Auckland DHB seeks to abuse liquor licensing law

Liquor licensing is a pretty sensible policy. Authorities can manage many of the costs of alcohol use – drunken behaviour on streets, availability to underage drinkers, availability in the community as a whole – by granting or declining licenses on a case-by-case basis. There’s no need for blanket restrictions that will inevitably fail in some key edge cases. Instead, those in charge can just say “sorry, there are enough bars/off-licenses in that block already”.

What liquor licensing is not good for is encouraging individuals to make healthy choices for their families. So why is Birthcare maternity hospital having to fight to renew its liquor license?

An Auckland District Health Board spokeswoman said:”The medical officer of health is bringing this appeal because the evidence is clear that the consumption of alcohol harms unborn and newborn infants and considers that the decision to grant the licence to Birthcare is inconsistent with the alcohol legislation whose object is to minimise harm.”

So people having a meal at a maternity hospital – which could safely include new dads or other family members, as well as new mums that cannot breastfeed – can’t be trusted to drink responsibly. After all, responsibility is the core tenet of the liquor licensing guidelines:

Now the Auckland District Health Board has announced it will appeal the case further, to the High Court – despite police and the district licensing committee’s inspector expressing confidence that Birthcare is a responsible licensee.

In fact, decisions about licensing are supposed to be guided by potential impacts on the wider community, not just costs to the individual alcohol consumer. Could it be that Birthcare is already taking steps to ensure its patients are informed about the risks?

Birthcare general manager Ann Hanson defended the hospital’s longstanding policy of offering alcohol with meals.

“There’s a very big highlighted sign on the menu saying we recommend that those breastfeeding don’t drink alcohol,” she said.

So Birthcare is doing its bit to give its patients the best possible care and information (which is, in fact, its job as a hospital). The Police and licensing authority have done their bit in assessing any risks to the community from the hospital’s liquor license. But Auckland DHB just can’t leave it alone: a Message Must Be Sent about the evils of drinking, regardless of whether the law provides grounds for doing so.

Motherhood in today’s society is systematic removal of a woman’s choice, from conception forward. While the choice to have a wine with the post-birth meal isn’t a big one, the attitude that denies a woman that choice is pernicious. That same attitude dehumanises a woman, denying her informed choice about her birthing options, denying her the right to grieve for a stillborn child, and tragically, in the extreme, denying her life.

A pregnant woman or woman in labour is a human person first and a mother afterwards. They have the right to make their own choices, like all other human people. They don’t deserve the half of what happens to them in violation of that right; the clients of Birthcare do not deserve to have this one small choice taken away through a shoddy misapplication of our liquor licensing laws.

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