We want to know!  Because that’s essentially what anti-abortion activists are claiming according an article in today’s Sunday Star Times. We know English is anti-abortion; he’s made that clear for many years. But does he really support the kind of tactics anti-abortionists say they’re planning for Invercargill? We like to think he does not. But he needs to say so.

Here’s a quote from the Sunday Star Times article about the newly opened abortion service in Invercargill:

To protect the workers’ identities, the Southland District Health Board would not say whether the clinic’s staff were from the area, or were travelling from other regions. Anti-abortion group Southlanders for Life is vowing to step up protests outside the clinic, and to “name-and-shame” medical staff.

Pro-lifers, who name Deputy Prime Minister Bill English as a supporter in their press releases, and religious leaders are also backing the pro-life movement, with Catholic bishop Colin Campbell recently rallying followers to stop the “culture of death” from spreading.

Bill English must denounce these kinds of tactics. As Global Abortion Rights News said in a post on Facebook about what’s going on in Southland: “Anti-choicers in New Zealand vow to ‘name and shame’ abortion providers at the new clinic, which is a form of terrorism that puts providers at risk of violence and harassment.”

We all have to stand up to these bullying tactics. Anti-abortionists frequently make the claim that medical staff in Invercargill won’t take part in abortion care because they are anti-abortion. Ken Orr’s Right to Life group published a post on 29 September under this headline: Southland Doctors and Nurses Applauded for their Defence of Life.

It’s quite simply a lie. Yes, there may well be staff at the hospital who are abortion opponents, but that’s not why local staff are reluctant to take part in the service. It’s because of the bullying by anti-abortionists. ALRANZ asked the Southern DHB about claims made in public by Norman Maclean of Southlanders for Life that staff in the obstetrics department at Southland Hospital had “unanimously” refused to be part of the service, apart from dealing with complications. ALRANZ wrote to the board and asked the following:

Can you let us know if Dr. McLean’s contention regarding the unanimity of the Obstetrics Department’s staff is indeed correct and, if so, what procedures the hospital has in place to ensure women facing decisions about pregnancy are given non-biased, non-coercive support and care? And given Dr. McLean’s position on the subject and his former role as head of Obstetrics Department, did the hospital have a hiring policy that excluded those who support abortion services and has this policy continued since his retirement?

The hospital replied, telling us this:

To clarify, current Obstetric Department staff have made a personal decision not to perform terminations. However, our staff are committed to supporting and treating all their patients in a caring and professional way.

The decision not to perform terminations does not necessarily represent an opposition to the procedure, but instead reflects that Invercargill is a small community. Staff are understandably reluctant to face the personal backlash from the sections of the community who oppose the termination service. It has in no way been a policy of the DHB to only employ staff that are opposed to terminations.

Southland Hospital staff have always supported and provided care to women who choose not to continue with a pregnancy, but due to terminations not being provided in the area, we have had to refer women to Christchurch or Dunedin for the procedure. The DHB is committed to ensuring women have appropriate access to termination services, and the initiation of the service in Invercargill will bring the DHB in line with national standards.

We wonder if Bill English supports this kind of intimidation. Does he really support violating the privacy of hospital staff performing a legal medical service? Does he support harassing women outside abortion clinics? Does he really want to end access to legal abortion through threats and intimidation? We know anti-abortion activists do, but does Mr. English?

We are naive if we think this escalation of attacks on abortion services isn’t dangerous. Now is the time for politicians like Bill English, and especially those who say they are pro-choice, and for responsible church leaders, to speak out against these menacing tactics.

UPDATE, 15 October: The Southland Times followed up today with an article Pro-lifers accused of bullying clinic staff. Bill English didn’t return calls (what a surprise!) and Norman MacLean of Southlanders for Life said:

the group had “no intention” of stepping back now the service had begun and would continue to find ways to stop abortions being performed.

He had personally asked for the names of doctors and nurses doing abortions at Southland Hospital, he said.

The group “would then consider what we would do with that information”.

“Why is it that these people will not be named? It is not a private company and they are providing a public service. In every other area of the hospital they would name . The public should be aware of what is funded by the taxpayer.”

Hmmm, we wonder why “these people” don’t want to be named? Rather disingenuous question in the face of “naming and shaming” threats, and other risks of harassment and attack abortion providers face. This is not like “every other area of the hospital” precisely because of anti-choice campaigns like this one. And what does it have to do with taxpayer funding? If a private clinic opened up in Invercargill, they would be doing exactly the same thing — since it’s abortion they want to stop. Though if it were private, the shouting would be about how immoral it is to profit off abortion.