Australia Announces New Committee to Help Govt Lower Abortion Rates

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 3, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 3, 2006

Canberra, Australia ( — The Australian government has announced a new pregnancy advisory committee it established to help put new policies into effect to lower the nation’s abortion rate. The committee comes after the government announced new measures to lower abortions, such as a 24-hour hotline and a Medicare rebate for pregnancy counseling.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who is pro-life, said the committee would be put together for one year and would advise the government on how to implement the hotline and disburse the rebate.

Obstetrician and gynecologist Andrew Pesce, part of the Australian Medical Association executive council, will chair the committee, according to the Courier Mail newspaper.

The six other members of the committee include:

* Professor Helen Christensen, a deputy director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University;

* Rosemary Bryant, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing Australia;

* Jenny Brandon-Baker, a midwife from Queanbeyan District Hospital and a member of the Australian College of Midwives;

* Dr. Leslie Stephan, a psychiatrist from the Royal Adelaide Hospital;

* Dr. Veronica O’Connell, a Sydney GP; and

* Professor Harvey Whiteford, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Queensland.

The Australian government announced the $51 million package, including the hotline and rebates, in March.

Prime Minister John Howard said 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.

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."