ASA throw out attempt to shut down criticism of NZ Govt’s plan to introduce abortion up to birth for Down’s syndrome

The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has thrown out a complaint against Right To Life UK.

The complaint appears to have been made by Young Labour’s Senior Executive Secretary and Labour Party youth camp organiser Tess Macintyre.

In September 2019, Right To Life UK ran a news article on its website covering opposition from parents of children with Down’s syndrome to proposed changes to New Zealand abortion legislation that also outlined how the proposed law change would introduce abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome. This article was also posted on the organisation’s Facebook page.

The complainant, T Macintyre, claimed that the Facebook post presented  “a false claim that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is attempting to legalise abortion up to birth for foetuses with Down syndrome.” 

The Advertising Standards Authority has now thrown out the complaint. 

In their decision, the ASA ruled that the Facebook post was not misleading with the Chair commenting: “taking into account the context, medium and likely audience, the advocacy advertisement did not breach Principle 2 or Rule 2(b) of the Advertising Standards Code.”

Principle 2 of the Advertising Standards Code outlines that, “Advertisements must be truthful, balanced and not misleading.” Rule 2 outlines that, “Advertisements must not mislead or be likely to mislead, deceive or confuse consumers, abuse their trust or exploit their lack of knowledge.”

The Chair also said that “political advertisements were not only acceptable but encouraged, as they are an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society” and that “in a free and democratic society, differences of political opinion should be openly debated without undue hindrance or interference from authorities.”

Background on the proposed change to abortion law

In New Zealand, under section 187A of the Crimes Act, there is currently a gestational time limit of 20-weeks for disability-selective abortions. 

Under the proposed legislation (Abortion Legislation Bill), the 20-week gestational time limit for disability-selective abortions will be removed. Abortions will be available right through to birth, providing one registered health practitioner “reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances” outlined in part one, clause seven of the bill

In the jurisdictions that have a similar clause allowing for abortion up to birth, this has in practice allowed for disability-selective abortions, for conditions including Down’s syndrome, right through to birth.

In fact, the proposed New Zealand legislation only requires one registered health practitioner to decide that the abortion meets these grounds. This could include a single nurse signing off on an abortion, rather than the higher threshold of two doctors, which is the case in Victoria, Australia which has a similar abortion up to birth clause. There have been over 1,600 abortions of babies with a disability under a similar abortion up to birth clause in Victoria, Australia, since the law was changed in 2008.

In 2017, disability campaigners highlighted their concerns around Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to change abortion laws, outlining that this would introduce abortion through to birth for unborn babies with disabilities. 

In response, Jacinda Ardern made a commitment to not increase the time limit for disability-selective abortion. In response to the concern raised by the campaigners, Jacinda Ardern said: “They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”

Jacinda Ardern and her Government now appear to have broken that promise.

Already the majority of babies in New Zealand diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. If this proposed policy became law it could put New Zealand on the path towards the situation in Iceland where close to 100% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK Catherine Robinson said:

“The NZ Labour Party needs to stand up and justify why they want to legalise abortion for babies with disabilities including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome right through to birth. They need to stop trying to shut down debate on this important issue. 

The article we published was completely factual and provided an accurate outline of the proposed changes to abortion law in New Zealand in relation to disability-selective abortions. All references to the proposed legal changes were checked and the final article was signed-off by our policy team before it was published.

Currently, there is a 20-week time limit for disability-selective abortions in New Zealand law. The proposed legislation will see this time limit removed and abortion will be available up until birth, with the approval of a single registered health practitioner. 

In the jurisdictions that have a similar clause, this has in practice allowed for abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome right up to birth. In fact, there have been over 1,600 late-term abortions of babies with a disability under a similar abortion up-to-birth clause in Victoria, Australia, since the law was changed in 2008. This has been under a stricter law in Victoria where a higher threshold of two doctors is required to approve a late-term abortion.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, made a clear promise to the disability community to not remove the current 20-week time limit for disability-selective abortions. She has broken this promise. Her party supporters should not resort to attempting to shut down anyone who attempts to highlight this broken promise and the impact it will have on the community of people with Down’s syndrome in New Zealand.

We are glad to see that the Advertising Standards Authority have thrown out this complaint. They have not only ruled that our article was not misleading but have gone on to say that in a free and democratic society, differences of political opinion should be openly debated without undue hindrance or interference from authorities. We totally agree with that statement.”

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