10 September 2008
Office of the Ombudsman,
PO Box 10152,
Dear Ms Wakem,
Official Information Act Request: Abortion Supervisory Committee
I wish to lay a complaint against the Abortion Supervisory Committee[ASC] for failure to provide certain information requested by our Society under the Official Information Act. On the 4 August our Society requested information as to the names and qualifications of persons appointed by the Committee to a newly constituted Standards Committee.
The Committee replied to our Society on 4 September and declined to provide the information requested. The Committee advised that the information was being withheld pursuant to section 9 [g] of the Official Information Act. The Ministry of Justice considers it necessary to withhold this information order to protect the members of the Standards Committee from improper pressure or harassment.
Right to Life is a national pro-life incorporated Society. Our objective is to promote respect for life and to uphold the inalienable right to life of every human being from conception to natural death. Since the passing of the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 our Society has been acting as an advocate for the human rights of unborn children and conducting a watching brief over the performance of the Abortion Supervisory Committee. I wish to challenge this decision of the Committee for the following reasons;
The Committee is commended for wishing to protect the members of the Standards Committee from improper pressure and harassment. Our Society has no desire to pressure or harass members, to do so would be improper and counter productive. We have not sought from the Committee nor do we want the addresses of members. We have no desire or intention to contact them. It is mentioned that the names and addresses of all the abortion certifying consultants, those who authorise and perform abortions in New Zealand are on the web site of the Committee. The public access to this information has to our knowledge not resulted in harassment of the doctors named. If the Committee accepts that this sensitive information should be available to the public and our Society why do they have an objection to the names of the Standards Committee being known to this Society?
The Standards Committee is a public body appointed by the ASC in accordance with the authority vested in the Committee by the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, section 15. The members of the Standards Committee are paid for their duties from the public purse. We believe that the public have a right to know who the members of this Committee are.
The Standards Committee has an important duty to advise the Committee on recommendations for the performance of abortions in New Zealand. There is considerable public concern about the lawfulness of abortions authorised in New Zealand. Justice Miller in his judgment in the High Court in June following a Judicial Review of the performance of the Abortion Supervisory Committee stated that there was very good reason to believe that many abortions in New Zealand were unlawful. It could be that the Committee could appoint persons to the Standards Committee who are certifying consultants who authorise and perform abortions, it would then be reasonable to expect that the advice that they give may be influenced by their support for abortion and the continuance of abortion on demand that is not permitted by the abortion legislation. If the names of the Committee are to be protected with a veil of secrecy how can the public and our Society exercise its right to scrutinise and question the advice that the Committee is receiving?
It would be a dangerous precedent in a free and democratic society to prohibit the community from knowing the identity of persons appointed to a public body.
I have enclosed copies of the relevant correspondence for your information.