Your right to conscientious objection in NZ’s abortion law
If you have a professional or moral objection to performing or assisting in performing an abortion, your rights are protected under Section 46 of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act (1977).
When the legislation was being debated in the 1977, Parliamentarians acknowledged that medical staff: individual doctors, nurses, technicians, porters and other health workers could come under pressure to participate in what is now termed “service delivery of termination of pregnancy”.
That is why Parliament passed Section 46 and as events proved over recent years your rights to opt out of abortion are well protected. However, few vulnerable medical staff are aware they have a right to conscientious objection.
What can happen, two examples
A medical technician in Christchurch was told to prepare instruments for an abortion. She had a moral objection to being involved in the killing of an innocent human person and refused on conscience grounds. Her superiors brought her before a disciplinary committee who overruled her objections.
She contacted Right to Life in Christchurch who engaged a lawyer to advise the committee of the technician’s rights under Section 46. Faced with her clear protections under law, the hospital committee had to agree.
A junior nurse in Auckland was informed by her charge nurse that she was being placed on the daily roster to assist with terminations. Fortunately she had read about the Christchurch case and contacted Voice for Life. She was nervous of incurring the wrath of her superior. We sent her the full wording of Section 46 and fortunately the charge nurse then agreed that she had the right to opt out.
The reality of being rostered for termination of pregnancy
A recurring problem for District Health Boards around New Zealand is retaining medical staff who are required to be involved in abortions. For example, the nurse above described how her colleagues “dreaded seeing their names on the roster for assisting with terminations.”
They confided in her their anguish at having to handle the dead babies from second and third trimester abortions. A psychologist was brought in by the DHB to help the nurses. She ended up being shocked by the stories of trauma that she heard. Nothing further was done and the nurses were expected to simply get on with “service delivery”.
In March 2003, the Auckland DHB reported to the Ministry of Health that clinical staff were reluctant to perform second-trimester abortions particularly for social reasons.
In 2001, Christchurch Hospital reported that they were “losing competent and highly regarded nursing staff. The find they cannot cope with prostaglandin termination of pregnancies (PGTOPS), particularly when done for non-medical reasons.”
There are subtle pressures on nurses in private and public hospitals to assist at abortions. Many find it deeply distressing, but feel obliged to take part due to the extra workload that will be imposed on their colleagues if they opt out.
You can help your colleagues by informing them of their right of conscientious objection and the protection of the Law.
What Section 46 says
- Notwithstanding anything in any other enactment, or any rule of law, or the terms of any oath or of any contract (whether of employment or otherwise), no medical practitioner, nurse, or other person shall be under any obligation –
(a) To perform or assist in the performance of an abortion or any operation undertaken or to be undertaken for the purpose of rendering the patient sterile;
(b) To fit or assist in the fitting, or supply or administer or assist in the supply or administering, of any contraceptive, or to offer or give any advice relating to contraception, – if he objects to doing so on the grounds of conscience.
How can I get advice and support?
Remember that it could be quite possible that your superiors and management are quite unaware of Section 46 and your rights. If you need advice and support, please contact:
Ph: (09) 443 0995
Ph: (03) 385 6111