Consumer Group Under Attack From Member of Right-To-Life Society

A member of the Right to Life Society is threatening to take the Maternity Services Consumer Council (MSCC) to the Human Rights Commission and to lodge a complaint with the office of the Health & Disability Commissioner over their Screening during Pregnancy: Your Choice pamphlet produced by the Council. Informing women of their choices around all antenatal screening tests, including screening for Down syndrome and other conditions, is, according to the Right to Life society, a crime against humanity as well as being in contravention of various United Nations conventions.

In a long email sent on 5 January 2011 Mike Sullivan questioned the MSCC about an article on the MSCC’s website advising women about changes the Ministry of Health had introduced to Down syndrome screening. The Right to Life society considers screening for Down syndrome “constitutes genocide, which is a crime against humanity and a violation of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.“ The society has already taken the Ministry of Health to the Human Rights Tribunal on this very issue and having lost the case, they are now in the process of appealing the Tribunal’s decision.

The MSCC replied to Mr Sullivan’s email, stating that the MSCC is strongly supportive of women making informed choices around screening, and had written a pamphlet on the issue. The Council also advised him that LMC’s are required to offer women all of the screening tests that the Ministry of Health wishes them to offer, and quoted the relevant section of the 2007 Maternity Notice. The emails from Mr Sullivan continued and quickly became harassing and overbearing. His questions suggested that he was unaware that the MSCC is a consumer group. Upon being sent a copy of the MSCC’s Screening during Pregnancy: Your Choice pamphlet, he then sent another email demanding that the MSCC change the wording in the section in the pamphlet on amniocentesis.

When the MSCC politely advised Mr Sullivan that the tone of his emails was not proving to be at all constructive, and asked him to stop emailing the Council about the issue, he immediately responded with a threat to “pursue a formal complaint with the Health and Disability Commissioner for a breach of Right 2 of the Code.” Right 2 states that every consumer has the right to have services provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of the individual.

Ken Orr, the editor of the Right to Life society’s newsletter, then phoned the MSCC and began by unctuously commending the Council for its work in “protecting” mothers and babies. He began asking questions about where the MSCC got its funding and what funding it receives from the Ministry of Health. At this point the MSCC advised Mr Orr that he could obtain such information from both the Charities Commission website and the MSCC’s own website and ended the conversation. Mr Orr subsequently sent a letter to the Council written in the by now very familiar haranguing tone with the usual demand for compliance with his wishes.
What is it with these men who think they are entitled to bully organisations into producing information that they agree with or into removing health services that they don’t agree with?

The MSCC has taken independent legal advice and is following that advice, which was to ignore any further correspondence from members of the Right to Life society. It is hard to imagine how the Screening during Pregnancy: Your Choice pamphlet is in breach of Right 2 of the Consumers’ Code of Rights. It is also unlikely that having lost the first attempt to win a case against the Ministry of Health in the Human Rights Tribunal, Mike Sullivan will succeed with an attempt to make a case against the MSCC in the same forum.
What is of concern to all those working for women’s sexual and reproductive rights is that men like Mike Sullivan and Ken Orr feel free to indulge in haranguing and harassing women’s groups in an effort to get them to change their views and do as they are told.

February 2011