Australia's Roman Catholic Church apologises for forced adoptions

Sydney, Australia - It is estimated that more than 150,000 young women across Australia had their children taken away at birth without their consent, often never to be seen again.

Women subjected to forced adoptions in Catholic-run hospitals have described being shackled and drugged during labour and prevented from seeing their children being born or holding them afterwards.

Many said their children had been earmarked for forced adoption well before birth and they were told they could not oppose the decision.

Following an investigation into the practise by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Catholic Church issued a national apology, saying its history of forced adoptions was "deeply regrettable".

"We acknowledge the pain of separation and loss felt then and felt now by the mothers, fathers, children, families and others involved in the practices of the time," the apology said.

"For this pain we are genuinely sorry."

Women involved in the forced adoption process have given personal accounts of the horror of having their children ripped away after birth.

Juliette Clough was 16 when she gave birth to her son in a Catholic hospital in 1970.

"My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby," she told the ABC.

"You weren't allowed to see him or touch him, anything like that, or hold him and it was just like a piece of my soul had died and it's still dead."

Lily Arthur, from the forced adoption support group Origins NSW, was a 17-year-old ward of the state when she gave birth in 1967. She agreed to give up her child under threat of being imprisoned.

"When we were going to deliver the child we were put in a position where we couldn't see the delivery of the child," she said, describing how she was positioned on her side, with her face "pushed into the mattress".

"After my son was born I was nearly knocked unconscious and transported to a ward without my child."

Other women told of curtains being put up so they could not see their children and pillows held over their faces. Some lost more than one child to the program, their newborns being whisked away to live in families deemed more suitable by the Church. The women claim they were never told about their right to revoke consent for adoption, or the fact that they could claim single parent benefit.

A federal parliamentary inquiry is currently investigating the issue and has already received more than 300 submissions from across the country.

As well as issuing an apology, the Catholic Church has called on the government to establish "a fund for remedying established wrongs" and a national programme to help mothers and children who were harmed by the forced separations.

However, many of the women who were subjected to forced adoptions have called for further action.

"I don't think that anyone can accept an apology for something that's never been basically dealt with legally," Ms Arthur said.