Abortion 'no-protest zone' suggestedSave
By Sarah Harris, Claire Trevett
• The general abortion rate in 2015 was 14.2 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 years.
• Women aged 20-24 years had the highest abortion rate, with 23 abortions per 1000 women.
• 55 per cent of abortions were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.
• Of known pregnancies (live births, stillbirths, and abortions), 18 per cent ended in an abortion.
• Abortion in New Zealand is governed by the Crimes Act. No other medical procedure is criminalised in this way.
Green MP Jan Logie says it is worth debating whether New Zealand should introduce a no-protest zone around abortion clinics, similar to those enforced in some Australian states.
Logie and Catherine Delahunty recently attended a meeting in Thames organised by people concerned about anti-abortion protesters who protest outside the Thames Hospital abortion clinic on Fridays.
After the meeting, Right to Life put out a statement saying the Greens would try to push for a law change which banned protesting outside abortion clinics, like some Australian states.
In the Australian states of Tasmania and Victoria, filming, intimidation and protests are banned within 150m of abortion centres. In New South Wales, a bill to provide a 150m "safe access zone" has just been introduced by a Green MP on the grounds of ensuring the right to medical privacy.
Logie said the Green Party had no plans for a member's bill on the issue but another speaker had raised the Australian example. There were different views expressed on it and she believed a broader discussion was needed.
"I do think there's is a genuine issue around the impact of those protests directly targeting women and making their lives worse."
She said anti-abortion protesters had done things such as presenting women entering the clinic with tiny toy babies.
"It's okay to be anti-abortion, we all have different values, and to express that value. But to be pointedly targeting women accessing those services and trying to control their decisions and have a psychological impact on those women and punishing them for having different morals, it's really unacceptable."
She said counsellors who worked in Thames had spoken of the impact of the protests on the women having terminations. Last year, the Thames clinic performed 180 abortions.
"While women may be sure of their own decision and what is right for their own life, when they are confronted with those protestors going in to get abortions they are having to deal with a sense that society is judging them and telling them they are wrong. And that can be the source of distress in an ongoing way."
Waikato DHB spokesperson Mark Spittal said Thames Hospital had received a small number of informal complaints that the protests are distressing to patients and their whanau.
"Protests, whether for or against any particular issue, can be intimidating for people who are attending the hospital for any reason.
"It is not our role to enter the political debate about potential changes to legislation. It is our role to ensure that all those who attend the hospital are treated with dignity and respect."
Spittal said the nearby church grounds and the hospital area were not available for protests.
Secretary of the Hauraki branch of Voice for Life Lynn Hopkins said they started the protests outside Thames Hospital about five years ago to try to end abortion. She would not support legislation that bans their protests.
"I would think it was rather unfair against the idea of free speech."
Hopkins protests with a placard that reads "women deserve better".
"They deserve better care than being pushed towards having an abortion."
Right to Life spokesperson Ken Orr said there were regular groups that protested outside Southland Hospital, in Invercargill, and Dunedin Hospital. Right to Life would also protest this summer in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, where they will pray all day for 40 days outside abortion clinics.
Orr said the key purpose of the vigils was to offer assistance to women seeking a termination in hope they will change their mind. He said the pro-life campaigners will offer women help getting baby gear and even financial assistance.
"Right to Life commends the courageous defenders of life who gather each Friday outside the Thames Hospital. They give witness to the sanctity of life of the unborn, who are being brought to the hospital to have their lives violently terminated."
The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand president Terry Bellamak said protesters didn't have a place outside health clinics.
"Women experience harassment as intrusive and intimidating, even if protesters are silent.
"It's just not kind. To stand outside where someone is just trying to go about their day getting health care and to be silently judging them.
"It's the 21st century. We all have the freedom to make our own moral choices."
Abortions have dropped by 5227 from 18,382 in 2007 to 13,155 in 2015. A termination is free for any pregnant woman eligible for funded health care.
Logie said one of the reasons abortion numbers had dropped nationwide was because of the increased availability of contraception.
Abortion is currently a crime under the Crimes Act. It is only legal if two consultants agree that the pregnancy would seriously harm the woman's mental or physical health or that the fetus would have a serious disability.
Bellamak said the system was demeaning to women.