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PM and GPs Abhorrent Approval of Secret Abortions

14 September 2004

PM and GPs Abhorrent Approval of Secret Abortions

The Society executive is appalled, but not at all surprised, that the Prime Minister, Ms Helen Clark, has come out this morning in strong support of under-16-year-old girls having the right in law to have an abortion without their parents’ knowledge (Dominion Post 14/9/04).

While totally opposed to abortion, the Society supports the amendment to clause 37 of the Care of Children Bill as recently proposed by National health spokesperson Ms Judith Collins (proposed in a supplementary order paper dated 27 July 2004). The amendment would “require notification to a guardian of a pregnant girl under the age of 16 years of an intended abortion.” A registered medical practitioner could not refer her to a certifying consultant without giving prior notification to at least one of her guardians. The Society believes that the amendment, if enacted into law, based on overseas studies, will have the beneficial effect of reducing: the numbers of abortions that are carried out on New Zealand girls in this age group,1 teenage pregnancies and souring rates of STDs associated with promiscuity.

“It is ironic,” says Society spokesperson David Lane, “that the Care of Children Bill that claims to be based on the philosophy that the child's welfare and best interests are to be ‘the first and paramount consideration’; if passed into law with Clause 37 unchanged, will exclude the very people who have the child’s welfare and best interests at heart – the girl’s parents and guardians - from any legal rights to having an involvement in a decision made by their child, one that involves a potentially life-threatening medical procedure (abortion).

“At the same time, section 35 of the Bill makes it mandatory that parents or guardians be consulted before ‘any medical, surgical, or dental [treatment or] procedure (including a blood transfusion) [is] … carried out on a child...’ [under the age of 16 years]. It is hypocritical for Helen Clark to insist that clause 37 be retained unchanged and yet neither she nor her Party members have raised any problems with Clause 35 being retained. The NZ public deserve a full explanation from Ms Clark for why an abortion carried out on an under-16-year-old girl does not qualify as a ‘medical procedure’ under s. 35 of the Bill and why it is treated as a separate category under the current law. Clearly it is a ‘medical procedure’ and therefore mandatory parental notification should apply.” Clause 37 of the Bill re-enacts section 25A of the Guardianship Act 1968 which was introduced into the legislation in 1977. It has existed in the Guardianship Act since it was introduced in the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 following a recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion. The Society executive challenges the PM to provide any evidence from the Report of the Royal Commission that it gave support to a law that would empower under 16-year-old girls to withhold all information from their guardians concerning a planned abortion.

If section 37 it is not amended as Ms Collins proposes, girls under 16 years of age will continue to be able to seek and obtain an abortion without parental consent, a situation which is the Society believes the vast majority of New Zealanders consider an outrage. It is no surprise to the Society that Ms Helen Clark says she is “strongly opposed to what Ms Collins is advocating for all the reasons set out by medical professionals.”

The Society executive challenges Ms Helen Clark, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Family Planning Association, the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Medical Association to provide evidence based on published scientific studies, that it is NOT in the best interests of the vast majority of under-16-year-old pregnant girls seeking an abortion and those of her parent(s)/guardian(s); to have matters related to a planned abortion disclosed to the latter, even in situations where the girl is unwilling for such disclosure.

The Royal College of GPs president Jim Vause was reported in the Dominion Post (13/9/04) as saying, “By breaching patient confidentiality there is a serious risk of returning to the era of dangerous, illegal abortions. We are strongly opposed for medical, ethical and clinical reasons.”

Ms Clark advances the same argument when she states: “I’m strongly opposed to what Ms Collins is advocating for all the reasons set out by the medical professionals. It would be an absolute tragedy if under-16-year-olds were seeking backyard abortions because of a requirement for medical professionals to break privacy and tell their parents.” (DP 14/9/04).

However, the Society believes that Jim Vause’s claims (supported by Ms Clark) amount to scare-mongering and fail to take full account of the good medical, ethical and clinical reasons for ensuring that young girls receive parental guidance and support on matters which are of vital concern to parents and guardians as the primary care-givers.

Medical ethics are centred on the preservation of life at all costs as embodied in the Hippocratic Oath. The medical professionals who seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent human life (the unborn), based on the claimed ‘rights’ of under-16-year-old mothers, reasons of avoidance of perceived consequences such as shame, criticism, ‘mental stability’ or economic hardship; should be treated with disdain by every genuine member of the medical profession who has taken the Hippocratic Oath and committed themselves to upholding it.

The Society believes that denying biological parents and guardians their rightful advisory input into the lives of their young pregnant daughters – their own flesh and blood who they have nurtured, sacrificed for and have a life-long commitment to - is an obscenity, a denial of natural justice and an example of political-correctness gone mad. Patient confidentiality ‘rights’ cannot trump the genuine rights of parents on a matter involving their responsibility to care for the psychological, spiritual and medical welfare of their own daughters.

The Society points out that the Justice and Electoral Committee that examined the Care of Children Bill noted:

“Evidence from those US states that have introduced parental notification laws has shown a decrease not only in the number of under-age abortions but also in the number of under-age pregnancies.”

The Society therefore concludes that amending clause 37 as proposed would not be injurious to the “public good”, but on the contrary would serve the “public good” by advancing the opportunities for: the preservation of innocent life (the unborn), the safeguarding of the rights of parents and the best interests of vulnerable pregnant girls. To deny parents access to vital medical information concerning their daughters will almost always lead to a deterioration of family relationships. Many under-16-year-old girls do not have the ability to weigh up the consequences of their decisions involving sexual behaviour, in a rational, well-balanced and mature manner. Family life quality and trust usually improves when girls openly divulge details of their pregnancy and seek the support and compassion of parents and family members. Lack of disclosure can cause irreparable damage to family relationships.

The Justice and Electoral Committee also noted in its report:

“The Family Planning Association … clearly states that it is their policy to actively encourage clients to discuss with ‘their parents, or another older person they can trust'’ their pregnancy and choices [and] notes the absence of research in New Zealand on the issue, but points to overseas research that suggests most females under 16 years would consult at least one parent” [before having an abortion].

The Society asks: “If it is true that most females under 16 years would consult at least one parent”, then why have a law that safeguards the claimed ‘rights’ of a tiny proportion of girls who do not want to consult a parent(s) with respect to a planned abortion, when the overseas evidence points to the fact that when disclosure of such matters to parent(s) is made mandatory, the number of abortions decreases? Promoting the safeguarding of innocent human life (the unborn), the well being of society as a whole and the psychological well being of the majority of young mothers should be the priorities of our medical profession and relevant social services.

The Care of Children Bill does not provide specific mechanisms for obtaining the views of under 16-year-old girls seeking an abortion, and leaves wide open the doors for the misuse and misapplication of the law in counselling situations involving decisions that will affect the girl for the rest of her life. No amount of input from lawyers or government-funded resources and agencies can better the effective participation of caring and loving parents and guardians in the issues surrounding pregnancy and child-support.

The Society believes that the second substantive change proposed to the Care of Children Bill by Ms Collins that would “allow a judicial bypass in the circumstances that the [pregnant under 16-year-old] girl does not consent to the notification [of her guardians of an abortion] should be the subject of a long-term select committee enquiry.

Her amendment would allow such a girl the option of seeking a Family Court determination whether she is sufficiently mature to make her own decisions regarding continuation or termination of her pregnancy or that it is not in her best interests to notify a parent; The direct involvement of a Family Court Judge in the tiny minority of cases where an under-16-year-old girl has been the subject of documented parental abuse etc., and for this reason does not wish to disclose details of her pregnancy and/or planned abortion, is an option that needs further detailed investigation.

If there is any hint that the pregnancy may be the result of incest or rape, the police must be informed. To grant under-16-year-old girls the right in law to have knowledge of such matters withheld from their parents is preposterous. If there is a prima facie case, or in fact any suggestion, that one or more of the guardians are perpetrator(s) of the crime, then matters of disclosure should rightly rest with the police and the Family Court.

The Society’s opposition to abortion is consistent with three of its objectives taken from its constitution:

To encourage self-respect and the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God. To promote recognition of the sanctity of human life and its preservation in all stages. To promote wholesome personal values, including strong family life and the benefits of lasting marriage as the foundation for stable communities.


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