Renewed calls for parental notification for teens aged under-16 seeking abortions have been made following the publishing of an New Zealand paper in the Asian Bioethics Review.
Click here to read our previous coverage looking at the ethics of supporting a parental notification law.
Highlights from the Sunday Star Times feature:
Young pregnant teens don’t have the mental maturity to understand the implications of an abortion, new research suggests. Parents should be involved in the abortion decision, rather than giving all girls, no matter what their age, the right to consent, Otago University masters law student Michael Morrison said.
The current “clumsy” legislation that allows teens to chose to have an abortion without their parent’s permission is outdated and should be repealed, he said. “We’re relying on an ancient piece of legislation.”
Morrison’s law and ethics essay, which argues this case, has won second place in an international academic writing competition. The paper has been published in the latest edition of the Asian Bioethics Review.
In New Zealand children aged under 16 generally need their parent’s permission to undergo medical procedures, except when it comes to abortions. This legislation means girls can consent to an abortion as long as they are sexually mature.
The abortion law came into effect in 1977 before experts had a full understanding of how a young person’s brain works, Morrison said. However, he said international experts now agree a teenager’s brain only develops the ability understand a decision between the ages of 14 and 17.
About 50 girls aged between 11 and 14 have an abortion each year. There are also 2000 abortions in the age group 15 to 19. Morrison said for the young girls who don’t tell their parents, they may not understand the long-term implications of their decision.
“The child is trying to process a very significant procedure alone.” Parents should be involved in the decision, something research has also shown most young people would want, he said. “Children really do want their parents involved.” The current law was developed with good intentions to protect children, but Morrison said it goes too far.
“It is incredibly clumsy and it is not based on our current knowledge on when children have the capacity to consent.”
A test case in the English courts found a child should have the right consent when they have the ability to understand the implications, which varies between teens. The law allowing a young teen to consent to an abortion has never been tested here. Morrison argued for the law to be repealed and for law makers to look at reviewing the age of consent to medical procedures to take into account the different ages teens mature at.
Press release from Family First NZ:
Family First NZ is supporting calls for a review of the parental notification laws for teen abortions and agrees that young pregnant teens should have the support of their parents, not have their parents alienated from the process.
“The law currently means that while a parent has to sign a letter for their daughter to go on a school trip to the zoo or to play in a sports team or to wear non-regulation uniform, they are totally excluded from any knowledge or granting of permission for that same child to be put on the pill or have a surgical abortion,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
Opposition to the current law is also supported by both parents and also teenagers themselves – according to two polls by Curia Market Research in 2010 and 2012.
The independent poll asked “Should the law require parents to always be informed before-hand if their daughter who is under 16 is pregnant and wants to have an abortion?” An overwhelming majority of 79% responded yes, only 12% said no, and 9% either didn’t know or refused to answer.
When teens were asked a similar question in 2012, 59% of young respondents thought the parents should be told. 34% disagreed. More young men than women agreed, but both had majority agreement.
“It is significant that even young people can see the importance of having parents informed and involved, even when they know that those same parents will be rightly disappointed and upset. This is a very strong response from young people, and is a rebuke to the politicians in 2004 who chose to exclude parents from this process when debating the provision in the Care of Children Bill,” says Mr McCoskrie.
According to the Care of Children Act 2004, access to abortion is not restricted on grounds of age. Section 38 of the Act says that a girl of any age can give consent to an abortion and that consent operates as if it were given by her parents. Therefore, her parents need never know that their daughter is having such a procedure.
Family First is asking for the law to be amended to allow for parental notification in all cases of medical advice, prescriptions and procedures unless it can be proved to a family court that it would place the child at extreme risk.
“Parental notification laws in a number of US states have seen a drop in both the pregnancy rate and the teen abortion rate – a win-win situation for all concerned,” says Mr McCoskrie.
“Important decisions like these should not happen in isolation from parental support. We must acknowledge and respect the important and vital role of parents.”