English drawn into abortion clinic row

Last updated 05:00 16/10/2012

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Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has spoken to a member of a hardline anti-abortion group in Southland, but says he knew nothing of their protest tactics.

An abortion clinic opened in Invercargill last month so women would no longer have to make a day's journey to Christchurch and Dunedin hospitals for terminations.

Anti-abortion group Southlanders for Life have requested the names of medical professionals working at the clinic to publicly name and shame them.

Protesters also plan to hold weekly demonstrations outside the abortion clinic.

Abortion Law Reform Association spokeswoman Alison McCulloch said Southlanders for Life were using "menacing tactics" to harass women visiting the clinic.

"Mr English, along with the religious leaders backing this campaign, must denounce these dangerous threatening tactics."

She said it was outrageous politicians and religious leaders have stood by as attacks on medical professionals at the abortion clinic escalate.

"It is time to stop this before it leads to violence."

Mr English said the public should have been consulted about the abortion clinic, according to a Southlanders for Life statement.

However, Mr English's spokeswoman said he was not aware of Southlanders for Life's protest tactics.

Mr English, who is the Southland-Clutha MP, had spoken with one of the group's members on the phone, she said.

The spokeswoman declined to comment on calls for Mr English to denounce the anti-abortion protest action. Mr English is known to be personally against abortion.

The abortion clinic opened without fanfare and health officials were keeping secret whether medical staff were employed locally or from another region.

Southland District Health Board said this was to protect the identity of doctors and nurses.

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

Father Vaughan Leslie, a spokesman for Southlanders for Life, last week said they planned weekly demonstrations outside the clinic and to name those who work there.

Ms McCulloch said some of the medical professionals opted not to perform abortions because they feared the activists.

"We can certainly understand why they have those fears when they face these kinds of bully tactics."

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- Fairfax Media

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