Conscience or job

The High Court’s assistance is being sought regarding new abortion legislation. The change in law is forcing health professionals to choose between their consciences and their jobs.

The hearing, which began on Monday, was expected to last three days.

The case was brought to court by a group of medical practitioners, who sought the court’s help with aspects of the Abortion Legislation Act 2020.

The new legislation impedes their right to conscientiously object to providing abortion services without adversely affecting their employment, they said.

The New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance has asked Justice Rebecca Ellis​ to make a declaration that the abortion law was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Lawyer for the group, Ian Bassett, argued that part of the Act infringes on a health practitioners rights: “Namely the rights to freedom of conscience without interference.”

The Act states conscientious objections must be accommodated unless it risks providing “unreasonable disruption.”

Bassett told the court that practitioners fear their jobs would be in jeopardy if their employer considered them disruptive.

Unlike the law medical practitioners have been practising under for the past 43 years, the 2020 Act contains a “coercive” element, Bassett said.

It pressures doctors to play a part in the “chain of causation that leads to taking a human life.”

Abortion Law Reform Association president Terry Bellamak told journalists that it is important to balance the rights and responsibilities of doctors with those of patients.

“There are some other [things] that need to be taken into consideration for balance, and that’s the right of people to get medical care without being harassed by their GP or their gynaecologist.”

She said it was a huge win when the legislation took effect last year, removing abortion from the Crimes Act.

It also meant that, as of March 24 last year, any practitioner who objected to abortion for religious or personal reasons must refer the patient to the closest abortion services.

Bellamak hopes Ellis will consider the feelings of the patient.

“What we’re talking about is not just people being refused care, but being refused care in the most insulting and degrading and slut-shaming manner. It’s just unconscionable.”

Wellington GP and Health Professionals Alliance spokesperson Catherine Hallagan was also in the public gallery.

She went to the High Court in 2010, successfully arguing against proposed changes to Medical Council guidelines on how doctors deal with abortion requests.

The court found  the guidelines went too far in requiring medical practitioners to provide information about abortions themselves, and requiring them to arrange or refer a patient to another doctor to discuss an abortion.

Anti-abortion group Right To Life president Chris O’Brien backed the Alliance’s latest legal challenge.

“It’s not right for the government to be saying that all doctors must be able to perform those [abortions] – or even to actually refer them to someone who will – is making them complicit in the abortion itself.”

He said conscientious objection issues spill into End of Life Choice legislation too. “It’s vitally important that health professionals have the right to maintain their integrity,” he said.


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News category: New Zealand.

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