Religious discrimination bill may ‘set LGBTIQ healthcare back years’

equality australia religious discrimination bill lgbtiq healthcare
Photo: Equality Australia

Equality Australia has warned the Morrison government’s controversial religious discrimination bill could negatively impact on LGBTIQ people’s access to healthcare.

The religion bill could see LGBTIQ+ patients refused healthcare by practitioners who “conscientiously object” to their sexual orientation or gender identity on religious grounds.

Equality Australia’s Anna Brown told the Sydney Morning Herald the religious discrimination bill broadens existing conscientious objection provisions and could “drive people back into the closet” when visiting a doctor or health service.

The draft bill says conduct rules put in place by health practitioners are “not reasonable” if they prevent a doctor, nurse or staff member from “conscientiously objecting” on religious grounds.

However, the bill also adds conduct rules are reasonable if to avoid an “unjustifiable adverse impact” on a patient or a service provider.

But Ms Brown said the bill did not make this clear enough and the provisions were “simply unconscionable”.

This is important, for example, in cases of transgender people obtaining hormone therapies, trans men accessing cervical screenings or lesbian couples seeking fertility treatment.

‘Underground’ LGBTIQ discrimination in healthcare

Attorney-General Christian Porter told the Herald the bill supported conscientious objection provisions where they existed under state laws. Currently, this is predominantly in abortion and euthanasia laws.

“If a state law is silent on conscientious objections, our bill simply says that nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers should not be compelled to provide services where they have a genuine religious objection,” he said.

Porter said support for legitimate conscientious objection was “balanced” by protections for patients in the government’s religious discrimination bill.

Melbourne GP Ruth McNair, who has worked in LGBTIQ healthcare for over 20 years, said instances of “underground” discrimination still plague the healthcare sector.

She told the Herald LGBTIQ Australians are still being told by some health professionals, “I don’t treat people like you.”

“We’re only just getting traction of heath literacy in [the LGBTIQ] community,” Dr McNair said.

“[We’re] saying, ‘You can go to mainstream services, it’s OK. They will look after you regardless of your sexuality and gender.’ And then this starts.

“It will set us back 20 years. And that’s not overstating it.”

Equality Australia petition has over 14,000 signatures

On Tuesday, Equality Australia said they had partnered with groups Fair Agenda and Democracy in Colour to deliver a 14,000 signature petition to Canberra calling for the draft religious discrimination bill to be made fair.

Ms Brown said the bill “creates one set of rights for some Australians, and a different set of rights for everyone else.”

“The government promised a bill in the style of existing anti-discrimination laws,” she said.

“What we have instead will punch holes in protection from discrimination for the majority of Australians.”

Submissions responding the government’s draft religious discrimination bill are open online until October 2.

It’s expected Christian Porter will introduce the bill to parliament before the end of next month.

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