Saturday, 14 July 2018

A short History of Wellington's Cathedral

On Sunday, 8 September 1850, the foundation stone of St. Mary’s Cathedral was blessed and laid, the bishop recording that more than two thousand of the townspeople attended the ceremony.

On 1 May 1851, the first anniversary of Bishop Viard’s arrival in Wellington, the cross was raised on the belfry of the Cathedral, and on Sunday, 7 December 1851, the building was blessed and opened.

Shortly after 8.30 on the morning of 28 November 1898, when the Cathedral was being repainted, a fire broke out in the tower. 

Within an hour the tower had fallen, and the interior of the Cathedral was a gutted ruin.

In the short time available to helpers before the Fire Brigade ordered the closing of the doors, many of the contents of the Cathedral were salvaged. The only insurance was £2,300 on the building itself. 

The organ and other furnishings were not insured.

On 30 November, two days after the fire, a public meeting was held “to take steps for erecting a church to replace St. Mary’s Cathedral”. 

It was decided that as the greater population had settled in the direction of Te Aro and Newtown, the new Cathedral should be built in that part of town, and that “a serviceable church in brick should be erected on the site of the old Cathedral”.

The building of the Basilica diverted funds from the Cathedral Trust, and in 1903 a new fundraising campaign was launched with an illustration of Mr Frank Petre’s proposed Romanesque design.

The design was described by the architect as Roman, bordering on to Florentine Renaissance, treated liberally” and the, reporter commented that “the exterior view of the Cathedral indicates that the building is of noble and imposing proportions”. It was to provide accommodation for 2,100 people.

In the event, the planned laying of the foundation stone at the end of 1913 was delayed and in 1914, came the outbreak of the First World War.

The late 1930s saw an end to the economic depression and a revival of interest in the Cathedral project. 

Another plan was prepared, this time by Messrs Clere & Clere, who submitted a design for a Gothic type Cathedral to seat 2240. Cardinal Hinsley, the Archbishop of Westminster, agreed to come to New Zealand for the laying of the Foundation Stone, but the uneasy peace of 1938 was succeeded by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

From war’s end till the mid 1970′s more pressing needs of the Church prevented any further progress towards the new Cathedral until on Sunday 18 March 1984, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, erected on the site of the destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral, was solemnly dedicated by Cardinal Thomas Williams as the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese.

On the 21 of February 1985, Cardinal Thomas Williams commissioned a Cathedral Project Committee to comprise the following: the Dean of the Cathedral, two members of the Parish Finance Committee, two members of the Archdiocesan Property Committee and the Financial Administrator and Property Manager of the Archdiocese.

The first task was to determine the life expectancy of the Cathedral. This involved the examination and analysis of the fabric of the building to determine the merits and demerits of its restoration. Reports were obtained from expert stonemasons, engineers, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Building Research Institute on every component of the building.

 It was clearly established that the building was worthy of restoration, preservation and strengthening.

The next task was to design the strengthening of the Cathedral and the additional facilities to be added so as to make it a Cathedral in fact as well as in name.

 The Committee retained the professional services of Allan Morse, Architect, C A Dunning, Consulting Engineers and Knapman Clark & Co, Quantity Surveyors.

In July 1986 a contract was able to be let for the works which were scheduled for completion in September 1987. The works involved the demolition of the old wooden Presbytery at 10 Guildford Terrace and the old brick Redwood Houses in Hill Street.

The project presented the Group with many challenges which required balancing the specifications for the “new Cathedral” against the integrity of the existing building both in terms of its strength and characteristics.

The development of the Cathedral did not stop with the reopening but involved a second and exciting stage which was the Piazza and forecourt. 

This element of the Cathedral was included in the development of the neighbouring chancery for the Archdiocese and created a true Cathedral precinct for the Church and people of the Archdiocese of Wellington.


Sacred Heart Cathedral to close doors due to earthquake damage

Sacred Heart Cathedral in Thorndon closed its doors today, in the interest of safety for parishioners and the public, following a structural engineer’s report confirming it presents a significant risk to occupants in the event of an earthquake.

Following a verbal report from structural and civil engineers, Dunning and Thornton, the Parish Committee has been working through a process of due diligence regarding the structural condition of the Cathedral. 

Yesterday, it received a peer review of the detailed seismic assessment (DSA) that recently advised that the Cathedral was ‘earthquake prone’ under the Building Act 2004. Both reports have confirmed that the Cathedral currently presents a significant risk to occupants in the event of an earthquake.

The Cathedral, designed by architect Francis Petre, was opened in 1901. In contrast to most other Wellington churches, it’s classical rather than Gothic styling has made it a prominent building on the Thorndon landscape. The Cathedral is one of only a few fine examples of Petre’s work still standing today.

In the 1980s the Cathedral was strengthened and the complex enlarged to include the foyer, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and Connolly Hall. This work was done well and the building elements that were strengthened remained rated well above the 33% minimum of NBS. 

However, at roof level, ceiling diaphragms are insufficient to carry loads under the current building codes. This has resulted in their lower earthquake rating being applied to the building.

The closure will come as a shock not only to the parishioners, but also the wider community. Many have found the Cathedral a place of spiritual enrichment, a place of beauty, and a place to take time out from busy city life. Its fine acoustics and organ have also provided a home to musicians and community groups who have used it for concerts and recordings.

While the detailed planning for remediation work has not started yet, it is likely that the building will be closed for several years and the work will cost several million.

Raising the funds for this essential work is now the priority. The Cathedral Parish will be enlisting the help of the people of Wellington and others to preserve this Wellington landmark.

While the Cathedral is closed, weekday masses will take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral school in the short term and Sunday masses will be celebrated at St Mary’s College Hall, Guildford Terrace. Further information can be found at


13 July 2018

Amanda Gregan
Communications Advisor - NZ Catholic Bishops
Te Huinga o ngā Pīhopa Katorika o Aotearoa
Ph: 04 496 1725
Fax: 04 496 1770
Mobile: 021 611 052
T: @catholicnz

For further information please contact the Parish Office 04 496 1700 

  • November 2016 following the Kaikoura earthquake a rapid assessment by Dunning Thornton confirmed that no significant damage was observed.
  • 2017 Dunning Thornton commissioned by the Parish to undertake DSA (Detailed Seismic Assessment) in two stages. Stage 1 completed September 2017 confirmed building rating to be around 40% of NBS and identified areas for further investigation as part of Stage 2.
  • 8 May 2018 Stage 2 Interim report identified potential earthquake-prone risk. Sacred Heart Cathedral School advised and stopped using Cathedral complex and Connolly Hall due to possible fall.
  • 25 May DSA Results Summary received. Confirming that due to deficiencies in detailing of ceiling diaphragms the Cathedral rating was less than 33% of NBS. (confirming earthquake-prone rating). Peer review of the Dunning Thornton work commissioned.
  • 3 July 2018 Dunning Thornton full report received, and earthquake-prone notification displayed.
  • 11 July 2018 peer review received confirming earthquake status as less than 15% of NBS.
  • 12 July 2018 Cathedral Finance committee met and recommended immediate closure until
    remedial work to bring the structure up to at least 33% of NBS can be undertaken.
  • 13 July 2018 Cathedral complex closed. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

On tour the the Dunedin diocese with Fr Chris Skinner

Fr Chris Skinner delighted school children teachers and parishioners as he toured through the Dunedin Diocese earlier this month. Travelling in mid-winter was an opportunity to see beautiful scenery and even a bit of snow. 

God was with us, and no roads were closed.

St Joseph's School Queenstown warmed up the church for us on Monday afternoon as the children sang, listened and learned the actions to Fr Chris's uplifting music. 

His sense of fun and real joy was contagious, and all were smiles during his concert. Later in the afternoon, our Catholic School teachers from all over Central Otago gathered to be delighted by his music and inspired by his spiritually as he spoke about the liturgy of the mass. 

After Queenstown a journey through the snow-covered Ida Valley to Ranfurly for a school concert to an excited, group of children who knew Fr Chris's music and sang along beautifully. 

Then to Oamaru for another concert and Parish Teacher session in the late afternoon.  Fr Chris had spent many hours preparing for the Teacher and Parish sessions, and this showed as he was able to adapt to each different group as he responded to their questions.

Next stop was Dunedin, where parish musicians gathered at Holy Name on Wednesday night to enjoy Fr. Chris’s musical gifts and liturgical wisdom.  
He spoke to us of how we all bring our own lived experience of the liturgy to our parish music ministry.   It was really refreshing to hear someone speaking to us who is fully immersed in our own kiwi context.
The following day was a wonderful afternoon was spent with Fr Chris in the St Peter Chanel Church in Green Island where Fr Chris was able to share his Marist story as well as his music and, wisdom on the liturgy, with the teachers who had gathered from Dunedin and the surrounding districts. 

In Balclutha family seemed to come from everywhere for the school concert. Cousins of all ages appeared and enjoyed with the children and teachers at St Joseph's school. 

Onto Invercargill where teachers travelled from all over Southland, Winton, Bluff and Gore to join the Invercargill teachers at St Patrick's Church. 

The recent video clips created by the Christchurch Diocese of Bishop Peter Cullinane, presenting on the mass, were of great benefit to the sessions and enhanced Fr Chris's wonderful input.  

Fr. Chris finished his marathon tour of nearly two weeks in Gore, the geographical heart of our Diocese.  Here he did a school concert at St. Mary’s in the morning and an evening session at Blessed Sacrament Church for parish musicians.
One of the gifts of Chris’s tour was how he went around to so many places in our diocese.  
It was a nice follow up to his tour 2016 tour of the Dunedin Diocese where he taught us all his Hopetoun Mass, which is being sung in many parishes. 
 Touring and teaching in all parts of our Diocese has brought a liturgical cohesiveness which helps us feel more as one.  We also like to claim Fr. Chris as one of our own as he has some strong roots in the Balclutha/Tuapeka Mouth areas of Otago.  
We all felt utterly blessed by Fr. Chris Skinner’s prayerful spirit, which came through each concert and workshop he offered to us here in the Dunedin Diocese.

What a trip.

Katrina van der Water/Amy Armstrong

For further information on Fr Chris’ latest music and a list of categories suitable for parish and school settings see his website Photos of the tour can be viewed on

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

New look for Catholic Discovery

The Catholic Enquiry Centre (CEC) has unveiled new Catholic Discovery branding, as it seeks increased engagement with different audiences, including those with and those without Christian Faith, those active in the Church and those who have left, inviting them all to discover more about our community and the Church today.

Last year, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) set out a new mandate for the CEC, updating their core work for a new era, to become better connected with the Bishops’ work in dialogue with society and actively developing leaders and faith communities to assist in this work.

The CEC has been charged with finding ways of reaching out through social media and digital marketing, as well as through the individual and collective leadership present in our parish and school communities.

CEC Director, Fr Neil Vaney says, “Catholic Discovery involves the process of learning about our faith. Our approach with teaching is to utilise online platforms. We know our audiences use these channels. We want to share faith-based messages that people potentially cannot access elsewhere.”

“As part of this we have built Catholic Discovery and established branding that is more visual and vibrant. This fresh look better reflects our commitment to today’s missionary challenges. The new logo offers a modernised presentation and will be used on our digital platforms.

The icon, he says, is purposefully ambiguous. When looking at it, you may see a flame, a path or even a dove. These are all traditional symbols of Catholicism. The new logo is a metaphor that shows one can find many things within our faith.

The colour purple has been used to represent Christ’s suffering on the cross.
The logo will be used across our social media platforms. 

Please do visit to follow our page and share our content and follow us on Twitter at

We’re currently reviewing the website and creating an Instagram account.
We are always looking for good stories. If you have done something special or noteworthy within our community, please do let the Catholic Enquiry Centre know.

Tel. 04 385 8518

Amanda Gregan
Communications Advisor - NZ Catholic Bishops
Te Huinga o ngā Pīhopa Katorika o Aotearoa

20 June 2018

Tuesday, 12 June 2018


12 June 2018

Yesterday, representatives of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) presented their serious reservations over David Seymour’s ‘End of Life ChoiceBill to the Justice Select Committee.

The Justice Select Committee heard Bishop Charles Drennan and Dr Caroline Newson, who works in acute psychiatry medicine, speak on the proposed Bill. New Zealand’s foremost bioethics agency, The Nathaniel Centre, was represented by Centre Director, Dr John Kleinsman and Researcher, Sue Buckley.

Bishop Charles acknowledged the selfless staff working in rest homes, hospices and hospitals who accompany the dying and their families and whanau daily. He noted the Church’s long involvement in palliative care and referred to the first hospice in New Zealand, founded by the Little Company of Mary, a group of Catholic sisters, who advocated in the early 1970s to set up beds to nurse the dying and established the Mary Potter Hospice.

Bishop Charles argued against the Bill’s narrative, based on the premise of individual choice. He said, “choice is good but not always good. What is important is to choose what is right or dignified or best”. 

Bishop Charles’ main argument was that the Bill if passed would usher in a regressive unnecessary backwards move. New Zealand prides itself on being a progressive nation and to be truly progressive is to challenge ageist attitudes and eliminate the sense that being sick or old or dependent equates to being a burden. 

He stressed that assisted suicide of the elderly or sick, like the tragedy of youth suicide, would be a cause of great whakamā or shame for Aotearoa.

In her statement, Dr Caroline Newson said this Bill would contradict the Government’s pledge to better support mental health, making it legal for those with a mental illness to have a doctor assist their suicide.

Dr Newson continued, emphasising that euthanasia and assisted suicide had no place in healthcare and that doctors did not want nor should have imposed upon them the burden of being the ones to end people’s lives when they were trained to provide care and give hope to their patients.

“This Bill places a heavy burden upon the Medical profession to aid in the suicide of, or actively kill a person who seeks such an end to their life and is deemed to satisfy the Bill’s eligibility criteria,” she said.

In his presentation to the Committee, Dr Kleinsman spoke to the Bill’s problems; its imprecise terminology, vague and subjective language around eligibility, failure to consider broader social implications and the ethical contradiction of involving doctors in ending the lives of their patients – “we should not ask doctors to be ‘life takers’ as well as ‘life savers’.” 

He spoke too to the impossibility of ensuring people were not coerced, a point made by various other medical groups during the day, as well as the absence of effective safeguards within the proposed legislation.

 Citing the growing rates of elder abuse as well as growing social isolation amongst older people along with an increased sense amongst our elders that they are a burden, Kleinsman added: “There has never been a more dangerous time to implement an assisted death regime in New Zealand.”

Dr Kleinsman also warned against the slow creep of eligibility and cited international examples where the year on year increase of numbers of Euthanasia is rising steeply. 

The practice of Euthanasia, Dr Kleinsman said in his submission, is contributing to a “new norm around dying” in places such as Belgium and the Netherlands whose regimes are very similar to the propropsed legislation

The NZCBC’s social justice agency, Caritas also presented to the Select Committee.
The timetable for the Justice Select Committee's report on the End of Life Choice Bill has been extended after a record number of submissions were received. The select committee will report back to Parliament at the end of March next year.

Ko te Huinga Pīhopa o te Hāhi Katorika o Aotearoa (NZCBC) te kāhui whakahaere o ngā mahi whakapono a-motu me ngā rōpū minita o te Hāhi Katorika. Otirā ngā rōpū mātauranga, tika me te pono, kaitohutohu Māori, whakapaoho whakawhiti whakaaro me te toro atu ki te iwi nui tonu, ritenga o te Hāhi, whakawhanaungatanga o ngā Hāhi, matatika koiora, whakawhanaungatanga o ngā whakapono, mahi minita ki ngā whareherehere me ngā hohipera, oti atu.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) is the assembly of the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand coordinating national activities and ministries of the Catholic Church. These include education, social justice, Māori advisory, communications and engagement with the public, liturgy, ecumenism, bioethics, interfaith relations, pastoral work in prisons and hospitals, and more.

Their media statement on their submission can be found by visiting their website at

Others presenting to the Select Committee included Not Dead Yet Aotearoa, Care Alliance, Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, Grace Presbyterian Church of NZ, Palliative Care Nurses, Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine and Hospice New Zealand. 

Catholic Educators Gather for Triennial Convention

Eight hundred Catholic educators are gathering in Wellington this week at the TSB Arena to celebrate Catholic education in New Zealand.

The nation’s Bishops will be present, and virtually every Catholic school will have delegates attending. Teachers from schools and Catholic tertiary educators will present a range of seminars.

International speakers are coming from the United States, England and Australia, and speaking on topics as diverse as Catholic schools and the Possibility of God, Responding to Christ’s Call in the Age of Pope Francis, and Catholic Education and the Art of Accompaniment.

Catholic schools make up 8.4% of the Government’s overall provision for education. There are 238 schools, with 66,000 students.

Catholic schools were among the first to integrate, following the 1975 integration legislation, and they have a long partnership with the state, providing high quality education across all deciles.

The triennial conventions are designed to ensure that Catholic schools remain authentic in their commitment to Church and State, as vibrant communities of faith and learning.

Paul Ferris, the CEO of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office, which has organised the event, said, “While managing these events is a huge task, it is important because it reminds our community of our diversity and our national coverage.”

Minister Jenny Salesa is unwell and will not be able to present to the convention as planned, but she will be represented by Iona Holsted, the Secretary for Education.

In a year when the Government is undertaking reviews of many aspects of education, it is important that Catholic schools review the ways in which they play a critical part in the delivery of education, and consider what works well for them. 

Highlights include:

  • David Wells, international presenter based in England -  Keynote “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me” – Catholic Education and the Art of Accompaniment.

  • Franciscan priest Daniel Horan, from the United States Keynote Address: “The Joy of Christian Foolishness: Responding to Christ’s Call to Discipleship in the Age of Pope Francis”


Amanda Gregan
Communications Advisor - NZ Catholic Bishops

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Review of the Abortion Laws in New Zealand Submission to the Law Commission – May 2018

Joint submission by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference & The Nathaniel Centre The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference is the national assembly of the Catholic Bishops of
Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Nathaniel Centre is an agency of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, responsible for addressing bioethical and biotechnology issues on behalf of the Catholic Church in New Zealand.

The Status of Unborn Human Life: Our Position
The debate about when human life begins is uncontroversial. As reported by the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (1977): “From a biological point of view there is no argument as to when life begins. Evidence was given to us by eminent scientists from all over the world. None of them suggested that human life begins at any time other than conception.”

The ethical questions around abortion and research on embryos centre on the sort of respect or protection we should accord human life; in particular, whether it is ethically consistent to accord a different level of respect to humans in the earliest stages of life, as well as whether there are ever factors that mitigate the respect due to human life at any stage of development.

Most people, whatever their position on issues such as abortion or embryo research, agree that human life deserves a ‘special’ status even if they do not accord unborn human life the same moral status as human life post-birth. The belief held by some that the life of a human embryo matters less than other human life at a more developed stage may reflect the fact that it is largely unseen. However, an embryo is not simply a collection of cells that happen to be contiguous. 

These cells are a human embryo, a new human individual and part of the human family. Embryos and foetuses become children just as children become adults, not by some addition to what they are, but simply by developing further as the kind of beings they already are.

The common understanding of personin our culture has, latterly, been shaped by an emphasis on self-consciousness as the mark of personhood. A much older understanding of person, however, locates personhood in the dignity of a being's rational nature, irrespective of whether that being is even ‘consciousat a particular phase in his or her life. According to this traditional view, there is nothing problematic about saying that an unborn child or a persistently unconscious patient is a person, for they are truly our fellow human beings.

Recognising that the status of the human embryo or fetus flows from their inherent connection to the human family is key to understanding why Catholic teaching holds they ought to be treated with unconditional respect whatever the stage of development a life is begun which is neither that of the mother nor the father. It is already the human being it will always be and will only grow in size and complexity. Mothers instinctively recognise this by invariably referring to the embryo or foetus within the womb as their baby.

On that basis, embryos and foetuses are entitled to be granted a place in the human family and treated with the same respect as persons. As the Royal Commission stated: “The unborn child, as one of the weakest, the most vulnerable, and most defenceless forms of humanity, should receive protection.”

Introductory Comments:
  1. There is a lack of clarity that has led to confusion in the community about the precise meaning of the brief that has been given to the Law Commission by the Minister of Justice. We are assuming that the wish to treat abortion as “a health issue that is a reproductive choice for women1 centres around a wish to provide for ‘abortion on demand’ in New Zealand that is, a wish to make it a decision solely between a woman and a doctor as is the case for reproductive choices involving contraception. However, this is nowhere clearly spelled out, something which makes it difficult to comment on your brief in a truly informed way.
  2. If our assumption is correct, then what the Law Commission is being asked to do represents a significant policy change. As we understand it, the current law, as set out in the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (CS&A) Act 1977 and the Crimes Act 1961, sets up a ‘tension’ between the needs and desires of the woman and the rights of the foetus/unborn child and seeks to balance both. Making abortion solely “a health issue that is a reproductive choice” would ignore this tension, removing any requirement to consider the rights of the unborn child.
  3. Meanwhile, we note that in public comments explaining your brief,2 you state that the Law Commission will not be commenting on policy issues.
  4. In our minds there is a degree of incongruity between the brief and your public comments. In which case we interpret your comments about policy to mean that it is not part of your task to recommend that any changes be made to the eligibility criteria for abortion or to promote any alternative approaches as preferable to the existing policy approach.
  5. The public and other interested parties have a right to be fully consulted on any changes to the current policy approach, including eligibility criteria. It concerns us that the Law Commission could potentially be cooperating in a policy change by stealth.
  6. That your brief falls short of the “full review of the legislation” that Justice Minister Andrew Little was reported as saying “would first take place” adds to our concern about a lack of proper process on what is a critically important piece of legislation.3
  7. In line with the Catholic position stated above, we are opposed to any change in the law which would either lessen or, worse, totally remove the (limited) rights the current law accords to the unborn child. The changes we would advocate for (and which would not constitute a policy change) are those which would (i) ensure continued consideration of the rights of the unborn child and (ii) promote the well-being of women, including better processes to ensure adequate informed consent.
  8. Indeed, along with the 65% of New Zealanders identified in the 2017 Curia Poll,4 we would like to see changes implemented that would further reduce the number of abortions occurring in New Zealand.

1  Letter from Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern to Hon Andrew Little, released under the Official Information Act – not dated.Radio New Zealand, Sunday 22 April, “Commissioning Changes”. Interview with Hon Sir Douglas White, QC, Law Commission. Craig McCulloch, “No abortion changes until ‘well into next year’”, 2 November 2017,, accessed 17 May 2018.
Curia Market Research. Abortion Poll, February 8, 2018, 2

  1. We understand that under current law there is no rightto have an abortion in New Zealand and that administering (or supplying the means for procuring) an abortion is unlawful except when certain eligibility criteria are met as spelt out in Sec 187A of the Crimes Act 1961. The current situation is arguably well-described as providing for ‘abortion on request’ insofar as any discussion about abortion must be initiated by the woman but ultimately depends on two appointed doctors being satisfied that critical eligibility criteria are met.
  2. We note that there are certain groups and individuals pushing for change who claim that the current law criminalises women. Sec. 183 of the Crimes Act 1961 specifically states that “a woman (or girl) shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section” (the relevant section being that which describes unlawful abortions). We therefore regard such claims as both inaccurate and mischievous under current abortion legislation, women are not liable for prosecution except in situations where they attempt to procure their own abortion, something we comment on below.
Our Key Arguments:
  1. The tensionthat we believe characterises the current regime (see above) is revealed in the legislation in several places:
    a. It is spelt out in Section 30(5) of the CS&A Act which stipulates that the appointment of members to the Abortion Supervisory Committee should have regard to views ‘incompatible’ with the tenor of the CS&A Act. The views described as ‘incompatible’ are: (a) that an abortion should not be performed in any circumstances:
    (b) that the question of whether an abortion should or should not be performed in any case is entirely a matter for the woman and a doctor to decide.
    b. It is also evident in the longer title of the CS&A Act: An Act ... to provide for the circumstances and procedures under which abortions may be authorised after having full regard to the rights of the unborn child ...
    c. That the unborn child has a status that gives it rights is also upheld in Section 182 of the Crimes Act (“Killing unborn child”) which, we note, you have been instructed need not be reviewed (Letter from Minister of Justice Hon Andrew Little to Hon Sir Justice White QC, 27 February 2018 letter released under the Official Information Act). Logically speaking, the ongoing existence of Section 182 and the existence of a parallel law making abortions solely a matter between the woman and her doctor, would set up an inherent contradiction between two laws.
  2. Making abortion solely a health issue, in the sense of making it merely a matter between a woman and her doctor, will deny many women the chance to manage the tension that lies at the heart of all abortion decisions. That is, it will deny women the chance to deal with abortion as a significant ‘moral issue’ involving the ending of a human life. This, we argue, would not be in women’s interests. As the feminist writer Naomi Wolf has stated: “I will maintain that we need to contextualise the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that the death of a foetus is a real death: that there are degrees of culpability, judgment and responsibility involved in the decision to abort a pregnancy; that the best understanding of feminism involves holding women as well as men to the responsibilities that are inseparable from their rights...”5.

5 “Naomi Wolf on Abortion: ‘Our Bodies, Our Souls". New Statesman 27 January 2013

  1. Most women understand that an abortion, whatever the reason they are contemplating it, has significant moral implications. This is signified, among other things, by the way women who have had abortions commonly speak of their childrather than using terms such as the products of conception. In a peer-reviewed qualitative exploration of women’s needs and preferences in clinical care during the process of having an abortion, one of the strong themes to emerge was that women want to be recognised as “grappling with a real-life moral decision”; to be affirmed as “moral decision-makers”, something that only occurs “when medical personnel recognized this conflict and affirmed the decision as moral ...”6
  2. Using language which either denies what is happening or which disguises the complexity and moral dimensions of abortion, is ultimately not in the interests of women. Equally, and even while it might be presented as empowering women to make their own decisions without interference from the State or others, creating an altered legal regime that frames abortion as being solely about the well-being of the mother will potentially undermine women’s sense that abortion is a serious moral issue and, consequently, their moral agency. Were that to eventuate, the State would be party to undermining the true ‘moral’ dimension of abortion and would be potentially contributing to poorer outcomes for many women.
  3. It is our considered and strongly held view that the tension that characterises the current legal approach must be retained. To be retained, it must be reflected in the legal framework governing access to abortion.
  4. There are three other important reasons for retaining certain provisions relating to abortion in the Crimes Act that we wish to highlight:
    1. Under the current law, there is protection provided to women from unscrupulous abortion providers. This needs to remain and it is proper that the Crimes Act continue to spell out sanctions to prevent and/or punish such actions.
    2. The increased use of medical abortifacients and their ready availability from other countries via the internet, means that some women may seek to import such drugs and take them without proper medical supervision. This is particularly a risk for young women who feel the need to keep their pregnancy and abortion decision secret. Whether they import the drugs directly or fall prey to unscrupulous providers, it is for the protection of these women that the importation of such drugs must be restricted in law.
    3. If treating abortion as a health issue that is a reproductive choicemeans, as we suggested above, ‘abortion on demand’, then this allows for abortion for any reason, including gender selection and disability. These reasons for abortion are highly contentious. We note here the Curia poll of 1,000 New Zealand residents7 which found that only 9 percent of respondents supported sex selective abortions, and 90 percent were opposed. For females, only 1 percent supported sex selective abortion while 94 percent opposed it.
  5. For all the reasons spelled out above, we argue that abortion needs to be treated as both a justice and a health issue. We argue this requires legislation which clearly and precisely specifies the circumstances under which abortion remains unlawful and under which abortion providers will be prosecuted for unlawful abortions.
  6. In support of our position we note that the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) has not been advocating for a significant change in the way that abortions are administered in New Zealand. In the 2017 Report to Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, the ASC stated that: The ASC does not

6 Altshuler, A. L., Ojanen-Goldsmith, A., Blumenthal, P. D., & Freedman, L. R. (2017). A good abortion experience: A qualitative exploration of women's needs and preferences in clinical care. Social Science & Medicine, 191, 109-116. 7 Curia Market Research. Abortion Poll, February 8, 2018,

propose amendments that would change the original intent of the Act.
  1. Furthermore, and importantly, in the same 2017 Report it is written that “[T]he ASC recognises the merit in having a robust pathway in place, which requires certifying consultants to assess and certify patients and to ensure counselling is offered.While there are some who argue that the current law disempowers women because it makes what should be a personal decision subject to external interference, to cumbersome and intrusive legal and procedural obstacles, we argue that choices are always limited by the constraints of knowledge and by context, including coercion8,9. As The Nathaniel Centre has previously stated:
    Many women, after the event, report feeling that they had no other option at the time but to proceed, often because of pressure from parents, partner and/or peers. At times this pressure is also experienced as coming from staff at the Termination of Pregnancy Units. For other women, the pressure they feel is generated by employment or social factors. In the words of another commentator, in such situations, the decision for an abortion is best described as a tragic response to lack of choice.10
  2. It is therefore in the interest of free and informed consent that all women should be offered independent counselling that (i) addresses the coercive realities surrounding many abortions and (ii) canvasses the other options that exist. The law has an important role in ensuring that women are given the opportunity to understand and work with the complex moral, personal, family and social contexts within which they find themselves contemplating an abortion. ‘Abortion on demand’ will not achieve this. In other words, it is important to keep in place carefully considered eligibility criteria as well as providing a robust pathway of options that is clearly laid out in law.
  3. Furthermore, reducing abortion decision-making to ‘a reproductive choice for women’ denies the fact that many others are involved in and/or impacted by the decision. As Germaine Greer has written:
    Pregnancy is unlike other patient-doctor relations in that there are two other individuals involved - the father-to-be and the child-to-be ... What women ‘wonwas the rightto undergo invasive procedures in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies - unwanted not just by them but by their parents, their sexual partners, the governments who would not support mothers, the employers who would not employ mothers, the landlords who would not accept tenants with children, the schools that would not accept students with children.11
  4. Women are reported in the literature as taking into account a range of persons and factors when contemplating an abortion including the woman herself, the potential child, her sexual partner,

8 Jones, R. K., Frohwirth, L., & Moore, A. M. (2013). More than poverty: Disruptive events among women having abortions in the USA. The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 39(1), 36: “More than half (57%) of the women obtaining abortions experienced a potentially disruptive event within the last year, most
commonly unemployment (20%), separation from a partner (16%), falling behind on rent/mortgage (14%) and/or moving multiple times (12%).

9 Hall, M., Chappell, L. C., Parnell, B. L., Seed, P. T., & Bewley, S. (2014). Associations between intimate partner violence and termination of pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Medicine, 11(1): “Among women who underwent TOP, reported rates of IPV in the preceding year ranged from 2.5% to 30%, while
lifetime rates of IPV in this population varied from 14% to 40%
.” (TOP refers to “termination of pregnancy” and IPV refers to “intimate partner violence”.)
10 Piper, C. and Kleinsman, J. Editorial Why are abortion advocates afraid of informed choice? The Nathaniel Report, 51, April 2017.
11 Greer, Germaine. The Whole Woman. Black Swan. London. 2011.

existing children, the extended family, and financial matters.12 Women contemplating an abortion are well aware of the broader ramifications of such a decision and it would be a moral and social disservice to them if the language and regulatory frameworks around abortion conveyed something different. The legal model for regulating abortions in New Zealand must acknowledge and account for this broader reality. A narrow framework focussed solely on the mother will not achieve this.
  1. If the law is to protect and promote genuine informed consent, then women contemplating abortion must be given the time and support required to make a genuine decision. A decision for an abortion can only be described as a truly ‘free’ choice’ if the woman knows there is tangible support (familial, financial, emotional, social) that enables her to choose to keep the child. This requires a parallel review of the social support structures that our society offers to women who are pregnant.
  2. We note that the health risks associated with an abortion are widely acknowledged in the research literature. While there is some disagreement in the research literature about the extent of the negative health consequences of abortion for women, the negative effects on some women are incontestable. This provides a further reason in our minds for clearly laid out and robust processes, including the funding and availability of independent counselling provided by an individual or organisation other than the abortion provider.
  3. Referring again to the 2017 ASC Report, as well as the 2016 Report, we do agree that some of the language used in the present CS&A Act is outdated and clumsy and needs to be reviewed.
  4. Public awareness of the complexities of this issue is illustrated in the Curia Poll13 referred to above. Some of the findings of this poll include:
    1. 52 percent of respondents ‘generally support abortion’ but 29 percent ‘oppose’ and 19 percent were ‘unsure/refuse’;
    2. Of respondents aged 18 to 40 years, only 47 percent ‘support’ abortion, with 34 percent opposed and 19 percent ‘unsure/refuse’.
    3. 65 percent of respondents agree that society should work together to reduce the number of abortions; only 17 percent disagree;
    4. Of those who generally support abortion, 63 percent agree we should reduce the number of abortions.
    5. Only 9 percent of respondents support a time limit of 20 weeks (the current legal limit); 4 percent support time limits over 20 weeks; 41 percent support time limits of 15 weeks or less.
  5. It is noteworthy that in New Zealand, abortion numbers and rates have been declining since 2007. That is, the numbers of abortions, the ratio of abortions (number of abortions per 1000 pregnancies) and the rate of abortion (number of abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44) have all declined. While the reasons for this are not understood, those on both sides of the divide can agree this is a good thing. We suggest that while the reasons for this decline are not understood, it is a precarious time to tamper with the law. Any proposed changes should be considered keeping this in mind.

12 Kirkman, M., Rosenthal, D., Mallett, S., Rowe, H., & Hardiman, A. (2010). Reasons women give for contemplating or undergoing abortion: A qualitative investigation in Victoria, Australia. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, 1(4), p. 152. See also Biggs, M. A., Gould, H., & Foster, D. G. (2013). Understanding why women seek abortions in the
BMC women's health, 13(1), 29.
13 The full results for this poll can be found at: content/uploads/2018/01/Abortion-Poll-Results-January-2018.pdf


Conclusion: ‘Abortion is both a health and a justice issue’
  1. Human life begins at conception and is entitled to the full protections offered to human persons from that point forward.
  2. The inherent dignity of human life from conception means that the starting presumption should always be in favour of human life, whether born or unborn. It’s on this basis that we oppose establishing a ‘right’ to abortion. This being so, it is appropriate that the unborn enjoy the same fundamental protections the Crimes Act provides for all other human beings. Therefore, if the State is to continue providing abortions in certain situations, the law should only ever provide for abortion as an exceptionto the fundamental right to life.
  3. Our considered view is that abortion is both a health and a justice issue and it should be treated by the law as such.
  4. There is much at stake in a review of the abortion laws; it is a deeply moral issue involving the future of a human life as well as the well-being of the woman and her family. The State has an essential responsibility to protect and care for all human life. It would abdicate this responsibility by making abortion solely a matter between a woman and her doctor.
  5. We need legislation which clearly specifies the circumstances under which abortions remain unlawful and under which abortion providers will be prosecuted for unlawful abortions.
  6. We do not support changing the original intent of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977. The current law acknowledges and upholds a ‘tension’ between the effect of the pregnancy on the woman and the rights of the unborn child. This must not be lost in any review of the current laws.
  7. The changes we would advocate for are those which would (i) further recognise the rights of the unborn child, (ii) promote the well-being of women, including better processes to ensure adequate informed consent and (iii) lead to fewer abortions occurring in New Zealand.
  8. We want to see the law provide a more robust pathwaygoverning abortions in New Zealand, one that acknowledges women’s need for full and independent information and support in order that genuine informed consent can take place. To this end, we want to see the provision of independent and publicly funded counselling for all women considering an abortion.
Bishop Pat Dunn
NZ Catholic Bishops Conference PH: 04 496 1747
Fax: 04 496 1770
18 May 2018

John Kleinsman - PhD
The Nathaniel Centre
the NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre PH: 04 499 2251