MEDIA RELEASE: One Nation's NSW Bill threatens women’s rights

MEDIA RELEASE  5 NOV 2020

One Nation Leader’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedom and Equality) Bill 2020 threatens women’s rights.

Ahead of today’s second hearing of the NSW Parliament Committee looking into One Nation Leader Mark Latham’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedom) Bill, a coalition of prominent organisations warn NSW women’s rights to health, secure employment and protection from discrimination may be under threat from the Bill.

Representatives from WEL, Women’s Safety NSW and NSW Women’s Legal Service will be questioned by the 14-member Joint Select Committee looking into the Bill from 9am to 10.15 am in the Macquarie Room at Parliament House. The hearing can be viewed on the Parliament’s live web.

Adjunct Professor Ann Brassil, CEO of Family Planning NSW said medical experts were concerned that;”The Bill includes provisions which could allow health practitioners to contravene professional standards and codes of conduct in the name of religious belief.”

This Bill could allow a medical practitioner to contravene such codes by refusing to refer a patient to a practitioner without a conscientious objection and claim protection from any disciplinary procedure on the grounds of religious discrimination,” she said

Adjunct Professor Brassil pointed out that the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ submission to the Inquiry noted provisions of the Bill seem ‘inconsistent with the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 (NSW)’ which allows conscientious objection but requires referral either to a non-objecting practitioner or through information identifying non-objecting practitioners.

Denele Crozier, CEO Women’s Health NSW is especially worried that access to prescribed contraception and contraceptive education could be restricted by the Bill.  

‘The Code of Conduct of the Pharmacy Board of Australia requires pharmacists to:

‘not use {conscientious objection} to impede access to treatments that are legal’, and to ‘not allow moral or religious views to deny patients or clients access to healthcare,” Ms Crozier said.

The Bill could allow health practitioners with a religious objection to prescribed contraception to refuse prescriptions for contraception or a contraceptive treatment and refuse to provide patients with information on practitioners without such objections.

“Pharmacists in rural and regional NSW could refuse to stock common contraceptives, including the morning after pill, without providing advice on alternative suppliers. Medical practitioners could refuse contraception to single women and to young women.  Education and advice about contraceptive options such as Long Acting Contraceptives could be impeded.

“This could further limit access to reproductive health services in marginalised communities and in rural and regional NSW where there are fewer pharmacies and greater distances between them,” she said.

Mary O’Sullivan from Women’s Electoral Lobby said that the Bill proposes a new category of Religious Ethos Organisations which could limit women’s access to emergency reproductive health services.  ‘It is possible that publicly funded hospitals and clinics run by religious organisations could refuse to provide reproductive health services, even in an emergency,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

Haley Foster, CEO of Women’s Safety NSW is especially concerned that access to reproductive health services could be restricted for women who are victims of reproductive coercion, such as forced sex or sabotaging of contraception methods, both of which commonly occur in domestically violent and abusive relationships.

WEL is concerned that the Bill could also impact on women of culturally diverse backgrounds employed in the health and care industries run by religious charities. “Many women from minority religious backgrounds work in these industries. Large Christian religious charities now dominate government funded service provision,” WEL spokeswoman Mary O’Sullivan said.

“The Bill could even allow religious organisations to themselves discriminate against their employees on the grounds of their compliance with religious teachings on marriage, contraception and abortion, or simply on the basis of preferential consideration for employees of the same religion as the organisation.

“Employers could also discriminate on the basis of religious dress, which has implications for women as well as men from minority faith communities.”

Kellie McDonald, who will represent NSW Women’s Legal Service at the hearing, called for “A comprehensive Review of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act to introduce protections against religious discrimination, but not at the expense of other protections such as those for race, disability and for transgender people.”

ENDS

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