New Zealand’s MPs vote against protecting baby girls from sex-selective abortion

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is among 70 MPs in the country who have voted against protecting baby girls from sex-selective abortion.

It comes as the country could introduce the world’s most extreme abortion legislation.

Scientific advances in pre-natal testing means it is now possible to detect a babies sex at just seven weeks’ gestation, meaning sex-selective abortion could become an explicit and viable possibility in New Zealand.

MP Melissa Lee had sought to prevent this from becoming a reality, if the extreme abortion bill is voted into law at its third and final reading, likely tomorrow, by bringing forward an amendment to explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortion.

However, despite commendations from other pro-life MPs, Melissa’s amendment was defeated with 50 votes in favour and 70 against.

Sex-selective abortion is a well-documented problem in countries around the world, resulting in highly skewed sex ratios. A study, published last year, estimates that there are over 23 million “missing” girls were as a result of sex-selective abortion.

Canada amended legislation regarding abortion in 1998, effectively introducing abortion on demand. Since then, sex-selective abortion has been identified as a major issue with an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal outlining that “easy access to abortion and advances in prenatal sex determination have combined to make Canada a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons…”.

Victoria, Australia introduced abortion on request in 2008. A recent study, from La Trobe University, analysing more than a million births in Victoria suggests some parents could be aborting unborn female babies in order to have a son. Following the law change in Victoria, Dr Mark Hobart was investigated by the Medical Board of Victoria for failing to refer a woman for a sex-selective abortion. Additionally, an investigation by Australian broadcaster SBS found higher numbers of boys than girls being born in some ethnic communities in Australia.

These concerns were highlighted in a submission to the Abortion Legislation Committee from Stop Gendercide, a campaign group who had urged MPs to support Melissa Lee’s amendment.

Unfortunately, both the Abortion Legislation Committee and a majority of MPs ignored the recommendation and New Zealand’s extreme abortion bill will permit sex-selective abortion, if voted into law at its third reading.

Instead, in what appears to be a politically motivated move to appear to be taking action, without actually making material changes to remove this major flaw in the Bill, the Committee have required that the Government produce a report five years after the Bill has passed reviewing whether abortions are being sought solely because of a preference for the fetus to be a particular sex. This means that for this five-year period, and possibly longer, sex-selective abortion will be free to occur in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s MPs have already voted against an amendment that would require health professionals to give medical help to babies born alive after ‘failed’ abortions.

Other rejected amendments that would have saved lives and protected women including measures to provide the following:

  • Provide pain relief to babies being aborted between 20-weeks and birth. 
    • Agnes Loheni – SOP 461 
    • Ayes 43: Noes 76
  • Provide additional safeguards to help prevent sex-selective abortions.
    • Parmjeet Parmar – SOP 475 
    • Ayes 29: Noes 89
  • Ensure safeguards were in place to protect vulnerable women, including those with an intellectual disability, from being coerced into an unwanted abortion. 
    • Joanne Hayes – SOP 462 
    • Rejected in a verbal vote
  • Restricting abortions between 20-weeks and birth (to when there is risk to the life, or of serious harm to the physical or mental health, of the woman; or the fetus is so medically impaired as to be unlikely to survive beyond birth.)
    • Greg O-Connor
    • Ayes 45: Noes 73
  • Restricting abortions between 20 weeks and birth (to where a woman’s life or health is at risk – and requiring doctors to be involved with later abortions rather than the proposed requirement that any health professional can perform an abortion.)
    • Agnes Loheni – SOP 460 
    • Ayes 43: Noes 74
  • Strengthen conscientious objection protections for health professionals.
    • Chris Penk – SOP 469 
    • Ayes 35: Noes 83
  • Requiring ongoing collection of accurate abortion statistics. Currently, the Bill only requires data collection during the first 18 months of the proposed abortion legislation coming into force.
    • Simeon Brown – SOP 480 
    • Ayes 37: Noes 82

European Court refuses midwives’ conscientious objection case

The European Court of Human Rights has declined to hear the case of two Swedish midwives repeatedly denied jobs because of their refusal to perform abortions.

Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen had hoped to challenge authorities in Sweden, telling the court that being denied employment due to their pro-life views was an illegal breach of their rights to freedom of conscience.

Both had initially worked as nurses but retrained as midwives amid a severe shortage, receiving state funding to do so.

However, due to their pro-life views, job offers were withdrawn with one hospital stating it could provide Ellinor with counselling aimed at reconciling her “obstinate mind” with the good of abortion.

The head of the maternity ward at another hospital questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife”.

After exhausting legal options in Sweden, Ellinor and Linda had hoped the European Court of Human Rights would provide them and other pro-life midwives with a ruling that’d allow them to safely deliver babies without also having to abort them.  

But, in a short written decision, the court said their case was inadmissible and that freedom of conscience shouldn’t prevent the provision of abortion.

The judges’ decision on the case admitted there had been “an interference with her freedom of conscience,” but added that “the interference with the applicant’s freedom of religion was proportionate and justified with the view of achieving a legitimate aim…”

“Sweden provides nationwide abortion services and therefore has a positive obligation to organise its health system in a way as to ensure that the effective exercise of freedom of conscience of health professionals in the professional context does not prevent the provision of such services,” it added.

Now that it has dismissed their case, Ellinor and Linda cannot appeal again to the court. Its decision will negatively impact midwives across 47 Council of Europe Member States who could now be compelled to participate in abortions if they want to deliver babies.

Ellinor, who has been fighting pursuing the case for four years, said: “I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same.”

The Swedish Association of Midwives has defended the authorities’ right to refuse pro-life midwives work, suggesting any change would have consequences for the whole Swedish health care system.

Speaking to the BBC, President Mia Ahlberg said: “For example, a nurse who is a Jehovah’s Witness might refuse to perform a blood transfusion. It’s part of our professional competence – so the employer had a right to say ‘you cannot work here’.”

Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International who were helping the midwives pursue the case, called the court decision “very disappointing”. “Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers,” he said.

In 2014, the UK’s highest court ruled two midwives do not have the right to avoid supervising other nurses involved in abortion procedures.

The landmark judgement by the five Supreme Court justices rejected the view that the right of conscience extended to the whole process of abortion, instead ruling that conscientious objection only applies where an individual is “taking part in a hands-on capacity”.

Last year, it was revealed pro-life medical students who want to protect unborn babies from terminations could be forced to learn ‘abortion skills’ under new proposals.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists released a new report announcing its intention to teach and assess ‘abortion skills’ as part of its core curriculum but made no mention of any provision for conscientious objection.

In its Better for Women report, the College says “the General Medical Council (GMC) should review the Undergraduate medical curriculum to include the importance of abortion care to students.

“The RCOG will teach abortion skills as a part of its core curriculum and assess those skills through examination.”