Hon Tony Ryall,
Minister of Health,
Re: Ultrasound Scans.
I wish to bring to your attention an important recent decision of the Health Commissioner, Ron Paterson, in the Commissioner’s response to our Society’s complaint against the Waikato District Health Board.
[DHB], [Copy enclosed] Our complaint concerned the protocol followed by the Board which precluded an offer being made to a woman considering an abortion when undergoing an ultrasound scan to view the scan of her baby. The Commissioner stated;
“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, 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.”
Our Society believes that this is a very important issue. The decision of the Commissioner has national repercussions. It has now been established that women considering an abortion have a legal right when undergoing an ultra sound scan, to be offered the opportunity to view the scan of their baby. Such a service would assist in meeting the legal requirements of the Code of Health Rights to be fully informed and to give an informed consent. We support the Commissioner’s decision that the right of a woman to view her scan can only be fulfilled if it is offered and she is given the opportunity to exercise her right. He has advised our Society that he did not consider it appropriate for him to take any further action on this matter.
It is known from studies conducted in the United States that inviting women to view a scan results in many women after seeing their baby to decide against an abortion and choose life for her baby. We recognise the desire of the government to reduce our tragically high abortion statistics. This is a proven procedure for achieving this objective. It is a protocol that could be implemented with no cost to the government. Our Society firmly believes that if the decision of the Health Commissioner were implemented nationally that the lives of many babies would be saved and their mothers spared a lifetime of grief and psychological damage.
Our Society has been advised that there are seven States in the United States that have passed legislation requiring abortion providers to offer an ultrasound scan to women considering an abortion in order to provide women with the opportunity of seeing their baby. Those States are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin. A further ten States have similar legislation being considered by their legislatures.
It is the experience of pregnancy counselling centres in the United States that now have ultra sound facilities, that women considering an abortion when given the opportunity of seeing an ultrasound scan of their unborn child, recognising its humanity decide against abortion and choose to bring their baby to birth. The number of women who change their mind after seeing an ultrasound according to these centres varies between 62 and 95 per cent.
We respectfully request that your Ministry in the interest of the health of women and the lives of unborn children take the necessary action to ensure that this important decision of the Health Commissioner is made known to District Health Boards and the relevant professional bodies. In a survey of DHBs conducted by our Society in 2008 it was revealed that a number of DHBs did not offer women considering an abortion the opportunity to choose to see the scan of their baby.
To ensure that women are offered the opportunity of viewing a scan we would respectfully suggest that the consent form for abortions have a statement confirming that she has been offered the opportunity of viewing her scan. It is mentioned that we recognise the right of women to refuse to look at a scan of her baby.
Our Society would be grateful if you would kindly advise what action your Ministry will take in response to the decision of the Health Commissioner?