Abortion clinic opens in secrecy to protect staff

Last updated 05:00 14/10/2012

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An abortion clinic has opened under a shroud of secrecy designed to protect its medical staff.

The refusal of local doctors to perform abortions temporarily derailed plans to open the Invercargill clinic in July.

Women from the area had been forced to travel to Dunedin or Christchurch for terminations, but now, after months of protest, an abortion clinic has "quietly" opened at Invercargill's hospital, chief medical officer David Tulloch said.

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.

Dr Norman MacLean, a retired Invercargill obstetrician who heads up Southlanders for Life, said he wanted to stop "child abuse in the womb". In the war against abortion, he said, "we're on the winning side".

MacLean said women had become too liberal with abortions. "There may be some abortions that are necessary in very serious situations, but I don't like the idea of abortion on request. There's an unborn baby in the middle of this." He said that did not sit well with a conservative Invercargill community, which had its origins as a church colony.

The planned abortion clinic unsettled the health board's doctors and nurses, and caused division between midwives. In August, senior paediatrician Dr Vili Sotutu resigned in protest against abortions, but later retracted that after discussions with hospital bosses. The Southland DHB also struggled to find other staff to work at the clinic.

Father Vaughan Leslie is among those promising to begin weekly demonstrations outside the clinic, and to name those who work there. "We feel if you're pregnant you have a right to know if your midwife performs abortions as well."

Abortion Law Reform Association NZ president Morgan Healey said protesters who labelled women baby-killers were causing more emotional damage than the actual abortion. "It completely misses the whole concept of caring for women."

There is a shortage of abortion clinics throughout the country. There is either no clinic or only limited services in Manawatu, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Whanganui, South Canterbury and the West Coast. There were 15,863 abortions in 2011, and 16,630 in 2010.

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As the abortion debate divides Southland, a new campaign has been launched to decriminalise terminations. New Zealand has one of the more stringent processes for women to get an abortion, compared to other developed nations. The Abortion Law Reform Association wants terminations treated as a health service not a crime, but the Government has rejected that. Under current law, an abortion is allowed where pregnancy might damage the mother's physical or mental wellbeing. A spokesperson for Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Government did not plan to review abortion laws.

- Sunday Star Times

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