ACC claim mother: “I would have aborted”

A lead story in the NZ Herald (February 27th) entitled “ACC claim mother: I would have aborted” raises questions.

The report begins:

A woman who says she would have terminated her pregnancy had doctors properly diagnosed her unborn child with spina bifida is seeking ACC cover for her disabled daughter.

In what her lawyer says would be a landmark case if she is successful, the woman has won the right to a hearing in the Court of Appeal against the decision by the Accident Compensation Corporation not to grant her cover for her young daughter.

The Auckland mother says her 5-year- old daughter, who walks mostly with a support frame may miss out on crucial and costly physiotherapy as she grows older.

The woman was told by the sonographer and radiologist at her 20-weel pregnancy scan, that “no anatomical abnormality” was detected.

The mother applied to the ACC for cover for injury as a result of her continued pregnancy based on the incorrect advice.


Voice for Life asked Dr Norman McLean for his professional advice on this difficult case. Dr McLean is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist with 40-years experience at Southland Hospital and a part-time lecturer at the Otago Medical School.

  1.  The family of a handicapped child deserve understanding, empathy and additional social, medical and monetary support to provide adequate care.
  2. The family of a handicapped child must be recognised to require extra costs to provide adequate care and this should be provided.
  3. Spina Bifida is a medical diagnosis with a wide spectrum of clinical presentation. Brain function may be completely normal or impaired in more severe cases.
  4. Ultrasound is a very inexact science. Only 50% of all physical fetal abnormalities can be diagnosed by ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation.
  5. The Court of Appeal would need to demonstrate gross criminal negligence on behalf of the Ultrasound staff to justify such a claim in NZ.
  6. Similar cases of legal appeal for additional money for “wrongful birth” have been awarded in the USA but they do not have an ACC system.
  7. If the Court of Appeal allows the family to sue, this will set a precedent and  will open the floodgates for many other similar cases.
  8. The tragic message of this Court of Appeal case for the child is that “you are better off dead than alive” which is distressing and psychologically harmful.
  9. The message of this Court of Appeal case for society is that “those with handicap are not worthy of life”. The true quality of a society can be best measured by how it provides care for the vulnerable including the handicapped.

The termination of newborns with Spina Bifida

It’s a sad day when New Zealand mothers are encouraged to abort children with spina bifida and other conditions, through the use of pre-natal screening – as Saving Downs recently wrote about on their website.

In 2008, dutch doctor Rob de Jong published an article in Child’s Nervous System about the deliberate termination of newborns with spina bifida. He quoted medical ethicists Bliton and Zaner at Venderbilt University Medical Center, who stated:

To date we have met and held intense conversations with more than 150 pregnant women and their partners. Many times, couples admitted, the initial counseling they received from their obstetrician was slanted—both against disability and toward termination of pregnancy. What they remembered was how the initial obstetric consultation portrayed as grim a picture as possible about their future child’s prognosis.

In 2009, Voice for Life President Bernard Moran wrote to the NZ Herald regarding an earlier story about a Spina bifida girl’s parents fight with ACC.

Linda and Jeff now love their two-year-old daughter Bonnie who has spina bifida, but would have aborted her had they known of her condition at 20-weeks.

A key point in the story is where Linda says: “We were told all the awful things that would happen to her…”

Bonnie has turned out better than the dire medical predictions.

In reports from Britain, parents describe the huge pressure placed on them by doctors to do the “responsible” thing and abort their baby. They are in a state of shock, their worst nightmare is reality and the surgeon is telling them how easily a termination can be arranged.

The only option given is abortion and the support care and groups that are there to help parents cope are seldom mentioned. I wonder if Linda and Jeff were told about the Spina bifida support group at Avondale and the Wilson Home.

Australian journalist Melinda Tankard-Reist in 2006 wrote a book on the experiences of parents who resisted the pressures to “terminate” their disabled babies. She entitled it “Defiant Birth.”


Parents who receive an unexpected diagnosis can receive support and care throughout their pregnancy and after birth from the following organisations and others:

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