MANCHESTER, England, JAN. 28, 2006 (Zenit.org).- British parents have no right to know if their children are seeking an abortion. That is what the country's High Court decided on Monday in a case brought by a Manchester housewife.
Sue Axon, 52, had sought to overturn the law that enables girls under 16 to get confidential advice on abortion. The move was not, she stressed, due to problems regarding her own teen-age daughters, reported the Observer newspaper on Nov. 6. Rather, it is due to a "bitterly regretted" abortion she had two decades ago, and a sense of outrage on hearing about cases involving teen-age girls who have aborted without their parents' knowledge.
During the court proceedings in her testimony, Axon explained: "Family life depends upon relationships of trust and openness and respect and transparency between family members -- not on secrecy, or what might have to be lies on the part of the children in relation to what they are doing," the BBC reported Nov. 9.
The High Court did not accept her arguments. According to Justice Stephen Silber, no parent has the right to know if their daughter is seeking an abortion, according to a BBC report Monday.
Axon commented after the judgment: "Having endured the trauma of abortion, I brought the case to ensure that medical professionals would not carry out an abortion on one of my daughters without first informing me. I could then discuss such a life-changing event with her and provide the support she would need."
Criticism of the decision was immediate. Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance pointed out that without parental consent schoolchildren could not even be given a painkiller. Moreover, under-16's are not allowed to buy cigarettes, alcohol or fireworks. Parental consent is also required if children want to have their ears pierced.
"Yet a young girl can make the decision to end the life of another human being without her parents knowing anything about it," Millington noted. "The contradictions are staggering."
In a press release issued the same day as the court decision, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, reflected on the negative consequences of abortion. "Abortion, as well as killing an unborn child, can have long-term physical, social and psychological effects on young women," he said.
A similar case came up in the United States last week when the Supreme Court decided on a New Hampshire law. The judges, in a rare unanimous decision, determined that lower courts should not have struck down the entire law, which required teen-agers to notify parents before aborting, the Washington Post reported Jan. 19.
The matter now returns to a lower court, with an order to come up with a solution that retains the notification requirement, but with a "protection" in cases of emergencies. The 2003 law does contain an exception if the pregnant girl's life is at risk. But it does not cover what should happen if there are other health emergencies.
The Supreme Court decision did not go into the merits of the law, but it did state that notification laws are accepted as constitutional. According to the Washington Post, all but six states have some form of rule that requires minors to involve at least one parent or guardian in the decision to abort, generally with exceptions -- to be decided by a judge -- in cases of abuse or special circumstances.
Deirdre McQuade, director of planning and information for the U.S. bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat, lamented that the Supreme Court did not address the more substantive questions of the New Hampshire law. In a reference to a companion case to the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America, McQuade said: "We are left with more questions than answers -- especially with regard to the so-called health exception first established 33 years ago in Doe v. Bolton."
Susan Wills, associate director for education at the pro-life office of the U.S. bishops' conference, weighed in on the decision Monday in an article written for National Review Online.
Wills criticized what she considered the excessive burden placed by the courts on parental notification laws under the concept of protecting a teen-ager's health. In fact, she noted that the New Hampshire law was designed to protect health, by ensuring that, among other things, an adult familiar with the girl's health is present to spot complications and to provide emotional support.
"If a pregnant minor were really faced with a health crisis, wouldn't that be all the more reason to notify her parents at once rather than performing a significant surgical procedure behind their backs?" asked Wills.
There is more likelihood of health problems, Wills continued, from proceeding with an abortion than delaying it due to waiting while parents are notified. Citing specialists, she noted that problems with abortions can lead to infertility problems. "Even the slightest of regulations," she concluded, "can be declared unconstitutional for the sake of the most farfetched objections."
The role of parents
In the lead-up to the British and U.S. court decisions, a number of commentators weighed in on the need to involve parents in any abortion decision by a child. John Kass, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, noted Nov. 30 that what is at stake is a crucial issue for all families.
The weight of going ahead with something as serious as an abortion is not something any child should be left alone with, Kass commented. And children afraid of disappointing parents by revealing their pregnancy should be more confident of their parents' love, he said.
Dani Caravelli, writing in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday last Nov. 13, commented that parents are being stripped of the right to offer advice and support in the area of sexual activity. Parents can even be fined if their children skip school, but are kept in the dark if they seek an abortion, she noted.
In fact, a keystone of the Blair government's campaign in the area of sexual health has been the theme of confidentiality. Yet, at the same time the government insists on keeping parents in the dark, and in spite of the millions spent on sexual health campaigns, teen-age pregnancies have risen. "Most tellingly, the increase was greatest in the parts of the country the government targeted most of its efforts," Caravelli observed.
Parents aren't perfect, she admitted, but neither are health care workers, who don't know their patients and may be influenced by the government's enthusiasm for abortion as the solution for any "unplanned" pregnancy.
Another defect is related to how courts consider teen-ager's capacities. In a commentary last March 13 in the Boston Globe, Christopher Shea noted that in the then recent case of Roper v. Simmons the Supreme Court ruled it was "cruel and unusual" to execute anyone under the age of 18.
In arguments before the court, the American Psychological Association stated that "impulsiveness, susceptibility to peer pressure, and even physically underdeveloped brains made adolescents less culpable for their actions than legal adults," wrote Shea.
Yet in a 1990 case, regarding parental consent for abortion, the same association defended the mental capacity of minors to decide for themselves the complex issues involved in procuring an abortion. Defending abortion, it seems, allows the normal standards of health and care for minors to be overridden.