Court ruling shows just how far our abortion laws have come

abortion laws

You may or may not have heard about a High Court case from last week – New Zealand Health Professionals’ Alliance v Attorney-General.

It’s about the right of health practitioners to refuse to provide legal, proper healthcare because they object to it on moral grounds.

This is so-called “conscientious objection”.

But really, this case is about abortion care and people’s right to receive that care without unnecessary delays.

It’s also a good case to know more about, because it could affect you or someone you love. Allow me to explain.

First of all, what is ‘conscientious objection’?

In the context of this case, conscientious objection is obstructing a patient’s access to medical treatment that the health practitioner disapproves of by refusing to provide treatment, and sometimes by refusing to provide further information.

Objectors usually refuse to provide abortion care, and sometimes contraception or emergency contraception.

Those who obstruct other people’s access to abortion care like to call themselves “conscientious objectors”, allowing them to borrow the mantle of those courageous conscripted soldiers who refused to fight in the world wars.

There is very little resemblance, however.

Those soldiers suffered at the hands of military authorities who punished them harshly for their refusal to fight.

The health practitioners do not suffer at the hands of authority figures.

In fact, in the context of the doctor-patient relationship, they are the authority figures.

It is patients who suffer delay in receiving safe, legal, time-sensitive care, and sometimes get an offensive lecture on their morals to boot.

What was this case about, specifically?

The New Zealand Health Professionals’ Alliance (NZHPA), a society that, in its own words, “advocates for freedom of conscience in healthcare” challenged new sections of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, later amended by the Abortion Legislation Act 2020.

The newly added section 14 says that when health practitioners object to informing patients about abortion care, they must tell the patient of their objection and how to access the contact details of the nearest provider who can help them.

Section 15 says employers of objecting health practitioners must accommodate their objection, unless doing so would cause unreasonable disruption.

As plaintiffs, the NZHPA claimed that sections 14 and 15 limit their rights under the NZ Bill of Rights Act.

They asked the court for a declaration that those sections are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. The court considered whether the law limited their freedom of conscience, freedom to manifest religion, and freedom of expression. Continue reading

  • In case it is necessary to state it, this is not the view of CathNews. It is a statement on how far ‘we have come’.
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