Bishop Richard Umbers: Labor’s let’s-pretend-on-health strategy

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Recently, I penned a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, raising my concerns with the release of Labor’s recent National Health and Sexual Reproduction Strategy.

Released in advance of the 2019 Federal Election, the strategy fails to acknowledge and uphold the dignity of the human person, especially the mother and her unborn child.

The initiative is titled “reproductive health,” yet it only provides funding for contraception and abortion services. Ironically, the “reproductive health” strategy contains absolutely no support for women who want to reproduce, and the services available to them, nor access to alternatives to abortion within the healthcare sector.

The only link to “reproduction” is to its prevention or termination.

Reproduction, in all its God-given goodness and beauty, encompasses a much broader range of issues, including in particular the right to be supported before, during and after pregnancy.

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Any strategy that does not include these supports cannot claim to be pro-woman, nor in truth, can it claim to be pro-choice.

The painful reality is that many women undertake abortions because they feel financially unable to care for their child, fear abandonment or abuse, and dread the reaction of those around them, including family and employers. This strategy does nothing to address these challenges which comprise a very real and important need within the community, and one we cannot ignore.

It is simply not good enough that women who choose to have a child are not provided with the care and the resources they need to choose life.

To offer women real support and real choice, we must provide any woman who feels threatened by the circumstances of her pregnancy with the emotional, practical and material assistance she needs to raise her child.

Sydney Bishop Richard Umbers penned a letter to Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, pictured addressing the Catholic Schools NSW forum. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Sydney Bishop Richard Umbers penned a letter to Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, pictured addressing the Catholic Schools NSW forum. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Providing women with only one “option” – that of terminating the life of her unborn child – can never be acceptable because it places pregnant women in a situation where they feel that the only way forward is to be forced into the false “choice” of choosing between her own life and that of her child.

The taking of innocent human life is always wrong.

Despite Labor’s lack of willingness to protect the vulnerable unborn and their mothers, they do – in a number of their policies – speak up for other vulnerable groups.

The Opposition has promised to impose penalties for big business via the Modern Slavery Act, to increase the availability of affordable housing, introduce permanent protection visas for refugees seeking asylum in Australia, and restore the penalty rates on Sunday and public holiday trading that lower-earning employees often rely on (and which provide some recognition to the specialness of Sundays.)

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A preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. Labor has shown that in many areas it understands this and is willing to promote policies that address that preferential option. Its “reproductive health” strategy, unfortunately, is not one of those.

They can do better. And so can we.

The Catholic Church throughout Australia, through its many agencies, stands ready to provide women facing an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy the assistance denied them under this strategy.

We will continue to support women and the new life they carry at every stage of the journey, before, during and after pregnancy.

Resources: CatholicCare Confidential Help Line 13 18 19
Diamond Women’s Support Help Line 1300 851 592