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March 19, 2012 | by  | in News |
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Abortion Reaches Supreme Court

The latest chapter in a seven-year legal battle over abortion law began in the Supreme Court last Tuesday, and VUWSA’s Women’s Officer says students should pay attention to the proceedings.

In Right to Life NZ v Abortion Supervisory Committee, Right to Life are alleging that not all abortions carried out in New Zealand are legal, and that the Abortion Supervisory Committee are failing their responsibility to oversee on behalf of the Government that the law surrounding the procedures is adhered to.

The anti-abortion group lost their case in the Court of Appeal last year but were granted the right to appeal their case to the Supreme Court.

The law currently states that the termination of a pregnancy must be approved by two certifying consultants—qualified doctors—who have judged that continuing the pregnancy would cause put a woman’s physical or mental health in severe danger. If Right to Life win their appeal, the Abortion Supervisory Committee will have the power to intervene where they feel doctors have approved terminations for women whose circumstances do not fit these criteria.

Supporters of Right to Life allege that almost all applications for abortions in New Zealand are approved, with little regard to the criteria set out in the law. Opponents argue that a politically-appointed board such as the ASC should not be given the power to overturn decisions by doctors made in line with medical best practice.

VUWSA Women’s Officer Sara Bishop told Salient that students—particularly women—should pay attention to the case as it could interfere with their ability to make decisions about their own bodies during the years they are forging relationships and deciding on their careers.

She said she hoped the Supreme Court would rule against Right to Life, but hinted that she also supported loosening the criteria for granting abortions.

“While it is still not ideal that the decision whether or not to continue a pregnancy is not made solely by women in this country, the next best is women and qualified doctors,” she explained.

LifeChoice, Victoria’s anti-abortion student group encouraged their members to attend the Court’s public gallery if they had a personal interest in the case.

The club would not be taking an official position on the case, but hoped that it would promote discussion about abortion.

“LifeChoice focuses on the intrinsic value of the human life (starting at conception) and the social issues surrounding abortion,” the group’s President Mary-Anne Evers told Salient.

“[We are] a club focused on discussion and education on campus, so we are not interested in the court case from a club perspective,” she said.

An Official Information Act request by pro-choice group ALRANZ recently revealed that the Crown has spent $387,585 on its legal defense against Right to Life so far.

A judgment from the Supreme Court is expected to be at least several weeks away.

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  1. Ken Orr says:

    The Judicial Review of the Performance of the Abortion Supervisory Committee was initiated in May 2005 by Right to Life in the High Court with the expressed purpose of seeking the full protection of the law for women and their unborn. We all have a duty to defend life and the unborn child is the weakest and most defenceless member of the human family. We contend that the Committee has misunderstood its judicial duty and powers to question certifying consultants on the lawfulness of the abortions that they authorised. Dr Christine Forster, a previous chairperson of the Committee stated in the Sunday Star Times in November 2000; “we do essentially have abortion on demand and I think people are fitting the grounds to the woman. It is misleading that 98.2 per cent of abortions have to be granted under the mental health provisions. Doctors are using mental health as the grounds to provide abortion on demand.”
    The Committee, in its report to Parliament alluded to; “the present unwieldly system of authorising a termination of potentially normal pregnancies on pseudo-legal grounds.” The Committee, in several other reports to Parliament stated, that the law was not being upheld as was intended by Parliament. Justice Miller in the High Court, stated in his judgment,” the abortion law certainly asserts a state interest in protecting the unborn child and not merely an interest that women may have safe and legal abortions. The law precludes abortion on request and as a matter between the woman and her own doctor.. it is not possible to say how many unlawful abortions have been performed.” He also stated that the Committee does in fact have the power to require certifying consultants to keep records and report on cases they have considered.”We await the Supreme Court Judgment with interest.

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