BLENHEIM, July 15 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Catholic doctor in Blenheim, New Zealand has come under fire for refusing to renew an oral contraceptive pill prescription for a 23-year-old patient.

While Dr. Joseph Lee will reportedly prescribe the oral contraceptive pill to women who have had four or more children, or who are merely spacing their family, his decision not to provide prescriptions to younger women who have not yet had children has raised questions surrounding conscientious objection.

The furore began when Melissa Pont, new to the area, visited Dr. Lee for a renewal prescription for her oral contraceptive pills.  Outraged at being refused and having to go to another doctor, Pont, who is engaged to be married, has gone to the media with her story.  Newspapers, television news and radio talk back have all covered the issue, which has provoked strong emotional outbursts regarding “women’s rights” and “reproductive health.”

"I felt like my decision to not have children yet was being judged,” she said. “That's a decision me and my fiance made.”  She went on to say, “We're young and we just bought a house and who is he to say whether we should have children or not?"

“I don’t want to interfere with the process of producing life” Lee said.

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Under New Zealand law, doctors can refuse to prescribe contraception if it goes against their beliefs.

The New Zealand Medical Association Chair, Mark Peterson, said that doctors do have to refer the patient to another doctor and they cannot discuss personal ethical views.

Ken Orr, spokesperson for New Zealand Right to Life, said his organization supports Lee’s stance. “It is of the utmost importance that for the practice of medicine that we uphold the primacy of conscience,” he said. “A doctor who does not practice medicine according to his informed conscience becomes the most dangerous man in the land.”

Mainstream media have jumped on Dr. Lee’s decision to promote Natural Family Planning, misreporting the effectiveness of the method and calling it the “rhythm method”.  The NZ Herald reported that the “rhythm method” is “an unreliable family planning technique that involves having sex only at certain times of the month.”

The three main methods of Natural Family Planning taught in New Zealand currently are the Billings Ovulation Method, the Sympto-Thermal Method and the Creighton Model. Each of these methods boast an effectiveness rate in postponing pregnancy at around 98 to 99 per cent, which is comparable to the oral contraceptive pill.

Melissa Pont could make a complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner. If it is found that Dr Lee is found guilty of expressing his personal beliefs and causing distress he could face charges.

There are a number of doctors, mainly Catholic, throughout New Zealand who choose not to prescribe contraception to their patients.