Pregnancy hotline won't sell religion

Sydney, Australia - HEALTH Minister Tony Abbott has pledged that women with unplanned pregnancies would not have religion "rammed" down their throats under a counselling scheme being considered by federal Cabinet today.

In a move to reduce the number of Australian abortions - which imprecise records put at 80,000-90,000 a year - Mr Abbott has proposed a telephone hotline to help such women.

The hotline would be put to tender and church groups are expected to apply, but pro-choice advocates have raised concerns about church-affiliated counselling.

Democrats Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja is concerned the counselling scheme would skew things towards "anti-choice groups".

Mr Abbott said yesterday that telephone counsellors would be directed to offer alternative non-religious counselling if it was preferred.

"We certainly won't be ramming religion down anyone's throat," he said. "One of the criteria on which anyone will be selected to provide telephone counselling is the ability to refer people to other services provided by other people if someone rings in and says, 'I'd rather be counselled by someone of a different philosophical persuasion'."

The pregnancy counselling plan follows the passage of a Bill through Federal Parliament last week that brings abortion pill RU486 closer to being available in Australia.