Debate continues over abortion controversy

A teenage girl's decision to have her school organise an abortion for her without letting her parents know has sparked sharp debate between pro-choice and pro-life groups.

Arguments about whether the school's actions were appropriate flared after a report of a woman's horror that her 16-year-old daughter was able to have an abortion arranged by a school counsellor with no parental input.

Pro-choice group, Mothers for Choice, said it was essential young women had the right to access abortions without their parents' consent, and with as much support as possible from within their schools.

"As parents, we know how important it is to have open dialogue with our children about important events in their lives," spokeswoman Rebecca Matthews said.

"But we need to balance that with the ability of our children to access the medical and counselling support they need when they find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy."

Young women patients had the same right to privacy about their medical care as adult women, and the law needed to protect those girls from any coercion or abuse regarding their decisions -- and especially from any abuse within the home, Ms Matthews said.

Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (Alranz) president Dr Morgan Healey agreed, saying the privacy laws were implemented to protect vulnerable girls, and that most who had an abortion did tell their parents.

The matter was last debated by Parliament in 2004 and, at the time, Alranz said only one out of 25 girls aged 13 and 14 who had had an abortion at a Wellington clinic in 2003 had not told a trusted adult, and that was because of a history of family violence.

"These laws are in place to protect the most vulnerable of girls, who would further endanger themselves should they be forced to seek approval from a parent or guardian. However, girls are encouraged by health-care professionals to tell their parents.

"Unfortunately, given the stigma surrounding abortion in this country, women of all ages tend to keep their decision as secretive as possible."

However, a private counsellor is accusing schools of ignorance and arrogance by not telling parents when their daughters are planning an abortion.

By law, females of any age can have an abortion and many school counsellors believe the Privacy Act prevents them from telling teens' parents.

But Steve Taylor, the director of a private counselling practice in Auckland, said the Code of Ethics allowed exceptions to client confidentiality in certain circumstances.

"For any counsellor (in the absence of a disclosure of severe parental abuse or abject neglect) to even briefly consider that they hold more authority in a decision for a young person than the young person's own parents is either personally ignorant, or professionally arrogant on behalf of the counsellor -- probably both."

A Family First-commissioned poll last year found 79 percent of people supported parental notification when a daughter was considering an abortion.

The poll surveyed 1000 people, with only 12 percent saying parents should not be told, while 9 percent did not know.

"This is a very strong response, 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," Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said.

"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 the netball team, they are totally excluded from any knowledge or granting of permission for that same child to be put on the pill, have a vaccine, or have a surgical abortion."

The poll was conducted last March and had a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

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