Abortion protest planned

A Southland anti-abortion group will begin weekly protests outside Southland Hospital from next month.

The demonstrations would be "peaceful and non-confrontational" and held on public land, Southlanders For Life spokesman and Winton Catholic parish priest Fr Vaughan Leslie said.

The Southern District Health Board (SDHB) began a termination service at the hospital about two months ago and has said it expects about 280 abortions to be done annually.

The demonstrations, which would last for about an hour each week, would be a "silent witness", Fr Leslie said.

"We will not be loud, but we will be very visible." The SDHB would not say how often terminations were carried out, he said.

Fr Leslie had "no idea" how many people would take part in the demonstrations. A public meeting earlier this year opposing the SDHB plans attracted 200 people and 400 rallied outside the hospital in protest.

Until now, Southland women have travelled to Dunedin Hospital for abortions. Asked if women going to Southland Hospital for terminations could feel intimidated by a group of protesters, Fr Leslie said they might.

But he said he believed in democracy and the right of those who opposed abortion to speak out or demonstrate against it.

The group believes the board should have consulted the public over its plans and is seeking a ruling on that from the ombudsman.

SDHB chief medical officer David Tulloch has already said the board is satisfied it has followed correct process and did not have to consult.