Legal experts and community groups have raised serious concerns about the latest version of the Religious Discrimination Bill, warning it could erode decades of progress on reproductive healthcare and expose vulnerable people to discrimination.
Both Fair Agenda and the Human Rights Law Centre have come together to issue a press release on the submissions made to the Attorney-General’s Department regarding the Morrison Government’s latest version of the bill, with key concerns including that the personal religious views of doctors would be prioritised above healthcare of patients in some circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Centre has also made a submission on the Bill, noting concerns that it will discriminate against groups within the community who are already vulnerable to discrimination, such as women and LGBTIQ people. It says the Bill expands the range of places in which discrimination would be allowed and limits employers’ ability to ensure a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees. Their summary of key concerns is available here.
And Diversity Council of Australia has also called for the Bill to be radically altered, urging the Government to continue consulting with relevant stakeholders.
“A standard discrimination bill, designed along the same lines of existing Australian laws, could protect people of faith and without faith, without taking away existing protections or introducing complex and untested rules, that will be difficult for business to manage,” CEO Lisa Annese said.
Fair Agenda Executive Director Renee Carr said the Bill represents the “biggest threat to reproductive healthcare in decades.”
“If passed, it would allow key frontline health professionals to use their personal religious views about other people’s lives to obstruct a patient’s access to things like: contraception, the morning-after-pill and fertility treatment,” she said.
Adrianne Walters, a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Bill would give religious bodies “unprecedented privileges to discriminate”.
“Our laws should protect all, rather than privileging a few,” she said. “This proposed law prioritises the personal religious views of doctors over their patient’s health. It is inconsistent with the ethical and professional duties of doctors and will make it harder for women to access essential healthcare, like emergency contraception and safe abortion.”
“This Bill will make it harder for Australians to access the healthcare they need. Women and LGBTIQ+ people seeking healthcare shouldn’t have to fear being judged and abandoned by their doctor.”
Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said: “We support strong anti-discrimination protections to prevent people being discriminated against because of their beliefs. But by privileging religious expression over other rights, this law risks entrenching discrimination against groups already vulnerable to persecution and marginalisation.”
The concerns of both Fair Agenda and Human Rights Law Centre include:
The personal religious views of doctors would be prioritised above the healthcare of patients in a range of circumstances;
The ethical and professional duties that doctors have to act in the best interests of their patient’s health would be undermined, putting the health of patients at risk;
Women and other community members are likely to find it harder to access essential healthcare like contraception, emergency contraception and abortion;
Guidelines and directives issued by governments and medical regulatory bodies – which are designed to ensure a patient’s healthcare is not disrupted when a doctor objects to providing certain care – will be overridden in certain circumstances;
Patient health outcomes will be compromised because hospitals and clinics – with rules designed to ensure patients are not impeded by the religious views of a doctor – will face greater exposure to legal action for enforcing those rules, and;
New rules for religious bodies could enable providers of services, like publicly-funded family violence services, to discriminate against women escaping violence on the basis of religion.