Submission: Safe Areas at abortion centres impose unreasonable restrictions on peaceful citizens

Candlelight vigil 2021

Our organisation, Family Life International NZ, is opposed to the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill.  It is our position that the restrictions intended to be imposed on peaceful, responsible, and caring citizens are not reasonable in a free and democratic society. 

person holding baby s feet

In order to give a framework to our position, we wish to briefly discuss the realities of abortion; its impact on women, the nature of abortion procedures, and the development of the pre-born child.  It is important to address these facts as they provide the premise for a peaceful, prayerful presence outside abortion facilities.

We will then discuss our work in the community, serving pregnant mothers in their greatest hour of need, holding peaceful prayer vigils, and engaging respectfully with the public about the issue of abortion.

The reality of abortion

The debate has been had and pro-abortion advocates have obtained their long-awaited prize of normalizing abortion by labelling it essential “health care”.  Abortion is legally available on demand up until 20 weeks, and then up until birth with very subjective criteria.  Medical practitioners have been asked by Auckland DHB’s to put in tenders to provide abortion services as part of essential health services in the community.  While it is possible to hide behind the language of health and choice in order to continue to justify the practice of induced abortion, to do so would be untruthful.  The normalisation of abortion does not change the fact that the process is a violent, unnatural, and inhumane act.  People who are moved to be present outside an abortion facility recognize the truth about the dignity of both the mother and the preborn child.  This is why they cast aside their fears, and sacrifice their time so they can be peacefully present to pray, witness, and offer practical help.

The embryo and foetus are human beings

Basic biology tells us that human life begins at fertilization (conception).  No longer is the genetic material of two separate people (sperm and egg), but rather these have joined together to form a zygote.  The zygote is not of some random species quite separate from its genetic parents, but is, and can only be, human.  Over the coming days and weeks, the single cell, which carries all the genetic information needed for development to adulthood, will rapidly divide, passing through various stages until at about one week after fertilization the embryo implants in his or her mother’s womb.  Just 22 days after fertilization the heart begins to beat.  At this stage, most women will not be aware that they are pregnant.  By the end of the 8th week and the embryonic period, almost every structure found in an adult is present.1

Prenatal development attests to the fact that in an abortion, a living, developing, intricately formed human life is destroyed.  Pro-lifers who stand peacefully outside abortion facilities recognize and witness to the truth that nascent human life is in grave danger of death.

Abortion procedures are barbaric

The Ministry of Health’s Interim Standards for Abortion Services in New Zealand clearly explains which abortion procedures are to be employed at each stage of pregnancy.2  The procedures are not described for shock value, but rather to educate about the nauseating reality of the procedures.

Throughout all three trimesters of pregnancy both surgical and medical abortion is a possibility.

In an Early Medical Abortion (EMA) the first tablet mifepristone, blocks the action of progesterone effectively starving the growing foetus of the nutrients needed to survive.  The action of the second tablet misoprostol, a prostaglandin, will cause contractions to occur and the expulsion of the pre-born child, along with pregnancy tissue.   Although it is stated that an Early Medical Abortion is safer and more like a miscarriage for the woman, there is a risk of haemorrhage and other complications which are not insignificant for the individual who experiences them.  Women can, and do, change their mind after taking the first dose.

A suction abortion requires a cannula, the size of which is selected according to the gestation and size of the pre-born child.  The cannula is inserted into the womb through the woman’s manually dilated cervix.  Suction is applied, powered either manually through Manual Vacuum Aspiration or through an electrical connection.  The foetus is literally torn apart as the force pulls the body through the tubing.  The suction also clears the womb of pregnancy related tissue.  Curettage, the scraping of the lining of the womb with a sharp instrument, is not recommended by the Ministry of Health in its Interim Standards for Abortion Services.  It is necessary for the doctor to confirm that the abortion is complete.  This is done either by ultrasound, or by viewing the pregnancy tissue, including the foetal remains.

Medical abortions in the second and third trimester are technically an induction of labour, with the intention of delivering a dead baby.  After 22 weeks gestation the Ministry of Health, on the advice of the New Zealand Maternal Foetal Medicine Network, recommends that feticide is employed to ensure that the baby is not born alive.  Feticide is an injection of lignocaine or potassium chloride directly into the heart which causes foetal demise.

Gianna's Choice Pregnancy Options and Support

If an induction of labour is not possible because of medical indications, e.g. previous caesarean section or placenta previa, then a hysterotomy is performed.  Just as in a medical procedure, feticide takes place and the dead baby is delivered through an incision in the abdomen.  Typically, this procedure would take place in the third trimester.

After 15 weeks suction alone is no longer effective to complete an abortion, and so another procedure, a Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is employed.  A more accurate term for this form of abortion is “dismemberment abortion”.  In this procedure, the abortionist uses instruments to grab hold of foetal body parts.   Dr. Anthony Levatino, an American Obstetrician Gynaecologist who performed over 1200 abortions describes the procedure in this way:  “The abortionist uses this clamp to grasp an arm or a leg.  Once he has a firm grip, the abortionist pulls hard in order to tear the limb from the babies body.”  The body parts of the pre-born child must be pieced back together to ensure that nothing remains within the uterus which would cause infection.

These medical and surgical procedures are not carried out on tissue that belongs solely to the mother.  These are brutal acts of violence on the most vulnerable human beings among us.  As a society, we do not tolerate violence against children after they are born. Pro-lifers who stand peacefully outside abortion facilities do not tolerate violence against any children – born or yet to be born. 

Abortion harms women

The feminist and once pro-abortion activist Frederika Mathewes-Green once observed that “There is a tremendous sadness and loneliness in the cry ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”  Abortion is touted as a liberating experience for women, but the reality is it pits her own life against that of her preborn child, leaving her open to emotional trauma at some point in her life.

Many studies and meta-analysis papers have been conducted looking into whether abortion increases the risk of mental health risks.  In 2013, Professor David Fergusson and his team at the University of Otago re-appraised evidence and found that “there is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.”3  Problems cited included anxiety, alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse, and suicidal behaviour.

Some women carry the burden of their abortion experience throughout life.  They may experience guilt, depression, flashbacks, relationship problems and eating disorders.  Groups who support women by offering abortion recovery programmes see these problems arising in the lives of individuals.  Often the women are well advanced in years.

There are also physical complications to consider.  Depending on whether the procedure was a medical or surgical abortion, the woman may experience haemorrhage, infection, an incomplete abortion (particularly so with an EMA), perforation of the uterus, and cervical damage.  Some may be left infertile or unable to carry a pregnancy to term.  Others may experience placenta previa in subsequent pregnancies. 

Abortion is always spiritually damaging for women.

None of these complications should be taken lightly.  Pro-lifers who stand peacefully outside abortion facilities care about women and their psychological, emotional, and physical health.  In short, we love them both. 

Our life-affirming work

Founded in 1992, our organisation works to defend life and family in the context of our Catholic faith, while taking heed of science, reason, and ethics.  We have a three-pronged approach to our work of prayer, education, and service.  We are not ashamed of our faith for this is what animates our response to love and serve people in the difficulties they face, especially pregnant mothers in their greatest hour of need.  Here we briefly discuss our outreach of working directly with pregnant mothers in need followed by a more comprehensive review of the prayer vigils we organise.

Pregnancy Centre

Through Gianna’s Choice Pregnancy Options and Support, we serve the community by providing practical assistance, advocacy, and information regarding pregnancy options.4  Our pregnancy advocates work with a wide cohort of mothers and their families, some of whom require a great deal of support and additional services.  As part of our outreach, we work with women, men, and others who have lost a child through induced abortion.  Our collective experience is significant and we are conversant with the fears, pressures, emotions, and barriers that women are faced with when pregnant in difficult situations.

Prayer Vigils

In addition to our practical assistance to pregnant mothers, we organise prayer vigils outside abortion facilities.  These prayer vigils are not a protest.  We believe that there are other places, such as Parliament grounds, which are far more suited to protesting the legality and practice of abortion.  Our prayer vigils are peaceful gatherings where prayer and respectful conversation with the public takes place.  We offer practical help and support to abortion-bound mothers and their families.

The motivation of any person who stands in vigil outside an abortion facility will be particular to them, and usually deeply personal.  However, for each person who courageously stands in public on the footpath there is a common understanding that abortion is inherently wrong.  They understand that the taking of a nascent human life is against the natural order of humanity and they recognise the harm that abortion inflicts on mothers, fathers, families, and society.  Vigil participants are driven by love and compassion, both for the pre-born child and for his or her mother.

The reasons why we do not consider abortion to be just another abortion “health care” service have been discussed.  Abortion takes the life of a pre-born child, and we keep vigil while they are being subjected to a brutal death.  Our presence on the street reminds the community that something very unsavoury is happening in their neighbourhood which in turn leads them to critique their values. Being physically present extends other options to the abortion-bound mother who may be unsure of her decision.  We remind her that she is strong, there is hope, she is not alone.

Whether people choose to believe it or not, abortion offends the heart of God.  Our prayers and sacrifices are a spiritual work of mercy.  There will be, and are, negative consequences for our nation because of this evil.  We make reparation for this grave injustice and beg for His mercy at the site where this great atrocity occurs.  God does forgive, and He is merciful to all those who turn to Him. 

Every year we partner with the global organisation 40 Days for Life and sponsor vigils in Auckland and Wellington.  Each participant must sign a Statement of Peace which very clearly describes the type of behaviour that is expected.5  Participants are aware that even in the face of physical and verbal abuse, theft, and destruction of property, they must show self-control and respond in love and kindness.

The Statement of Peace has been adopted by our organisation year-round, and the same behaviour is expected at every vigil that takes place under our organisation’s name. 

Trained sidewalk advocates do approach members of the public.  At times those who are approached will be women attending an abortion appointment.  Often people will stop to discuss abortion or why we are standing on the street.  Respect, courtesy, and kindness guide all of our interactions with the public.  No person is ever obstructed from going into the abortion facility.

On occasion we have very large prayer vigils outside the Auckland Medical Aid Centre or Wellington Regional Hospital where the Te Mahoe clinic is situated.  These larger gatherings always take place in the evening or on a weekend.  There is no possibility of intimidation, interfering or obstructing anyone entering the abortion facility because at these times it is closed. 

Positive feedback

When some Members of Parliament spoke at the First Reading of this Bill, they painted a picture of pro-life advocates which was misleading.  Over the course of nearly three decades many people have turned to us for help or shared their stories and gratitude.  The following stories are but a small sample.

In 2018, a young woman approached a prayer volunteer and told him that at about the same time the previous year she had an appointment at the abortion facility.  When she arrived, people were standing on the pavement just as he was and she lingered near them, listening to the prayers and speaking only briefly, never letting on that she had an abortion appointment.  “I went home that day without keeping my appointment” she explained, “my son is now three months old – thank you.”

That same year a couple were told by abortion centre staff to return in the early afternoon to begin the abortion process, so they went home to wait.  Undecided, the husband returned to the vigil site and took down the number on the sign offering help and returned home to his wife.  From there, multiple texts were exchanged with FLI’s pregnancy centre discussing their situation and asking what kind of assistance could be given.  The couple decided not to go through with the abortion.  A team member from FLI was at the couple’s house that afternoon helping with housework, which was a real need at the time, and we were able to assist them throughout the pregnancy.

Sometimes we never speak to the woman herself but to others who are concerned for her well-being. For instance, a woman stopped by at 40 Days for Life to speak with a prayer volunteer and took written material for her friend who was considering having an abortion. Her pregnant friend received the material and after reading it expressed her surprise that she was not the only one in this situation.  She felt empowered to choose life for her little one.

On another occasion a passer-by was stunned to see that the image of a pre-born infant on our sign.  Why?  She was being pressured to have an abortion, and had been told that her baby resembled a pea in size and form. However, seeing our sign was the second confirmation that afternoon that her baby was well formed and at least 2.5 inches long. She left confident to ignore the pressure and give life to her baby.

There have been several times when women have apologised for their outbursts.  On one occasion, a young woman approached a prayer volunteer and apologised for the way she had treated him in the past.  She expressed her sorrow at her own abortion and explained that she was angry because she was hurting.  The woman was now grateful for the prolife presence on the street as it helped her come to terms with her own grief and to seek healing. 

The proposed restrictions are not reasonable in a free and democratic society

The Bill of Rights 1990 (5) provides for justified limitation of freedoms.  However, a reasonable person would expect that those justifications would only be warranted when there is serious danger to the public that can be substantiated.  Pro-life prayer volunteers are not aggressive, nor are they a danger to women seeking abortions or to those who work in abortion facilities.  On the contrary, they are compassionate, kind, and self-sacrificing.  They are the kind of citizens a strong society needs to thrive.

This Bill if passed as it is proposed would limit the ability of responsible and peaceful citizens to:

  • Freely express their opinions in a calm and peaceful manner.
  • Freely practice their beliefs in public.  Christians have a right to gather in public and practice their beliefs.  Praying outside an abortion centre is a spiritual work of mercy, not a protest.
  • Peacefully assemble on the street.
  • Be subject to the possibility of arbitrary arrest without a warrant when within a so-called “safe area”.

We have demonstrated that the prayer vigils which we organise are peaceful events and are not protests. Our purpose is to pray, have respectful conversations with members of the community, and offer practical help and support to abortion bound mothers and their families.

It is our belief that the current law provides sufficient protection for ensuring that peace is kept and that no person is the target of harassment. 

It is our position that the restrictions intended to be imposed on peaceful, responsible, and caring citizens are not reasonable in a free and democratic society.  If passed, it will set a dangerous precedent for any other activities which are deemed to be unacceptable.

The burden of proof is on the Health Committee to prove that intimidation, interference or obstruction occurs outside any abortion facility.  We invite members of the Committee, and in particular Louisa Wall, to join our prayer volunteers in a peaceful prayer vigil so that they can experience what it is we do and the various responses – good and bad – of the community to our presence. 


  1. The Endowment for Human Development. (n.d.). 
    This website is a well-researched and scientifically referenced resource about prenatal development.  Each developmental stage is well referenced.  For example, fourteen embryology and science texts were used to reference the heart beating at 22 days post fertilization.
  2. Ministry of Health. 2020. Interim Standards for Abortion Services. Wellington: Ministry of Health. 
  3. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Boden, J. M. (2013). Does abortion reduce the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy?  A re-appraisal of the evidence. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 47(9), 819–827.
  4. Gianna’s Choice Pregnancy Options and Support.  (n.d.).
  5. Family Life International NZ. (n.d.). Statement of Peace.

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