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A new government-funded pregnancy counseling program designed to help pregnant women find abortion alternatives will begin next week.

Women on Medicare will be able to get counseling from the program three times during their pregnancy.

Women who talk to their doctor, psychologist, social worker or mental health nurse on a referral in the program are entitled to a $55 Medicare rebate to cover the costs.

The program is part of a $50 million package the Australian government announced to try to cut the abortion rates following the parliament’s approval of the dangerous abortion drug RU 486.

Parliament gave authority over the drug to a governmental agency and removed it from pro-life Health Minister Tony Abbott.

Abortion advocates opposed the counseling plan because they believe it is biased.

Abortion practitioners are excluded from providing the counseling while pregnancy centers are allowed to provide it.

They tried to change the direction of the counseling program, but an Australia Senate committee defeated the measure saying it would lead to more recommendations to have abortions.

[, 28Oct06]