New Zealand abortion activists complain about physician freedom of conscience

Dr. Joseph Lee, a physician in Blenheim, New Zealand, has been criticized by abortion activists because he refused to prescribe contraceptives for a 23 year old patient.  Dr. Lee practises at the Wairau Community Clinic.  A pamphlet in the reception area advises patients that some of the clinic’s physicians will not prescribe contraceptives, and staff attempt to direct patients accordingly.  The clinic leader may consider installing a sign to minimize further conflicts.

Dr. Lee identifies himself as a Catholic, but is reported to have said that he would be willing to prescribe the birth control pill to a woman who was spacing children or had had at least four children.  That is not consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject, and it is an unusual position among health care workers who object to providing contraception.

The Abortion Law Reform Association NZ (ALRANZ) wants the General Medical Council to force objecting physicians to refer patients or otherwise assist them to obtain morally contested services.  The president of ALRANZ, Dr. Morgan Healey, claims that a High Court decision in 2010 has made the question of referral legally ambiguous. [New Zealand Herald]

However, Justice Alan MacKenzie of the High Court in Wellington, New Zealand,unambiguously ruled that New Zealand’s Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act protected objecting physicians, and that the General Medical Council could not force them to refer abortion.  All that is required of a physician who objects to abortion is to decline to begin the process and inform his patient that she may obtain the procedure from another practitioner.  The protection of conscience provision states that objecting health care workers are not obliged “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.”  The ruling was the result of litigation by the New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance, which, earlier this year established a website to support freedom of conscience for health care workers.


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