Church acts on abortion

By Jane Fraser

One of the last announcements Cardinal George Pell made before taking his annual leave this week was to introduce a program, new to Australia and only the third of its kind in the world, to provide support to pregnant women who are contemplating abortion. ``We want to respond to the needs of women facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy by providing them with life-affirming options,'' he said. ``Through the program, expectant mothers and, if required, their families, will be provided with social, emotional and practical support to enable them to continue with their pregnancy to full term. Women need real alternatives to abortion, and this new program is targeted to meet the specific needs of women contemplating abortion.''

Dr Pell asked the Catholic agency, Centacare, to develop the program. He said he believed very strongly in the importance of such a service because it would be able to offer assistance to all women, including those who felt they had no one to turn to for help. ``This will be a professional counselling and support service to women and their partners and families, as well as a referral service for accommodation and appropriate ongoing support services. Obviously, spiritual help will be offered if it is requested.''

Bishop Anthony Fisher, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, author of Abortion in Australia and the spokesman for the Centacare Pregnancy Support Program, yesterday said that he had personally known young women who had been pregnant and who thought they had no way out, no choice, no solution and no one to turn to. ``They had been offered abortion or abortion referrals by their doctors. When they had a chance to see someone and talk about their options they realised that this was not the end of the world and changed their minds.''

Bishop Fisher said he firmly believed that whether people were for or against abortion, there should be little reason for anyone to object to the positive options to abortion such as this program offered. ``There has been a lot of material lately of women reflecting back on their abortions and saying they had no alternative. We hope to provide that alternative.''

Bishop Fisher acknowledged that the teachings of the Catholic church were often seen as abstract and judgmental and complaints in that direction were often justifiable. ``It has to be made clear that we are really here not to be judgmental; whatever it was that has brought the girl or woman to this point is past. There are to be no inquiries or accusations or recriminations.''

As well as counselling there will be financial support for those who need it. If, for example, the girl needed to leave home because of her condition, accommodation would be found.

The bishop added that because of the church's close contacts with education they would be able to ensure that schools and tertiary institutions were pregnancy-friendly, and that the girls would be treated well and supported.

The Centacare Pregnancy Support Program will be available from Tuesday for women and their families who live in Sydney.

From: "The Weekend Australian", Sat, Jan 1st, 2005

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