Health professionals lose High Court challenge over abortion

A group of health professionals opposed to abortion have lost a court case over their rights being infringed by new sections of the Abortion Legislation Act 2020.

The Health Professionals Alliance claimed their rights were infringed under sections 14 and 15 of the Act.

They said the law change infringed rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, expression, freedom to manifest their religion and beliefs, the right to be free from discrimination, and the rights of minorities.

Section 14 requires health practitioners – including those who oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds – to inform patients how to find the contact details of the nearest service provider.

Section 15 requires employers to accommodate health practitioners who obstruct access to reproductive health care, unless doing so would cause unreasonable disruption if they had to tell a woman where to find contact details of abortion providers.

The Alliance members’ hopes were dashed, however, when Justice Rebecca Ellis​ announced her judgement on the matter.

The members had said “… to provide this information would make them complicit in the abortion process, which they say involves the taking of human life and is contrary to their most fundamental beliefs.”

Judge Ellis described it as a “minimal and remote act” not even requiring a referral to a service provider, and did not amount to taking part in the process.

Ellis found none of their rights were infringed or limited in the way alleged. Even if the rights had been limited, the limits could be shown to be justified in a free and democratic society, she said.

Under the new law a pregnant woman can seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy without needing to meet any legal test.

After 20 weeks, abortion was allowed only if a health practitioner decided it was “clinically appropriate in the circumstances” and had consulted with at least one other health practitioner.”

Delay in finding a provider of abortion services could cause health risks for the pregnant woman, as well as additional cost and stress, Ellis said.

Abortion Rights Aotearoa (ALRANZ) has welcomed the Court’s decision.

“The High Court has considered the case with evident care and clarity, and has found that neither section of the CSAA limits the NZHPA’s rights under the NZ Bill of Rights, and even if they did, it would be a justified limitation,” says Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ President.

“The High Court has taken the rights of pregnant people into its balancing of the rights in question, as we hoped it would.”


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