The Ombudsman, Professor Ron Patterson in a recent decision, has ruled that the Southern District Health Board [SDHB] had a statutory duty to consult with the community of Southland before seeking a licence to perform abortions at the Southland Hospital. The Ombudsman was responding to a complaint made by the pro-life group Southlanders for Life. Abortions have been performed at the Southland Hospital since 15 June 2012. The SDHB had unbeknown to the community, sought a abortion licence in the belief that it was an extension of an existing ‘service’ established in the Dunedin Hospital.
The Ombudsman said the SDHB had an obligation to consult under the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000, however, the Ombudsman conceded that it was now too late for the SDHB to consult with the community. Southlanders for Life were aware in making the complaint against the SDHB that the Board had a legal obligation to consult in terms of the Public Consultation Guidelines for District Health Boards issued by the Ministry of Health in December 2011, which states that:
“As a general rule , it is wise to consult where a decision has significant public consequences or a major impact on the community to which the decision relates .”
Right to Life believes that the decision of the Ombudsman has important implications for every community in New Zealand where the District Health Board has abortion facilities.
Right to Life is unaware of any Health Board consulting with its community before seeking an abortion licence.