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Faith-based aid groups split on abortion funding


Australian faith-based international aid agencies are split over a government review of a current policy that bans the funding of abortions as part of the nation’s overseas humanitarian aid programme.

For more than 12 years, and as part of the policy of the Howard administration, Australia has ruled that aid money could not to be used to fund abortions in the developing world. The United States had a similar ban. It is believed Australia and the United States have been the only two Western countries to insist on the prohibition.

Now, Stephen Smith, the Australian government’s foreign minister, and a Roman Catholic in Rudd government, has indicated he is reviewing the ban.

Opponents of the existing policy say it contradicts the current rights of Australian women, who largely have the right to choose if they want an abortion.

Kerry Enright, the director of Uniting Church Overseas Aid, which is the aid agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, has said he supports a change that would bring the overseas aid policy in line with the rights of Australian women.

Mr Enright was reported in Australia’s The Age newspaper on 4 June as saying, "We believe women should be given full information to make informed decisions, and without that information lives could be detrimentally affected. Women in developing countries should have no less information than we would expect for women in Australia."

Jack de Groot, head of the Catholic aid agency, Caritas, however, opposes this view. He was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, "Most Australians do not believe that government international aid should be used to fund abortions."

National Party senator, Ron Boswell, supports De Groot and said he had asked the relevant authorities, "if overseas countries had come to us and asked us for help in funding abortion services?" the Senatorl noted, "The department responded that they were not aware of any particular requests to fund abortion-related activities."

Mr Boswell has now asked, "Why is the Rudd government even considering funding abortion in its overseas aid programmes, when Australia has never done so in the past and has not been approached by other countries to do so?"

The Australian Christian Lobby also opposes the possible policy shift. The group’s managing director, Mr Jim Wallace, said, "Last year, for the first time in Australia’s history, foreign aid funding became an election issue. This was largely as a result of a push for increased aid funding from churches and Christian organizations." He added, "Christians pushing for this increased aid would be appalled to think that some of those aid dollars might now be re-directed towards ending the life of unborn children in poor countries."