‘The Herald Sun test’: the function and purpose of Victorian termination of pregnancy review committees

Ms Hilary Bowman-Smart1,2

1Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Parkville, Australia, 2Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

In Victoria, termination of pregnancy (TOP) is legal at all gestations. As per the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008, TOPs post-24 weeks require the approval of two doctors. However, in Victoria, hospitals that offer post-24 week TOPs generally require cases to additionally go before a committee for assessment prior to the service being offered. These committees are not stipulated in legislation. Information about these committees and how they operate is scarce in the literature and there is minimal information available to the public. To trace the history, function, and decision-making processes of these committees, we conducted a qualitative interview study. We interviewed 27 healthcare professionals involved with these committees. We used purposive sampling to gain perspectives from a range of professions across 10 hospitals. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, identifying details removed and thematic analysis performed. In this talk we report the three main functions of the committees reported by participants. The functions were to protect: 1) outwards appearances; 2) inward functionality, or; 3) service users. Function 1) could mean protecting the hospital’s reputation, with the ‘Herald Sun test’ – whether the TOP would be acceptable to readers of the Herald Sun – used as a heuristic. Function 2) was about logistics within the hospital, and protecting psychological wellbeing and personal reputation of healthcare professionals. The final function was to ensure women received the best care and to future-proof the service. This research provides insight into the function and purpose of these committees, and further research will explore their decision-making principles.



Hilary Bowman-Smart is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She works on reproductive ethics, genomics, and screening programs.

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