New Zealand Court: Unborn Children Have No Right to Life

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 1, 2011   |   6:00PM   |   Washington, DC

The New Zealand Court of Appeal has issued a legal decision saying unborn children have no legal rights under the laws in the Pacific island nation. It also ruled on whether the Abortion Supervisory Committee was improperly approving abortions on mental health grounds.

Previously New Zealand Right to Life sued the Abortion Supervisory Committee saying ASC is allowing abortions on alleged mental health grounds that are not necessary for women’s health.

The Abortion Supervisory Committee is contesting a June 2008 ruling from High Court Judge Forrest Miller saying that there was “reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorized by certifying consultants.” The committee appealed the ruling and filed papers with the appeals court saying there is no evidence to justify Judge Miller’s conclusion.

Judge Miller also issued a decision saying unborn children have no legal rights in New Zealand and Right to Life challenged that portion of the decision. But the appeals court upheld Miller’s ruling in a 2-1 decision.

Court of Appeal bench of Justices Robert Chambers, Terence Arnold and Lyn Stevens heard the appeal. Concerning the ASC-approved abortions, the appeals court said, according to The Dominion Post, that two judges on the panel, Justices Chambers and Stevens, said it should seek more information in such abortions to ensure the national law is being complied with in those abortion cases.

“We consider that the appropriate channels of investigation would involve either a complaint by a patient or potentially by the committee itself, in which case the health and disability commissioner would become involved,” the court said. “Alternatively, there might be a complaint to the police, in which case the police would investigate the matter.”

Justice Arnold dissented in part and said he would have dismissed the ASC appeal and upheld Miller’s ruling.

Family First NZ, a pro-life group, responded to the court’s decision and sided with Justice Arnold.

“The Court of Appeal majority held that it was not up to the ASC to review the role of the certifying consultants, despite their key role in approving abortions. However the dissenting judge rightly said that the ASC should be reviewing the operation of the abortion law,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“If the ASC is not there to review the operation of the law which most NZ’ers would expect them to do, they are simply a ‘rubber stamp’ and should be disbanded. This decision is a timely reminder that for the sake of both the women concerned and the unborn children, a woman’s ‘right to know’ law should be introduced,” McCoskrie said. “This is supported by a recent poll which showed that the majority of New Zealanders think women considering abortion have the right to be fully informed of the medical risks of abortion – and the alternatives.”

In the poll of 1,000 people in March, respondents were asked “Would you support a law that would require a woman considering an abortion to first see a doctor, who is not an abortion provider, to be informed of the medical risks and alternatives to abortion?” 64% supported this proposed law, 29% disagreed, and the remainder (8%) were either unsure or refused to answer.

“The majority of people believe women have the right to the best independent information and advice before making a decision that could impact them later in life. The Court of Appeal has decided that it is not the role of the ASC to enforce that – thereby making the ASC redundant,” he added.

McCoskrie added: “It is also concerning that the Court of Appeal believe that the law does not recognize or confer a right to life on the unborn child. This is completely inconsistent with warning messages about prenatal alcohol and drug use, assaults on pregnant women, and even the report released today by Sir Peter Gluckman referring to ‘environmental risks that occur prenatally’. Just when does a child obtain a right to live? 30 weeks? 40 weeks? In the birthing room? Abortion can harm women – yet groups seeking to decriminalise abortion refuse to acknowledge this, seeing the right to abortion more paramount than the long-term health and welfare of the women.”

A University of Otago study in 2008 found that women who had an abortion faced a 30% increase in the risk of developing common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Other studies have found a link between abortion and psychiatric disorders ranging from anxiety to depression to substance abuse disorders. And the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK recommended updating abortion information leaflets to include details of the risks of depression. They said that consent could not be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information.

“With 98% of abortions in NZ being performed on the basis of the mental health of the mother, it is time that the research on the post-abortion mental health outcomes was given equal weight with the pro-abortion claims.”

“It is now quite clear that the term ‘abortion supervisory committee’ is an oxymoron,” says Mr McCoskrie.