Interpretation of NZ Law

Although New Zealand law only allows abortion when it meets certain criteria, abortions are performed virtually on demand under the mental health grounds.

  • The unborn child has no legal statutory rights.
  • Nobody can claim to represent the interests of the unborn child.
  • Certifying consultants routinely ignore Parliament's intention to restrict abortion.
  • Certifying consultants are immune from criminal prosecution.
  • A judge ruled that protection was not only limited to children, but also to children about to be born.
The Wall Case
In late 1981, a paediatrician, Dr Melvyn Wall, attended a 15-year old girl at Taranaki Base Hospital. He discovered she was pregnant and offered support. Both the girl and her parents were prepared to have the baby adopted out. However, another doctor referred her to two certifying consultants, who authorized an abortion on the grounds that the girl had a serious danger to her mental health.

Dr Wall found himself in a medical bind. He believed the abortion was unjustified and would harm the girl's mental state. On 7th January, 1982, his lawyer filed a motion in the High Court seeking that the abortion certificate be suspended. There was no medical or legal criteria for the abortion and the certifying consultants had issued it in "bad faith".

The case came before Mr Justice Speight in the High Court on 19th January, 1982. He ruled that Dr Wall and the unborn child had no "legal standing". Within 48 hours the abortion was carried out.

In May, the Women's National Abortion Action Committee (WONAAC) laid a complaint with the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. The Committee found Dr Wall guilty of professional misconduct and ordered that he be fined and censured.
Dr Wall received thousands of letters of support and donations for his costs.

He received thousands of letters of support and donations for his costs. In November, the Court of Appeal heard his case, which both sides of the abortion issue knew would be a landmark judgement. It was handed down in December with the Court declaring that the unborn child had no legal statutory rights. "That being the case, neither Dr Wall nor anybody else could possibly claim to represent the interests of the unborn child."

The Court also ruled that the decisions of certifying consultants were immune from the law. Abortion had now become an area where the writ of law did not apply.

Dr Wall could not find employment. He turned to wood-turning in his garage for income and eventually moved with his family to Australia.

By 1983, it was accepted that Parliament's intention with the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act was routinely ignored by certifying consultants. The Abortion Supervisory Committee, the statutory body that administered the consultants, repeatedly rejected requests to intervene.

Read the full story here.
Although some fathers have gone to Court to try and prevent their child being aborted, New Zealand law does not give a father any rights in the matter.

Fathers and New Zealand Law
Although some fathers have gone to Court to try and prevent their child being aborted, New Zealand law does not give a father any rights in the matter.

A New Zealand Family Court decision has recognised a foetus a few weeks before birth as having some rights. The mother was 15 and pregnant. There was evidence that her boyfriend had been violent towards her.

Judge Inglis Q.C. took the view that the Children, Young Persons', and Their Families Act 1989 was not just limited to children once they were born, but also applied to children about to be born.

A restraining order was granted against the father to protect the unborn child. Fathers have responsibilities to their unborn children. (Baby P (an unborn child) [1985] NZFLR 577. Taken from Fatherhood and Family Law by Mark Henaghan)

In August 2003, Shaun Metcalf took his friends Geoffrey Ruaporo and Kyle Donovan to a park planning to repeatedly kick his former girlfriend in the stomach to procure a miscarriage.

Metcalf, sentenced in May 2004 to an 18-month term for trying to kill his, then unborn, child, was granted home detention after serving half his sentence. His victim sought a protection order that will keep him away from her and her baby daughter.

The risk of liability
A New Zealand barrister wrote an article which was published in (2001) 9 Journal of Law & Medicine 115. It was written with the intention of alerting health professionals of the risk of criminal and civil liability as a result of performing abortions in breach of the current New Zealand Law:

"The abortion law of New Zealand appears to have been interpreted very liberally over recent years by sectors of the medical profession. Indeed the interpretation of the law appears to have been so liberal that it raises questions as to the lawfulness of many of the abortions carried out in New Zealand.

"The current practice and application of the abortion law is such that it may expose some medical consultants certifying and performing abortions to criminal proceedings and civil claims."

It can be read in full at