Saving Downs and Spina Bifida New Zealand have mounting evidence that parents are being put under undue pressure to terminate wanted pregnancies when receiving a positive diagnosis of conditions such as Down syndrome and Spina Bifida. Our group positions are that children should not be selected based on their biological difference or disability and that we consider such practices to be discriminatory and eugenic. We advocate that antenatal screening should exist only to provide unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome, Spina Bifida and other conditions and, more importantly their families, with life-affirming, unconditional and unbiased care, support and accurate information about living positively with these conditions.
When the International Criminal Court announced their preliminary examination into our complaint against the New Zealand screening programme we started to gather evidence around parents experience with the programme. We are now seeing an emerging, and disturbing, clear pattern of inappropriate behaviour towards parents expecting a special needs baby.
We have decided to raise awareness of this issue and share a number of mother’s testimonies as we consider this an important issue of social justice for our communities. We hope that in doing so we will plant the seeds of positive change so that future parents can have a better pregnancy experience than those that we share below. Then as a community we can start the process of healing from this behaviour that devalues the lives of our beloved children and ultimately damages families.
In sharing this information it is important to understand the context of New Zealand law around abortion, particularly with regards to pregnancies involving conditions such as Down syndrome and Spina Bifida. This is covered under section 187A of the Crimes Act. This provides for abortion for foetal abnormality where:
“in the case of a pregnancy of not more than 20 weeks’ gestation….
…that there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would be so physically or mentally abnormal as to be seriously handicapped”
The law also provides for late term abortions (those beyond 20 weeks’ gestation) where:
“in the case of a pregnancy of more than 20 weeks’ gestation, the person doing the act believes that the miscarriage is necessary to save the life of the woman or girl or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.”
So, foetal abnormality is not a ground for an abortion beyond 20 weeks gestation. There is no provision in New Zealand law for either euthanasia or infanticide after birth, both are criminal acts.
Each of the testimonies listed below involve mothers with wanted pregnancies who have advised their health providers that abortion is not an option for them. Each of them has approached Saving Downs or Spina Bifida New Zealand with their concerns in the hope that the discrimination of disability directed abortion can be stopped. All of the stories involve recent experiences under New Zealand’s public health system.
So let’s get underway with some of the mother’s experiences. Keep in mind the 20 week cut for foetal abnormality being a ground for an abortion in New Zealand.
A mother whose child was diagnosed with Down syndrome at Auckland Hospital:
“I was offered a termination in New Zealand up to 24 weeks”.