by Steven Ertelt
March 2, 2006
Canberra, Australia (LifeNews.com) — The Australian government has put the final touches on an abortion alternatives counseling program for pregnant women. The $51 million packages includes a toll-free 24-hour national hotline and in-person counseling paid for through the nation’s Medicare program.
Prime Minister John Howard said Wednesday that women who were undecided about whether to have an abortion should be aware of alternatives, including adoption.
"These new measures will improve the availability of timely, confidential, professional pregnancy counseling for Australian women and their partners, including those in rural and remote areas," he said.
The in person counseling services will be offered by doctors or other medical agencies or support groups as long as they have no connection to performing abortions.
The Courier Mail newspaper reports Howard indicated the counseling will not be biased.
"The referral process will not be cooked in favor of a particular attitude," he said. "It will be a completely transparent choice process."
Howard and pro-life Health Minister Tony Abbott jointly announced the new program, which comes just after the Australian parliament stripped Abbott of his powers to regulate the dangerous abortion drug RU 486.
Howard said the nation’s abortion rates were high and he indicated he hoped the counseling program will make a positive impact.
"The Government does not support changing the abortion law, nor does it support restricting Medicare funding for abortion," he said. "Nevertheless, the Government wants to give more support to women who are or have been uncertain about continuing a pregnancy."
Opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard, who backs abortion, was critical and accused Abbott of opposing the role of doctors.
Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja agreed and said she was worried the counseling would be biased in favor of pro-life groups.
"This Government does not fund directly any pro-choice pregnancy counseling services in this country," she said, according to the newspaper.
The telephone helpline is expected to be up and running in nine months.