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Reaping the results

July 2004 | by Jonathan Skinner

A school in Bath is facing conflict over the proposal of the governing body to introduce a policy of enabling the ‘morning-after’ abortion pill to be given to children without parental consent. The reaction of some parents was so strong that the final decision was stalled.

The prescribing of such a drug to children under the age of 16 has obviously been linked by many to the storm that blew up in May in Nottinghamshire concerning the girl who was sent by her school to have an abortion – without her parents’ knowledge or permission.

This girl, aged 14, was sent to hospital for an abortion on the advice of a health visitor at her school. The mother only learned of her daughter’s condition through a chance encounter with one of the girl’s friends.

Just a kid

Following a conversation with her mother, the girl changed her mind about having an abortion, but was forced to continue with the treatment after being told that the foetus had suffered irreparable damage from pills given at a local hospital to induce the termination.

The girl’s mother expressed outrage at the decision of the school and medical staff not to inform her of her daughter’s condition. She said, ‘I had no idea that this sort of thing could happen without my knowing. I feel like my right as a parent has been taken away, like I’ve had my heart ripped out. She’s just a kid’.

The decision by the school and medical authorities not to inform the girl’s family was criticised by Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, as ‘grossly irresponsible’.

‘It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure that a child is educated, and schools seem to have lost sight of the fact that they are serving the parents’, he said.

‘It is undermining the parents who have the primary responsibility for the care and protection of their children, and it is the parents who are going to pick up the pieces if things go wrong and cope with the emotional trauma.’

Legal responsibility

Teachers at the school referred the girl to an outreach service run through the National Teenage Pregnancy Strategy – it was the health worker of this set-up that declined to inform her mother.

The BMA said that the doctors who performed the abortion were acting within the law, provided the teenager was ‘competent’ to give her consent. Their spokesman said, ‘Any competent young person can give consent to any medical intervention. It is for the doctor to judge whether a patient is competent to give consent’.

Both the Bath situation and the Nottingham case raise serious concerns. Most notably, the question arises as to who has legal responsibility for the child?

Whether it is promoting the morning-after pill, or pushing for an abortion, where does authority to protect the child lie? Surely, except in cases of parental abuse, the rights are with the parent.

School trip

After all, parents can now be punished if their children break the law. The family solicitor of the girl in Nottinghamshire said, ‘A woman has been sent to prison for her child’s truancy. The Government is [putting] responsibilities for anti-social behaviour on parents. But at the same time, what we have here is a situation where legally it is quite possible for a child to understand and consent to an abortion’.

If a child goes on a school trip to Weston-Super-Mare, it needs a parent or guardian to sign a consent form. Why then is it that a school can, in effect, have surgery performed and drugs administered without parental permission?

My daughter cannot even have an asthma inhaler or a paracetamol tablet without my consent – yet she can be given life-threatening ‘treatments’ without my even being aware of it.

If something goes wrong, who is to blame? Suppose a girl died from bleeding or an infection following an abortion. Or reacted violently to the morning-after pill – who would be legally responsible?

Who would be accountable if a girl became infertile through the effects of an abortion, or suffered psychologically for years feeling she had killed her first child?

Self-contradictory

The other thing here, particularly with the administration of contraceptives to those under the age of consent, is that government policy is self-contradictory. The law says it is illegal to have sex under the age of sixteen. Yet schools implicitly condone such law-breaking by giving out ‘C-cards’ so that pupils can pick up condoms from the local chemist.

They are also willing to make morning-after pills available. So, if a fourteen-year-old has sex, one government agency (the education service) will hand out the necessary means to negate conception, while another (the police) could arrest the participants.

Schools are sending out signals – indeed, taking active measures – that produce contempt for the law of the land. The consequences could be dire in the years ahead.

Health

And then there is the health issue. Sexually transmitted diseases are increasing alarmingly among teenagers – AIDS in particular is a frightening reality. Yet the implicit advice to these vulnerable youngsters is, ‘go ahead, have sex, enjoy yourselves – and we’ll fix the consequences for you afterwards’.

It is depressing that few people today have any worries about government policy, threatened parental rights, or sexual ethics. But surely they should be concerned about the availability of a contraceptive method that will encourage promiscuity and thus make infection more likely.

Our society has all but abandoned any standard of sexual morality – and we are reaping the results. The authorities are confused, the policies are confusing, and our children are at risk.

If ever we needed a return to biblical norms of behaviour it is now. Let our churches at least make this clear.