Soft Theocracy and Public Service

Words by Helena (she/her), 20 QLD 

Australian politics is deliberately crafted with a distinct, ring-fenced enclave for Christianity.

This undemocratic partiality has ravaged the Australian public service, most particularly schools and hospitals – where the non-Christian majority suffers under the Church’s vice-like grip.

The State of Australia is a ‘soft theocracy’ that recognises, subsidises, salaries, and exempts the Church. Church and state share a cosy symbiotic relationship, in which the Church garnishees taxpayers’ money and resources, both structurally (through tax exemptions) and functionally (through grants and privileges).

The loose wording of Australia’s constitution allows this usurpation of taxpayer’s money to continue unimpeded.

The government’s failure to fully realise political secularism has fiscally serious consequences in terms of both revenue forgone through religious tax exemptions and religious-based expenditures that could have served greater purpose elsewhere.

It is unacceptable that government, taxpayer-funded money is used to fund religious public hospitals – an oxymoronic phrase in and of itself. This horrifying phenomenon poses immense health risks and barriers for the non-religious population accessing public health.

There are numerous publicly funded hospitals across Australia, including Brisbane’s Mater Hospital and Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital, whose religious affiliations limit the scope of reproductive services they provide.

Despite public funding and the provision of specialist maternity and gynaecological care, these hospitals are bound by Catholic Health Australia’s code of ethics.

These hospitals will not assist in terminating pregnancy (even in the event of fatal foetal disorders), will not provide any form of contraception (including the morning after pill for sexual assault survivors), and will not provide tubal ligation (a permanent contraceptive procedure that involves blocking or clipping fallopian tubes after delivering via C-section).

As such, these publicly funded hospitals are denying women basic reproductive healthcare, with disastrous outcomes for patients – many of whom are non-religious taxpayers.

Women who give birth in the public system are typically assigned to a health service according to their residential address, which may be a Catholic hospital if they live in that catchment area. Many hospitals will not treat patients who fall out of the catchment zone, creating what some family planning workers describe as a ‘postcode lottery’ for access to services.

Patients may initially experience exceptional maternity care at the Mater Hospital; however, if a foetal anomaly is detected, they will be turned away and forced to seek alternative termination options elsewhere.

Obstetrician Dr Wendy Hughes criticised Catholic hospitals for refusing “termination of pregnancy for any reason, including lethal foetal anomalies, despite taking taxpayer funds to set up maternofoetal units to diagnose these for the kudos but then ‘outsourcing’ the resultant terminations to secular hospitals.”

Many may resort to fabricating addresses in order to access hospital services beyond their designated catchment area, or may be compelled to turn to the private healthcare system to access pregnancy termination – with additional costs and long waiting lists. Numerous anecdotal accounts describe stories of suicidal ideation and attempted self-abortion when faced with this process, waiting extended periods for necessary healthcare treatments.

Furthermore, doctors are unable to prescribe the Pill or insert Merina IUDs without obfuscating or fabricating their purpose, citing alternative medical justifications for the necessity of the contraception. As a result, the prevalence of manipulated medical documentation and records renders the data meaningless, making it incredibly difficult to accurately assess a patient’s medical history. In addition, necessitated creativity can mean that the type of contraception provided is based more on what doctors can get away with rather than what actually aligns with the patient’s needs. Every instance of exploiting such a loophole further perpetuates stigma for the patient involved.

In addition, if a woman wants a tubal ligation after pregnancy, she is forced to undergo two different surgeries through two different hospitals – meaning double the risk and twice the healing time – whilst looking after a newborn baby.

For many doctors, the inability to provide tubal ligation is heartbreaking – especially for women who request it after multiple caesareans. Many women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, express a desire for tubal ligation after multiple childbirths. These women would be told that they would have to wait until they were healed and go on the waiting list for another hospital – in many cases, they may come back with another pregnancy in the meantime. This particularly affects refugee and migrant women, who frequently lack adequate social and financial support, and are often parenting completely on their own.

The public hospital system is willing to put health and safety at risk because of religious beliefs that a hospital holds that a patient seeking care may not. Public healthcare should prioritize evidence-based practices, devoid of religious influence. In a taxpayer-funded model, hospitals that receive public funds should be obligated to offer the full range of comprehensive care to anyone who walks in.

In light of this, the Australian political model must evolve to prevent the entanglement of religious agendas with public services. In order to become a true secular democracy, we must keep the practice and funding of all religions divorced from the government and public sphere, so that all Australians, regardless of religion, can benefit from the full extent of our public services.

 

Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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