NZ abortion phone service closes because of lack of money

By Martin Johnston

The 0800 Abortion phone service has closed because of a lack of funds.
The 0800 Abortion phone service has closed because of a lack of funds.

New Zealand's 0800 telephone abortion service has closed because of a lack of money.

It was started in June last year by Masterton abortion doctor Simon Snook and a colleague and was intended to fill what its backers considered to be a gap in abortion services.

Unfortunately, the model of funding this service using certification income continued to fall short
Dr Simon Snook

By dialling 0800 ABORTION, women and teens seeking to end a pregnancy could be offered counselling and have the necessary medical tests and abortion clinic appointment organised. Patients left a message and were phoned back by a nurse and doctors.

The first call back from a doctor was to make a formal referral, rather than the patient having to find a Family Planning practitioner or willing GP. The second was from a certifying consultant who assessed if the patient met the criteria for lawful abortion, such as serious danger to her mental health if the pregnancy continued.

The discussion with the required second certifying consultant was face to face, Dr Snook said when the service began.

Callers to the service today are told that it is "currently closed and we are not accepting new patients".

For funding, it relied on donations by certifying abortion consultants of part of the fees they received from the Ministry of Justice.

The pro-abortion Abortion Law Reform Association said it was saddened by the closure of the "pioneering" service.

The anti-abortion group Right to Life's spokesman, Ken Orr, said it was very pleased by the closure.

"It is hoped that this will save the lives of many unborn children and their mothers from the violence of abortion and a lifetime of sorrow and regret." The so-called service "trivialised the killing of innocent children in the womb"

The law reform association said: "From what we hear, the line was actually a lifeline for lots of people, and met a need that didn't actually become clear until the line went live.

"There are a number of anti-choice phone lines out there, and it's a sad state of affairs that a service offering factual, non-judgemental, non-biased information like this one has had to close. Here's hoping the shutdown is only temporary."

Dr Snook could not be contacted to explain the reasons for closure. The law reform association said in a newsletter it was because of a lack of funds.

It quoted Dr Snook as saying: "0800 Abortion, as we discussed before, filled a very important gap in the current service. Unfortunately, the model of funding this service using certification income continued to fall short. Our patients took considerably more nursing time than we expected and as such the referral line could not fund itself.

"We are committed to doing this properly so it was not an option to cut corners and reduce the time we spent with our women. As such the line is mothballed pending consideration of other ways to fund."

Association spokeswoman Jessica Williams agrees the phone service filled a gap. She said the leading barrier to getting an abortion in main centres is the statutory process, but in regional centres an added hurdle is that access to abortion is extremely limited and the phone service helped address that.

"There's a need for something to fill the gap in those smaller towns for a start and also to provide information."

- NZ Herald

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