Threats aimed at abortion clinic

ANTI-ABORTION PROTEST: More than 400 protesters gathering earlier this year.
ANTI-ABORTION PROTEST: More than 400 protesters gathering earlier this year.

Police are investigating an anonymous threat to destroy a new Invercargill abortion clinic and intimidate its medical staff.

Labour, National and the Greens all condemned the threat, but as the debate rages, Deputy Prime Minister and Southland MP Bill English is staying silent.

The threat against the clinic and its staff was emailed to the Abortion Law Reform Association on Wednesday. "People who work at the clinic are legitimate targets and so are you. You'll be hearing from me again, that is if your computer, or in fact your premises, are in one piece," it said.

The threat also referred to a hospital source providing details about clinic staff.

The Sunday Star-Times last week revealed the clinic opened in secrecy to protect the identity of its staff, after months of anti-abortion protest in Invercargill.

A number of anti-abortion activists have requested the names of clinic staff, planning to name them, and Southlanders for Life will meet this week to decide what action to take to close the clinic.

Group spokesman Father Vaughan Leslie said members had been wrongly accused of issuing the threat, but said the group was "totally opposed" to violence.

"We certainly don't condone people being harassed."

Members would hold peaceful protests outside the clinic before the end of the year, he said, confirming the group had complained to the ombudsman over a lack of consultation before the facility opened. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Southlanders for Life claims English supported their call for the community to be involved in deciding whether a new clinic should open, but he remains quiet on the issue. Pro-choice campaigners have also called for him to condemn plans to name and shame staff.

In a statement, the Abortion Law Reform Association said English had washed his hands of the issue. He and his doctor wife Mary are Catholics whose anti-abortion beliefs are widely known. A spokeswoman for English confirmed he had spoken with the group, but said he had never met with them.

The association said an atmosphere of intimidation was being fuelled by anti-abortion activists' determination to name clinic staff. President Morgan Healey said the group would consider escorting people to work if threats escalated. "But even those people would be putting themselves out there."

The Southern District Health Board declined to comment on the threat, or say if extra security had been hired because of the police investigation, but National MP Paul Hutchison said he was appalled by the threat.

Labour health spokeswoman Maryan Street said threats, intimidation and bullying had no place in the health system. "We condemn such bullying and the deliberate attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, around what is a lawful activity in New Zealand. There is always a place for protest, but never a place for threats of violence."

The clinic opened last month so that women would no longer have to go to Dunedin or Christchurch.

Sunday Star Times