Right to Life Attacks Womens Health Action and Family Planning over Decriminalisation of Abortion

January 8, 2013 in General

Prohibitionist anti-abortion group Right to Life New Zealand, which seeks to ban abortion access within New Zealand, has launched an attack on the charitable status of Women’s Health Action and the Family Planning Association of New Zealand under the Charities Act 2004.

Ken Orr’s letter reads:

Monitoring & Investigations,

Internal Affairs – Charities,

PO Box 30112,

Lower Hutt 5040.



Dear Sir/Madam


Complaint- Women’s Health Action Trust & New Zealand Family Planning Association.


I wish to lodge a complaint against the Women’s Health Action Trust [WHAT] and the New Zealand Family Planning Association both of which are registered charities. The complaint is that they are in breach of the Charities Act by virtue of the fact they are engaged in a major political campaign. In May 2012,  WHAT produced a document laying out the path to achieve the decriminalisation of abortion in New Zealand. This document was prepared after meetings in Melbourne and Hobart, Australia.

 On 28th September 2012 the Family Planning Association issued a media release stating that Family Planning, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand and the Women’s Health Action Trust were conducting a national campaign to have abortion [...]decriminalised.

 The complaint goes on to note that any pro-choice decriminalisation campaign would involve parliamentary lobbying and may therefore be in breach of certain provisions of the Charities Act.

 What does the Charities Act have to say about parliamentary lobbying activities and political campaigns? In 2011, I wrote a Gaynz.Com Politics and Religion  news column about exactly these questions:

The Charities Act 2005 was established to regulate and enable good governance practices within the charitable/voluntary association sector. Under Section 5 (b), ‘charitable purpose” is defined as that which contributes to the advance of education (and ‘religion”- although the latter is broadly defined), as well as poverty relief. However, as the Exodus Ministries Trust Board and other religious charities cases before the Commission have led it to observe, religious status alone may not constitute tangible public benefit under the terms of the Charities Act. The Charities Commission is tasked with monitoring registered charities, regulates their annual financial returns, provides best practice governance guidelines and fulfils an advisory role. It registers sports, community welfare and development, environmental, women’s service, health, employment, animal welfare, international aid, marae and iwi organisations.

Under Section 10 (j) and (k) of the Charities Act 2005, there is provision that in some instances, registration can been withheld or withdrawn due to questions involved that the organisation’s activities are not primarily directed at charitable objectives, and that political purposes are their primary objective instead. In determining this, the Commission will analyse the charity’s constitution, relevant case law and existing activities. In some cases, an organisation may have a charitable arm that is registered, while its non-charitable arm is not subject to the benefits of charitable status. In others, deregistration may occur because organisations have simply wound up, or failed to file annual financial returns, or fail to comply with their statutory responsibilities. In two recorded cases on their website, there were reported cases of serious wrongdoing.

The Commission is entitled to remove organisations that don’t meet registration requirements, undertake serious wrongdoing, or have failed to otherwise comply with the Charities Act 2005, as specified within Section 32. Section 16 disqualifies officers from management responsibilities of charitable organisations who are undergoing, or who have undergone, bankruptcy, liquidation or other financial mismanagement proceedings.

As provided for under Section 35 of the Charities Act, the Commission also provides a useful online complaints form that explains how one should go about complaining when one is sure that a specific charity may be engaged in underhand or suspect activity that warrant investigation and deregistration. These may include evidence of financial mismanagement by organisational directors or staff, harm to clients, terrorist funding and other criminal activities, evidence that the ‘charity’ is a front group for non-charitable activities, tax avoidance, questionable operational independence, fraudulent misrepresentation, risk to the public interest and other instances of noncompliance. Complainants should name the charity, identify responsible figures for the complaint, clarify the nature of their allegations and what effect that the shortcoming has had on charity operation, and detail personal actions undertaken, as well as correspondence with the charity and/or other agencies.

Two can play at this game.

Family First,  Family Life International, the New Zealand Conference of Catholic Bishops and an allied Conference Group, the  Society for Promotion of Community Standards and numerous fundamentalist church and conservative Catholic organisations are also recipients of charitable status under the Charities Act 2004.  In that case, given that Family First,  Family Life International, SPCS and numerous fundamentalist churches are both involved in current campaigns against the Marriage Equality Bill, surely the same principle must apply?

I suggest that we trawl through the list of negative submissions to the Government Administration select committee on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill and see what and who comes up.

If  Right to Life wants to ‘go nuclear’ against Womens Health Action and Family Planning and attack and endanger access to womens and reproductive health over WHAT and FPA’s involvement in pro-choice decriminalisation of abortion concerns, then I suggest someone on the side of progressive social reform should retaliate in kind and draft a complaint to the Charities Commission about the activities of the aforementioned groups in the context of their opposition to marriage equality.

 Unfortunately, Right to Life itself is ineligible for charitable status, given its hardline anti-abortion political advocacy (although so is ALRANZ).  I suggest Mr Orr and his dubious comrades back off now, or face the consequences of this latest stunt.

Or else.


Charities Commission: http://www.charities.govt.nz

Charities Act 2005 : http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2005/0039/latest/DLM344368.html

Charities Commission: Exodus Ministries Trust Board decision: http://www.charities.govt.nz/Portals/0/docs/decisions/Exodus_Ministries_Trust_Board.pdf

Not Recommended:

“Womens Health Action Trust (WHAT) in breach of the Charities Act?” Right to Life: 06.01.2013: http://www.righttolife.org.nz/2013/01/07/womens-health-action-trust-what-in-breach-of-charities-act/



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