Churches band together on social policy

TASMANIA'S churches have banded together to produce a political position statement on controversial social policy being debated in parliament this year.

The Salamanca Declaration was devised by members of the Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist churches and calls for a return to traditional family values.

Salamanca Declaration spokeswoman and Examiner columnist Claire van Ryn said the document represented the views of the 170,000 Tasmanians who are a member of one of the five churches.

Speaking at the launch of the document outside Parliament House today, Anglican Bishop John Harrower said legislation to decriminalise abortion put forward by Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne was "bordering on infanticide''.

Reverend Harrower said he supported the 2001 exemptions to the Criminal Code to allow abortion in cases where pregnancy posed a physical or mental risk to the mother, but said the proposed legislation was much more extreme.

The draft laws would allow abortion up to 24-weeks gestation, and post 24 weeks if two doctors certified that continuing the pregnancy posed a greater risk to the woman's mental or physical wellbeing than termination would.

The draft legislation stipulates that socio-economic factors can be considered.

Reverend Harrower said this could mean that women could terminate a pregnancy up to full term because of societal pressures, or because they did not like the sex of their child.

Women's Legal Centre managing solicitor Susan Fahey has said that less than 0.7 per cent of abortions occur after 20-weeks gestations, and statements such as that made by Reverend Harrower were extremely harmful to those women who have had to make a very difficult decision, often for medical reasons.

At the moment, Tasmanian law allows abortion at any stage in a pregnancy if two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy posed a greater risk to the woman's mental or physical well-being than termination would. 

Family Planning Tasmania chief executive  Glenn Campbell has said that socio-economic considerations were also taken into account under current law.

More than 2200 submissions have been received on the draft legislation, which is expected to be debated in the lower house before the middle of the year.

Liberal MHAs Rene Hidding and Michael Ferguson attended the launch of the Salamanca declaration.

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