21 April 2023

Calvary Hospital's religious ethos labelled 'problematic' in reproductive choices report

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
calvary hospital

Calvary Public Hospital only provides abortions in cases of emergency. Photo: File.

A standing committee inquiry into Canberra’s abortion and reproductive choices has warned the government needs to address what it feels is an “ethically fraught dependence” on the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary for provision of health services.

The religious organisation is responsible for Calvary Public Hospital Bruce (Calvary), which received funding from the ACT Government.

According to the report, the inquiry had learned of a “distressing experience” of a person who said she was “refused critical medical treatment following a miscarriage”.

The woman said she suffered an incomplete miscarriage with tissue remaining in her body and needed a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to remove it.

She told the inquiry because the procedure was used for abortions, Calvary Public Hospital “refused” to perform it.

With Canberra Hospital wait times at several months, she had the procedure done at a private hospital for more than $1000.

Another submission to the inquiry cited it was “intensely problematic” for the ACT to be reliant on a public hospital which wouldn’t provide abortions because of religious beliefs. The submission stated if staff opposed to a procedure on religious grounds, “those grounds come with an implicit moral judgement”.

“In a best-case scenario, it creates unnecessary anxiety and fear in women who may require a termination, or who need care for complications arising from a termination,” he said.

“They may question whether they are genuinely receiving the best medical advice for their circumstances, and worry how they may be treated by professionals who they are forced to trust with essential procedures and intimate medical and sexual health information.”

READ ALSO No matter your Medicare status, surgical and medical abortions are now free in the ACT

The committee noted in its report it was “problematic” that one of the ACT’s major hospitals was restricting what services it delivered due to an “overriding religious ethos”, which it said could have “implications for life-saving reproductive care beyond the provision of abortion”.

“It is also reasonable to assume a significant number of Canberrans would be unaware of the religious model of care which underpins Calvary Hospital’s operation and impacts on their available services,” it stated.

As a result, the report recommended the ACT Government advocate for the hospital to provide full reproductive health services “in accordance with human rights”.

But the hospital’s provider has argued the details about its services in the report didn’t reflect its “commitment to women in need of emergency care” when experiencing a miscarriage.

Calvary chief medical advisor Dr Tracey Tay said the hospital took its role as a public health provider “very seriously” and had provided professional, non-judgemental care to the region for 44 years.

“Canberra women can be assured Calvary Public Hospital Bruce absolutely does and will continue to care for them and provide immediate emergency treatment when experiencing miscarriage,” Dr Tay said in a statement.

“Although Calvary does not offer an elective termination of pregnancy, Calvary does provide D&C for a range of gynaecological conditions.”

READ ALSO Pop-up PCR clinics to close as NSW looks to RATs for testing

The committee report made 18 recommendations, including the amendment of the Health Act 1993 to require conscientious objectors to abortion to provide a referral to an equivalent service.

“At a minimum, Calvary Public Hospital needs to … refer the patient to another publicly funded facility,” the report stated.

Region asked Calvary whether it would abide by this requirement, but the question was not answered.

Other recommendations to the ACT Government included investigating ways to increase access to ultrasounds for patients seeking abortion; liaising with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to allow nurses to prescribe medical termination drug MS-2Step; increasing the protest exclusion zone outside of protected facilities from 50 metres to 150 metres; and to subsidise access to long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) along with trialling subsidies vasectomies.

The development of a Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy for the ACT was also recommended.

The ACT Government is required to table a response to the report in the Legislative Assembly within three months.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
calyptorhynchus12:11 pm 24 Apr 23

Interesting the way that the incident happened, then the Chief Medical Advisor simply denied that it would ever happen.

The new hospital to be built in northern Canberra needs to be one that is not affiliated with any church or religion. Healthcare including clinical decision making and medical ethics needs to be secular and consumer focussed. Government run/funded hospitals are public spaces and should remain so. Clinical healthcare decision making and individual patient rights are not just about crucial matters such as birth control and abortions, but also need to include needs of identified genders, , and separately those who choose assisted dying. There is no place for any overt or covert coercion due to church and religion within a public hospital.

I don’t know the details of this case and I don’t want to comment on it, but its not true to say Calvary has a blanket ban on performing D&Cs in emergencies. I had that procedure there (though not pregnancy related) after presenting at their ED.

and you can bet Calvary will also refuse any involvement with Voluntary Assisted Dying should it be legislated here.

Stephen Saunders9:06 am 24 Apr 23

As with church schools, it is understood across the LibLabGreenTeal Party, that hospitals like Calvary can have their religious cake and eat their government funding. This is excluded from the political agenda.

Is it also what voters want? Dunno. We may never find out.

Imagine refusing to provide care because of your religious beliefs, how cruel.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.