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Judge upholds doctors’ stance on abortion advice

The High Court has upheld the right of doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion to opt out of giving advice to patients seeking the procedure.

The case, which was heard last month, was taken by a Wellington GP who objected to proposed changes to Medical Council guidelines on how doctors deal with abortion requests.

Justice Mackenzie found the guidelines went too far in requiring medical practitioners to provide information about abortions themselves, and requiring them to arrange or refer a patient to another doctor to discuss an abortion.

Dr Catherine Hallagan’s lawyer told the High Court in Wellington the new guidelines relating to belief and medical practice went beyond what the council might require of medical practitioners dealing with patients requesting an abortion.

The council’s lawyer argued they struck an appropriate balance between doctors’ and patients’ rights.

Justice Mackenzie found the proposed guidelines overstate the duty of a doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion, and need to be amended.

Dr Hallagan, who is from Wellington, says the decision vindicates the concerns that she had from the outset about aspects of the proposed guidelines.

Medical Council chairman John Adams says they had already been through a lengthy consultation and redrafting process before the court case began.

Dr Adams says the council will consider the court’s recommendations when it next meets in February.