although everyone is aware that it is a problem, no one is willing to do something about it.
Children by Choice is a pregnancy decision-making counseling service that operates throughout the state of Queensland. When someone resides in the Mater’s catchment area, its counselors dread hearing that they are from a region south of the Brisbane River. “[The Counselors] Have Provided Support to Individuals… Kelleher explains that this means “to literally put someone else’s address on their records so that they can access something that is located north of the river.”
“We’ve heard of people being turned away from the Mater… with suicidality and attempted self-abortion,” said one of the staff members. If you look at the legislation in Queensland, you’ll see that even if there’s a conscientious objection, it’s against the law to refuse assistance to someone in an urgent situation.
“We have people who have really wanted pregnancies who get exceptional care from the Mater, who have a foetal anomaly or fatal foetal diagnosis, and [then] they’re basically told, ‘Sorry, that’s where our care ends, and we can’t continue to support you if you’re going to be terminating this pregnancy.’ “We have people who have really wanted pregnancies who get exceptional care from the Mater, who have a foetal
“It’s really judgmental, and it makes people feel ashamed, and it’s really stigmatizing.” They are forced to seek access to abortion services in the private sector, which removes them from the jurisdiction of the public health system.
When Dr. Catriona Melville, a gynecologist and the deputy medical director of MSI Australia, arrived from Scotland to Australia for the first time, she found it “shocking” to discover the truth of the situation. “Within a short period of time, I became aware of the existence of religious hospitals… and the fact that the vast majority of them do not offer a comprehensive range of treatments pertaining to sexual and reproductive health. The most common methods of contraception are abortion and sterilization, although there are also methods of contraception available for men, such as vasectomy.
“The idea that there should be a role for religion in healthcare, which ought to be a provision for the public that is based on evidence, seemed foreign to me. Arriving in Queensland as a reproductive health specialist after having completed my medical training in another country was a rude awakening for me as a doctor.
She continues by saying, “We have been contacted by medical staff from public hospitals who can’t get advanced training in contraception.” MSI has made it possible for some of these physicians to participate in observerships at its clinics.
According to Melville, there are many different reasons why people make the decision to work in large hospitals “even if they don’t agree with the religious principles.”
“Doctors do understand when they sign up that this is the framework they will be working under, which is extremely limiting for them, but obviously the person that suffers the most is the patient,” she says. “This framework is extremely limiting for them.”
Individual clinicians provide excellent care to patients, but they are limited in the treatment options they can offer.
There are further issues over access to reproductive health care in the state of Queensland due to the fact that the Mater Hospital is contracted to operate a flying obstetrics and gynecology service in rural areas. Additionally, it is constructing a public hospital with 174 beds and maternity services in Springfield, which is located south-west of Brisbane. The state government under Annastacia Palaszczuk has already committed an initial financing amount of $177 million to this project.
The narrative unfolds in a manner analogous to that of other jurisdictions. According to Dr. Alison Creagh, a sexual and reproductive health specialist in the state of Western Australia, “people who require contraception before going home with their babies have to go elsewhere, which creates barriers to access.” Maternity care is offered at the St. John of God Midland public hospital in Perth, but “of course people who need contraception before going home with their babies have to go elsewhere.”
She says, “As you can imagine, having a new child makes it difficult to see another health service to get your contraception sorted out.” “As you can imagine, having a new child makes it difficult to get your contraception sorted out.” “I’m really shocked that it was allowed to happen in the first place, and I believe that should be rectified as soon as it’s possible to do so. ”
“It’s an essential service, both to people who want to access the service as well as for the doctors who are wanting to train in comprehensive either gynecology or primary care,” the speaker said.
An investigation of abortion services was carried out in the ACT in April, and the results of that investigation were scathing of the failure of the Catholic-run Calvary public hospital to provide “full reproductive health services as per the human rights.” According to what was heard during the investigation, a woman who had gone through an incomplete miscarriage was turned away from Calvary for a dilation and curettage because the treatment is also used for abortions. Since that time, the territory of the ACT has coercively acquired ownership of the hospital.
According to a statement made by a spokeswoman for Catholic Health Australia, “CHA members are dedicated to ensuring that every woman entering its hospitals receives the care that she needs.”
“The hospitals that are a part of our organization accept a woman’s freedom to make decisions about her own medical care in accordance with her own moral compass. We recognize that these decisions may be challenging due to the complex nature of the circumstances and the little amount of time available; thus, pastoral care and counseling are made accessible.
“If a clinician at a CHA member hospital believes that the continuation of a pregnancy poses a serious threat to the health or life of the mother, they will carry out the necessary interventions, consistent with the patient’s wishes and consent.”
“If a clinician working in a hospital that is a member of the CHA makes the clinical judgment that the use of birth control is necessary for medical reasons, then the code of ethical standards supports them in making that decision.”