Garth George: Right to life shown in black and white

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When Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson gives his decision on a complaint about hospitals, it generally receives widespread coverage, particularly in newspapers, which remain the source of our most comprehensive and reliable news.

Not so, it seems, when the subject of the complaint touches on abortion, a word that seems to terrify journalists witless.

Thus, a landmark decision issued by Mr Paterson lately on a complaint against the Waikato District Health Board has, as far as I know, gone unreported in mainstream media.

In it, Mr Paterson rules that women undergoing an ultrasound scan when considering an abortion have the right to be offered the opportunity to view the scan of the baby in the womb.

The Waikato DHB's refusal to offer a look at the scan to women to whom it is given was the basis of a complaint made to Mr Paterson by the pro-life group Right to Life.

In his decision, Mr Paterson said: "I have carefully considered the issue you have raised. Clearly, a woman undergoing an ultrasound scan has the right to view her scan.

"As you have recognised, she also has the right to decide not to view the scan.

"In order to exercise this choice, a woman will know that she is able to view the scan. I have written to Waikato DHB reminding them of Right 6 of the Code [of Health Rights], which states that consumers have the right to the information that a reasonable consumer, in that consumer's circumstances, would expect to receive.

"In my view, this would generally include the information that the woman may view the scan should she wish."

This decision will have national repercussions since a survey last year revealed that a number of DHBs do not offer women considering an abortion the chance to see their scans; they have to ask.

It is important, too, because studies in the United States have shown that inviting women to view their scans causes many, recognising the child's humanity, to decide against an abortion and to give birth to their babies. Pregnancy counselling services report that the number of women who change their minds after seeing an ultrasound scan varies between 62 and 95 per cent.

Which means that if Mr Paterson's decision is implemented nationally, the lives of many babies in this country might be saved, and their mothers spared a lifetime of grief and psychological damage.

For a Government seeking to cut costs without cutting services, this has to be a winner. Health Minister Tony Ryall, take note.

Says Ken Orr, of Right to Life: "This historic decision of the Health Commissioner will herald in a new era in the care of mothers and their babies by promoting a greater respect for the lives of unborn children, the weakest and most defenceless members of the human family."

Meanwhile, next week the Court of Appeal will hear an appeal by the Government-funded Abortion Supervisory Committee against a decision in the High Court last June in which Justice Forrest Miller ruled that "there is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants".

But Right to Life, which brought the High Court case, will oppose the committee's appeal and seek to have the Court of Appeal uphold Justice Miller's finding that "the Abortion Supervisory Committee has a statutory duty to hold certifying consultants accountable for the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants".

Right to Life will also try to have the Court of Appeal overturn the decision of Justice Miller to deny the status of the unborn child as a person entitled to receive the protection of the Bill of Rights Act.

Section 8 of that act states that "No one shall be deprived of life except on such grounds as are established by law and are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice".

Under existing legislation, the unborn child does not become a human being until it is born and Right to Life sees next week's court case as an unprecedented opportunity to establish in law that the unborn child is a human being from conception, endowed at conception with human rights, the most fundamental of which is the right to life.

The Crown, on behalf of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, will, of course, oppose that.

If there is any doubt of the need for the pro-life group to persist in its legal battle, figures released under the Official Information Act reveal that in 2007 one certifying consultant approved 1050 abortions and refused none; another approved 921 abortions and refused only one; and a third approved 723 abortions and refused none.

I thank God that this dedicated group of Kiwis is prepared to continue to fight the good fight for the sanctity of life, no matter what the cost. They deserve our fervent prayers.

* garth.george@hotmail.com

- NZ Herald

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