Good news! The early medication abortion service at Family Planning’s Tauranga clinic is to stay open, thanks to a ruling in the High Court yesterday (1 Oct.), which came four months after the anti-abortion group Right to Life made its case that the licence for the clinic was unlawful.
Here are some useful links:
• A .pdf of the High Court decision is here.
• Family Planning’s media release.
• Coverage in NZ Herald and Radio New Zealand.
• Some background on the case, including a post by ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak, Making Abortion Dearer, and Alison McCulloch, Abortion Access Goes Back to Court.
And here’s ALRANZ’s media release:
Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand
2 October 2015 Media Release
ALRANZ APPLAUDS COURT RULING ON TAURANGA CLINIC
The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand today applauded the High Court decision allowing the Family Planning Clinic in Tauranga to continue providing medical abortions.
Yesterday’s judgment came four months after the challenge to Family Planning’s licence by the anti-abortion group Right to Life was heard in the court, and effectively ruled the licence is lawful. In its decision, the High Court found that the usual rules of statutory interpretation apply, meaning the law is taken to evolve to cover situations that may not have existed when it was written.
Early medical abortion did not exist when the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 was passed. The court’s decision allows the Abortion Supervisory Committee to take into account how safe early medical abortion is.
“We are delighted that the pioneering Tauranga Family Planning clinic will be able to continue its work, and would like to see this model expanded to other regions that have little or no access to services,” ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak said. “But pregnant people still have to jump through the usual paternalistic hoops to access the health care they need.”
“As long as Parliament continues to turn a blind eye to the Rube Goldberg abortion laws in New Zealand, groups like Right to Life that believe bodily autonomy and consent do not apply to pregnant people will continue to find ways of challenging in the old legal regime,” she said.
“The Government will continue to spend money defending an obsolete, dysfunctional legal regime, DHBs will continue to waste money administering unnecessary regulations and funding unnecessary consultations to prove the boxes have been ticked. And pregnant people will continue to waste time and money jumping through hoops,” Ms. Bellamak said.
ALRANZ calls upon Parliament to end the farce and finally bring New Zealand’s abortion law into the 21st century.
For more information, contact:
mob: 021 082-76474
ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Assoc NZ)
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ABORTION LAW REFORM ASSOCIATION OF NEW ZEALAND
24 June 2015 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANTI-ABORTION GROUP OWES $72,500 IN 2012 COURT CASE
The anti-abortion group in the middle of legal action aimed at shutting down Family Planning’s early medication abortion service in Tauranga still owes the government $72,500 in court costs over its previous case, information just released under the Official Information Act reveals.
Information issued on Tuesday by the Crown Law Office shows that the anti-choice group Right to Life owes the money in Court of Appeal and High Court costs in relation to its seven-year case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which it eventually lost in the Supreme Court in 2012, the newly elected president of ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand), Terry Bellamak, said today.
“Our outdated criminalised abortion laws invite these kinds of cases,” Ms. Bellamak said. “And the government’s failure to recover what it is owed three years after the end of Right to Life’s last case certainly doesn’t help discourage them.”
Ms. Bellamak said that both the 2012 case and the current legal action were aimed at exploiting New Zealand’s 38-year-old abortion laws, which can’t accommodate either modern medicine or women’s reproductive rights.
ALRANZ Secretary, Annabel Henderson Morrell voiced dismay that the government has taken so long to recover money in a case that likely cost taxpayers at least 10 times the amount owed by Right to Life.
“The Abortion Supervisory Committee told us in 2012 it had spent nearly half a million dollars defending itself in that case,” she said, “It’s appalling they had to resort to that. That funding could’ve been used for far more beneficial outcomes such as increased resourcing for comprehensive sexuality education in schools, or wider subsidisation of contraceptive options,” she said.
In its Official Information Act response, Crown Law wrote that it “is continuing to pursue payment of that amount and has most recently advised RTL that it must pay costs before 31 July 2015.”
A ruling is pending from the High Court in Right to Life’s current case, which challenges the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s granting of a licence for Family Planning to provide early medication abortions at its Tauranga clinic.
A timeline of the 7-year court case that ended in 2012 is here: http://www.alranz.org/takeaction/factsheets/RTLVASC.html
Click this link for a .pdf of the OIA Letter (Address of recipient redacted by ALRANZ): Crown_Law_23_June_2015.
By Alison M
(Cross-posted from The Hand Mirror)
What if you had a way of providing an essential medical service that was safer, cheaper, less traumatic for patients, and meant they didn’t have to travel more than an hour each way to access it? Well, if it was for anything other than abortion, you’d be its champion. But this is abortion, and now the pioneering Tauranga Family Planning clinic, which has been providing early medication abortions in the Bay of Plenty since 2013, is under threat by anti-abortion court action that could worsen New Zealand’s already poor record on abortion access.
The court action by the Catholic anti-choice group Right to Life is a direct result of our now 38-year-old abortion laws, which criminalise abortion and continue to block the use of newer and better ways of providing it. And it’s not the first time our backward laws have been recruited for the purpose of banning or restricting abortion access. A 7-year case by the same group seeking to wind back access went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 2012 Right to Life lost by a frighteningly narrow 2-3 ruling. The fact that abortion access in New Zealand was one justice away from being severely restricted in 2012 should have been a wake-up call that our criminalised abortion laws need urgent change. But, again, this is abortion and if there’s one thing (almost) all politicians agree on, it’s that they’d rather do nothing than wade into a debate about reproductive justice.
So nothing happened, and so here we are again, with abortion access back in the dock. The implications of this case are significant (more on that below), and underscore the urgent need for supporters of reproductive choice and access to press politicians to take action to give our fragile abortion access a secure foundation.
MPs have been on notice for decades that our laws are barely able to function: the Abortion Supervisory Committee has said so, the courts have said so, even the United Nations has said so. And still there is silence. To quote Prime Minister John Key during the 2014 election campaign: “I’m opposed to changing the law … I think the law broadly works.” And that’s been the standard line from the abortion liberals in Parliament for decades now – apart, that is, from a few stand-outs in the Green Party, which became the first-ever major party to adopt a pro-choice platform in 2014, some impressive Young Labour activism and a bold stand in 2010 by former Labour MP Steve Chadwick.
Importing U.S.-Style TRAP Laws
The new case at hand was publicly announced on Sunday, when Right to Life said it was headed to the High Court to challenge the Abortion Supervisory Committee over granting a licence to Family Planning to provide early medication abortions at its Tauranga clinic. (Family Planning is only an “interested party” in this case, and it will be the Crown Law Office that plays defence.)
Though we haven’t yet seen Right to Life’s formal arguments, the media release and RTL’s previous posts about the Tauranga clinic indicate this effort is straight from the American TRAP law playbook (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). In this case, RTL plans to argue that our law requires any institution providing abortion have “adequate surgical and other facilities” for the performance of safe abortions. As even RTL acknowledges, when the 1977 Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act was enacted, there were no medical abortions. Since Family Planning’s Tauranga clinic isn’t a hospital or a surgical facility, I’m assuming RTL will claim it doesn’t have the “adequate surgical and other facilities” needed to hold an abortion licence under the law so the ASC shouldn’t have given it one. (A hearing will take place at the High Court in Wellington on 2 June starting at 10 a.m. According to the court, it should be open to the public.)
It’s important to explain a bit about what early medication abortion is. At the Tauranga clinic, medication abortions are available only up until 9 weeks of pregnancy (63 days), and involve bringing on a miscarriage using two medications usually taken 48 hours apart, Mifegyne or Mifepristone (formerly known as RU486) and Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec). You can read more here from Family Planning itself about what an early medication abortion entails. It’s also worth a reminder that people seeking abortions in the Bay of Plenty – as elsewhere – muststill meet the requirements of our criminal statutes: Before you can get an abortion, two doctors (certifying consultants) must agree that your case meets one of the half dozen criteria listed in the Crimes Act.