Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Society worries about the rise in antisocial behaviour, and at the same time the High Court rules that parents should be kept in the dark if their teenage daughters are referred for an abortion

In the same week that a High Court judge ruled against Sue Axon, the mother who challenged doctors referring teenagers for abortion without notifying the parents, Jenni Russell wrote a perceptive article about the damage that long working hours and institutionalised childcare does to children in the Guardian 28/01/06 “We give work a high priority - I wish the same could be said of our children - After 17 years as a parent, I'm convinced it is our attitudes to employment as much as to childcare that need to change”. Her focus was Labour’s childcare strategy to get children into nurseries by the age of three and wraparound childcare. She wrote about the growing concern for what prolonged parental absence does to children, and about the danger of “subcontracting ..childcare to professionals”, “As they grow, children need to feel loved and understood by the adults around them, and taught how to handle their emotions. That doesn't happen in after-school clubs or playschemes, where playworkers must retain a physical and professional distance. The consequence is that children have to make the effort of maintaining their public faces, too. They can't relax. A mother whose daughter goes to an after-school club three days a week says the eight-year-old is rigid with tension when she picks her up, and angry and unmanageable until falling asleep. Her experience is typical of many parents I know.”

Ironically, this appeared in Saturday's Guardian at the end of the week in which the High Court ruled that parents should be kept in the dark about teenagers being referred for abortions. Of course the ages of the children are different but the principle is the same that professionals are coming between the parent and child to the detriment of the good of the child. Unsurprisingly the cheerleaders of this interference are the self-appointed professionals at the Family Planning Association who gave evidence to the High Court in November that parents are "no longer necessarily the best people to advise a child" about contraception, sexually transmitted infections and abortion. My reaction on reading this in the Guardian on the 10th November was to wonder who is Nathalie Lieven?!!! I couldn't discover anything about her at all from the family planning association website. I have no idea what her qualifications are or what evidence she has for the arrogant assertion that her proabortion organisation knows better than millions of parents across Britain.

The point about qualifications is interesting because the “professionals” who are supposed to be better than parents are people who work for proabortion clinics, who by definition support abortion, not really professionals in any meaningful sense of the word, like the 21 year old school outreach worker, who referred Melissa Smith for an abortion and Melissa's subsequent wish to keep the baby when it was too late, or busy GPs who have a waiting room full of patients to see. Strangers in fact who do not know the child in front of them, who have no time for the child, have no particular bond, and will never see the teenager again, and will never deal with the aftermath of abortion. These are practical issues that have less to do with whether abortion is right or wrong - the parents after all could have views either way on the subject - the point of parental notification is to enable the child to have the best support available when they are distressed, except where there is obvious evidence that the child needs protection from the parents, which must be extremely rare. This was the response of one parent in the debate at The Times (25/01/06) the day after the judge ruled that parents should not be told:

"This is an abhorrent decision. My wife and I brought our children into this world; we love them dearly and would do anything for them. We feel our responsibility for them in every way. I realise that we may not be representative of absolutely everybody but I do not think that we are in a minority either. It is utterly ludicrous that a third party should be allowed to even counsel them, never mind treat them, on matters of such huge physical and moral importance without at least our knowledge, let alone my consent. The world is going, or frankly has gone, mad. If these are the kind of measures which it is believed are required to "protect" our children something is deeply wrong with our society. Richard Bell, Crowborough

What amazed me in this debate is how those who took the view that parents should not be told, on the basis of teenagers' fear, exhibited the kind of teenage thinking that adults should have grown out of! They completely missed how natural and understandable it is that a teenager would wish their parents not to be told and completely misunderstood the natural of parenting in terms of discipline, caring and nurturing. How incredible that the law could be based around teenagers hypothetical and, more likely than not, exaggerated fear of being told off by their parents. It also seems a little strange that the state collaborates in this kind of secrecy and coverup which will force children to hide the truth from their parents for the rest of their life.

We don't generally make public policy based on teenagers perceptions, but usually on a more sophistocated analysis of the facts by adults, so why is teenage perception dictating policy here? Abortion is something that is generally beyond the comprehension of most teenagers who may just be forming their views on the issue. Confidentiality is appropriate to ensure that patients are respectively treated but when the issue is something of as great a magnitude as abortion, with so much potential long term damage, children obviously need support. Can children really take in how serious abortion is? The BBC quoted the the Pro Life Alliance saying that it was staggering a young girl could "end the life of another human being without her parents knowing anything about it." Doesn't making this a matter for a teenager trivialise the seriousness of abortion?

The ironic thing is that with the exception of representatives of the abortion lobby, the majority of voices against the right of parents to know still acknowledged the need to involve parents as far as possible. Caroline Flint from the Department of Health was quoted in the Guardian saying that it was "a very difficult issue" and that healthcare professionals should always try to persuade a young person to involve their parents. The British Medical Assocation issued a press release which was strangely enthusiastic about denying parents the right to know (for a reason I couldn't quite fathom, why should doctors have a particular position on this issue?) nevertheless went on to say “Doctors always encourage young people to involve their parents in important decisions, and research shows that the majority of young people do so. If, in exceptional cases, they cannot talk to their parents then doctors try to give them the confidence to talk to another responsible adult who may be able to support them." And citing research against their own proabortion position, Marie Stopes International (an organisation which is certainly a little confused given by their support for a restriction of the abortion time limit to 20 weeks and their subsequent U-turn on this) nevertheless released a survey saying that the majority of teenagers do tell their parents. So if it is so important that parents should be told by the teenager then why are their guidelines insisting on secrecy? and with the spiralling abortion rate, isn't the willingness of the Department of Health to take their guidelines straight from the unrepresentative self appointed experts at the Family Planning Association a factor in increasing teenage abortions?


Anonymous henry, Durham said...

What about unwanted children? Children raised by parents who are still children themselves, parents who are denied the foundational years required to mature, find a partner and then decide to have planned children? Do they get a good deal?

If children are not able to seek basic medical advice then the consequences are far more dangerous than a little knowledge which could save their lives. The parents of pregnant fourteen year olds have no right to be angry with the doctor. Perhaps if more parents took the responsible step to campaign for better support and education for young people in matters of sex situations like this would not arise. It is unfortunate that pro lifers are also stringent opponents of medical confidentiality for teenagers, in addition to trashing sex education and encouraging a reluctance in parents and children to talk about sex.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I am not sure what you mean by asking about "what about unwanted children?" Surely the point is to make their lives better, but no one would suggest killing these children after birth. By the same token, abortion is not a solution to unwanted pregnancy because it is no more fair to the child than terminating the life of a child after birth.

I am sceptical about the information given to teenagers or indeed anyone about abortion. I do not think that women are given proper information about abortion based on the facts of the baby's development, what the abortion does to the child, alternatives to abortion, and possible physical and psychological consequences of abortion.

I am in favour of education, but I do not believe that biased information and euphemisms about abortion is education.

I have no idea what evidence you have for the position that prolifers oppose parents and children talking about these issues. It's been clear from all the coverage of these issues in the papers that parents want to help their children, not be cut out from this aspect of their lives and leave it up to strangers and busy professionals.

I do not understand why confidentiality is so important in the case of abortion, it isn't when it comes to any other medical procedure, so why is abortion so secretive? what is to hide?

I do wonder if confidentiality is really just a means to ensure that no one takes legal action against an abortion clinic, rather than in the interests of the teenager. It's in the teenagers' interest to have the emotional and practical support that a parent provides.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous henry, Durham said...

Fiona, if you want fewer abortions then you can't be against more information. Parents are not good providers of sex education information. In the countries where rates of abortion and teenage pregnancy are lowest they start sex ed in PRIMARY school and have dedicated clinics for teens. It is disturbing that (not necessarily you) but a lot of Catholic pro-lifers are making matters worse for themselves. They say no to condoms, no to comprehensive and sustained sex education, no to targeted provision of health services for teens...and then express surprise at the result. Being against these things and being against abortion is like being against speed limits and being against road accidents. Kids who know more about sex have sex later and have safer sex. The problem about being against abortion in principle is that you ignore the issues which actually affect the number of abortions carried out, not to mention the welfare of the young women involved.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

hi Henry

As I have already said I doubt the word "education" in the context of school children not being told the facts about abortion, ie. the baby's development, the effect of termination procedures on the baby's body etc. This is shocking stuff but it is hardly educational to present abortion to children in a way that is shrouded in euphemism. If society wants to bring down the abortion rate and teenage pregnancy rate then it stands to reason that at least some children would be put off by facts about abortion, and think that they don't want to go through that. It would have a deterrent effect. It's also good education for children to be taught to analyse and look at the facts and consequences of pregnancy.

Two other points -

There is statistical evidence to show that abortion and teenage pregnancy rates have gone up where contraception has been more available. This makes sense if you consider that some children will have sex regardless of the sex education available, some children will not have sex regardless of the sex education, and there will be a group of children in the middle whose behaviour is influenced by the messages they are given. When these children are told that sex is consequence free and that contraceptives work their sexual behaviour will increase and therefore there will be an increase in contraceptive failure, pregnancies and abortions.

I don't know what evidence you are using for the statement "Kids who know more about sex have sex later and have safer sex." Given the money poured into the teenage pregnancy strategy and the total failure of the strategy it is a bit questionable to say the least.

May I say here that I appreciate the motives behind what you appear to be saying, but I think the statistics are against you, ie. that contraceptive use increases abortion rates. Can I also ask why if you are looking at causal links for "the issues which actually affect the number of abortions carried out" why do you not include sex itself, given that it is a pretty obvious cause of pregnancy? If children are incapable of coping with the consequences of pregnancy, and can be emotionally damaged by this, then should they be encouraged by pro-abortion organisations funded by the taxpayer to engage in sexual behaviour anyway before they are in adult relationships?

Secondly, the abortion/contraceptive lobby (Marie Stopes/Family Planning association) say two things that are actually contradictory. First they argue that contraceptives will cut the abortion rate (the standard line), but they also recently made a formal submission to the department of health which stated that more contraception would not have any affect on the abortion rate. Fascinating how their attitude to contraceptives changes according to what they want, isn't it?

5:56 AM  
Anonymous henry, Durham said...

Fiona, you want to have an argument, a proper grown up argument, about sex and reproductive ethics. You want to have it with the pro abortion lobby. Fine. Meanwhile, kids are kids and they're going to have sex no matter what anyone says to them. Sure, we need to do something to stop them, but I don't know what to do, neither do you. So, meanwhile, as a stop gap, maybe, we could show them what contraceptives are and how to use them. Then we show them what being pregnant is like, what abortion is like, and what a few STD's look like.

Going back to my road safety analogy. People are going to use their cars, no matter what. Still, we should use seatbelts and show young drivers what car accidents look like.

You want to argue about this on principle, and thats fine. The problem is that young people don't really care for your principles. Maybe they should, but they don't.

Arguing that education and provision of health services don't help with this is just as ill advised as preaching abstinence in Aids ravaged countries.

Which do you think it is easier to convince a 16 year old to do? Ask them not to have sex with their boyfriend. Ask them to marry their boyfriend and have children. Or, maybe, to ask them to use protection ie read the days of the week on the blister pack?

7:41 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I don't think children are as incapable of thinking and weighing up issues as all that and we sell them short if we think that.

Isn't education supposed to be about thinking through issues? children are affected by the influences and messages they receive. Do you really think that the millions poured into the teenage pregnancy strategy have been successful given that teenage pregnancy rates are going up?

I don't think that marie stopes et al really want to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate. all the family planning association literature is basically geared at saying that this is normal, so really their strategy is doomed to fail from the start.

Your seat belt analogy is fine, and if you think that children should be told about STDs why not the reality of abortion too?

8:09 AM  
Anonymous henry, Durham said...


It would be great if a little indocrtination and some pictures of aborted foetus' were all you were offering. Scare the crap out of them? Fine. However, that isn't what you want. You want to take away contraception and information and only teach a strong message of abstinence. Good luck!

12:07 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I notice that you didn't reply to any of my actual points and you caricature my actual position in a completely unnecessary way.

what about commenting on the statistical evidence that shows greater availability of contraceptives leads to more pregnancies and more abortions?

what about commenting on the changing position of the contraceptive lobby who have stated that increased availability of contraceptives will not in fact reduce the numbers of abortions?

what about trying to get some shared definition of what education means? ie. that it is about the availability of information not proabortion propaganda from the likes of Marie Stopes etc?

what about commenting on the fact that not only do children have the right not to be lied to but that it might actually have some beneficial effects if they are given balanced and medically accurate information about the baby's development?

what about the fact that if you are so hot on the right to choose, choice might actually involve having information?

I'm merely asking that children aren't lied to and patronised but that they are given facts about abortion and the baby's development.

12:57 PM  

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