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Abortion law puts NZ Catholic schools at risk

A New Zealand law allowing girls of any age the right to an abortion without the knowledge or consent of their parents "is radically out of step with today's social and educational climate", according to Br Pat Lynch, the chief executive officer of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office.

NZ Catholic newspaper reports that the Care of Children Bill currently before Parliament to replace the Guardianship Act continues this 27-year old provision. But Br Lynch said the new bill is an opportunity to have this clause overturned.

"Given that schools require written permission from a parent or guardian for a child or young person to leave the school grounds for reasons such as a dentist's appointment, and schools are feeling vulnerable as regards the health and safety issues around outdoor education, clause 37 seems radically out of step with today's social and educational climate," said Br Lynch in a letter to boards of trustees.

"The clause also appears to fly in the face of attempts being made by schools to forge closer partnerships with parents and communities through greater transparency and consultation," he said.

"This clause places schools in a dangerous position where a representative of the school, such as school counsellor, might assist a young girl to procure an abortion without access to details of medical history which, in most cases, can only be provided by a family member.

"Few children under 16 would be aware of a family history of anaesthetic complications or clotting problems," he said.

Statistics for last year show 89 girls age 11-14 and 3757 aged 15-19 had abortions.

"It seems to me we are talking about a life-and-death situation," said Br Lynch. "This is not just a Catholic issue, or a moral issue, but one of health and safety and the law is radically out of step."

Asked about the situation in New Zealand Catholic schools, Br Lynch said that under current law there is no way of stopping a pupil from having an abortion, but guidance counsellors in Catholic schools should be upholding the Catholic character of the school.

If it was discovered that a guidance counsellor was advising or assisting a pupil to have an abortion that could be a serious breach of contract, he said. Parents also would have a legitimate argument before a judge that sending their child to a Catholic school meant they could expect Catholic teaching to be upheld. Br Lynch said that it was not only principals at Catholic schools who felt compromised by this law.

"This is not just a Catholic issue," he said. "Parents have a fundamental right to nurture and care for their children."

Abortion law puts schools at risk (NZ Catholic 11/7/04)

Catholic Education Office New Zealand
Ministry of Justice. Briefing on the Care of Children Bill

20 Jul 2004