New Zealand Court: Doctors Don’t Have to Suggest Abortions

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2010   |   8:21PM   |   Wellington, New Zealand

The New Zealand High Court gave pro-life physicians a victory when it ruled that new Medical Council guidelines have overstepped the law and need to be amended.

The council had required physicians to suggest an abortion when confronted with a patient who is pregnant but unsure if she wanted to continue the pregnancy. Doctors could refer women to another physician but felt that would still help facilitate an abortion.

A group of pro-life doctors challenged the Medical Council’s  provisions relating to abortion included in its draft document titled, “Beliefs and Medical Practice.” Harry Waalkens, their attorney, argued in court that the requirement violated the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, which legalized abortion but provided conscience rights.

The judgment from Justice Alan MacKenzie said the council guidelines overstated the requirements for doctors and went beyond what the law requires. He order the guidelines be amended to  “make clear the doctor’s ability to decline to become medically involved.”

The web site indicated Medical Council chairman John Adams said the agency needed time to review the decision and expected to review the guidelines early next year.

Ken Orr, the spokesman for New Zealand Right to Life, applauded the decision in an email to

“Right to Life believes that the judgment will also require the Abortion Supervisory Committee to amend its Best Practice Termination of Pregnancy document produced for the guidance of general practitioners to assist them in dealing with women with an unplanned pregnancy,” he explained.

On page 2, under Key Concepts, the document states “it is not the role of GPs to discuss their own personal views about termination, if a GP is not able to refer personally, then arrangements must be made for the woman to be seen as soon as possible by another doctor in the area.”

“Right to Life calls upon the Committee to immediately withdraw the document, advise general practitioners of the legal changes to the document. The document should than be amended as required by the High Court and reprinted,” Orr said.

“The judgment will also require the New Zealand Medical Association to amend its code of ethics,” Orr added.

Paragraph 13 of its code states: “Doctors should accept the right of a patient to be referred for further management in situations where there is a moral or clinical disagreement about the most appropriate course to take.” [related]

“Right to Life contends that the judgment upholds the supremacy of an informed conscience. Abortion is a crime against humanity, it is a violent assault on a woman and her child that no law can legitimize. Doctors are the guardians and servants of human life,” Orr added.

He concluded:  “There is a grave and clear obligation to oppose such laws by conscientious objection. Right to Life applauds those doctors who are faithful to the highest traditions of their profession and who refuse to be involved in the killing of the innocent. All doctors should respect life especially the life of their weakest and most defenseless patient, the unborn child. It is always wrong to kill the innocent. All doctors should provide care and compassion for women concerned with an unplanned pregnancy. We should love them both.”