The Guardian November 1, 2000


Separation of Church and State
Women take on bishops

by Andrew Jackson

Women have mounted a show of force against Catholic Bishops and the 
conservative Howard Government by taking the right of all women to access 
in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services to the High Court.

The Women's Electoral Lobby, acting on behalf of a broad women's alliance 
filed papers with the High Court on October 25, signalling they intend to 
fight against the recent attacks on women's rights and to maintain a 
fundamental pillar of democracy: the separation of Church and State.

The Catholic Bishops went to court on October 17, to challenge a decision 
by Federal Court judge Ross Sundberg which struck down a Victorian law 
restricting access to IVF on the grounds it breached federal anti-
discrimination laws.

Although John Howard has already introduced legislation to overturn the law 
and allow discrimination on the grounds of marital status, the Bishops say 
the legislation does not go far enough.

The Women's Electoral Lobby fears that religious interference will not stop 
at this issue, and if successful the church will seek to intervene in 
abortion and adoption rights also.

The rights of women have come under sustained attack during John Howard's 
term in office as a result of the dominance of the "Lyons Forum", a group 
of ultra-conservative Christian-fundamentalist Liberals and Nationals, 
including 15 members of Howard's front bench.

In an earlier failure to protect women this year, the Federal Government 
refused to implement the recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal 
Opportunity Commission's report on discrimination against pregnant women, 
including: access to maternity leave for casual workers; outlawing 
discrimination against breast-feeding mothers; and legislating against 
recruitment practices that discriminate against pregnant women.

Women Seek Veterans Benefits

Last week the Federal Government also signalled that it would continue to 
ignore the plight of nurses who served in the Vietnam War.

The Government is still refusing to give them repatriation benefits, 
ignoring the recommendations of a report it commissioned earlier this year.

Although the 120 nurses were awarded the Australian Active Service Medal 
and the Vietnam Logistic Support Medal, they served as representatives of 
the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, and not the Australian Army.

However, the nurses are affected by many of the same illnesses that are 
suffered by the active servicemen, including post-traumatic stress 
disorder, unusual cancers, and other disabling conditions for which others 
who served in Vietnam may claim repatriation benefits.

The nurses have publicly denounced the decision as "mean-spirited".

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