Parental Notification

Moves to make it mandatory for parents to be notified if their under-age daughter seeks an abortion is strongly supported by parents but strongly opposed by advocates of abortion.
  • Over 70% of people surveyed were in favour of parental notification.
  • Opponents of the law change indicated that girls would seek illegal abortions.
  • Abortion advocates felt that most (under 16) girls are mature enough to make the decision to have an abortion.
  • The main readons for secrecy are embarrassment, shame and reluctance to hurt their parents.
  • If the girl has an abortion and develops complications requiring surgery, her parents will be informed.
  • Teenage girls are likely to feel guilt, depression and isolation after an abortion and are at risk of suicide.
The issue is about whether or not parents should have the right to be informed, or to give consent, when their under-age daughter is referred for an abortion

In New Zealand since 1989, and under current law (Care of Children Act 2004), parents do not have the right to be informed, or to give their consent.

The issue generates considerable feeling with the basic divide between parents’ right to know, against the minor daughter’s right to privacy.

NZ MPs debate Parental Notification in Parliament
In October and November, 2004, MPs were given two opportunities to debate the issue and exercise their conscience vote. National’s Judith Collins had introduced an amendment to clause 37, requiring doctors to encourage under-age patients to inform their parents they were pregnant and seeking an abortion.

To gauge public support for the amendment, the anti-abortion Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), commissioned pollsters A C Nielsen to conduct a survey in March. People were asked if they supported mandatory notification and 51% strongly agreed, with 25% agreeing. In September a NZ Herald survey showed 71% support.
The Associate Minister of Justice favoured keeping the status quo most girls told their parents anyway.

The Labour Government Minister in charge of Clause 37, was the Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope. He argued the status quo had worked well since 1977, and research indicated that most girls told their parents anyway.

The Minister received powerful support from the leaders of the New Zealand Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners, UNICEF New Zealand, NZ Family Planning Association, Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ, Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, and the New Zealand Venereological Society.

It has been questioned whether or not the medical associations canvassed their members or gave their opinion arbritrarily. Judith Collins claimed that a number of doctors had contacted her to say that the two medical bodies had acted without consulting their members, and many were in disagreement.

In an interview with the editor of Pro-Life Times after the defeat of her amendment, Judith Collins spoke of the support she had received:

An MP told the House of a family who contacted her about their 15-year old daughterwho woke them by screaming. They found her badly haemorrhaging and dying. Doctors just managed to save her. She had had an abortion, and that was how her parents found out.
“In the months and weeks leading up to the debate in the House, I accumulated a 3cm thick folder of emails and letters from people who supported my stance, including parents of girls who were dealing with abortion complications and psychological breakdowns. Some of the stories are so heartbreaking, they reduced me to tears. It is appalling that these good and loving parents have been ignored.”

“Judy Turner (United Future), told the House of one family who contacted her about what happened to their 15-year old daughter. They were woken up by screaming coming from her room and rushed in to find her badly haemorrhaging and dying. She was rushed to hospital with severe complications and the doctors just managed to save her. She had had an abortion, and that was how her parents found out.”

David Benson-Pope’s case was that evidence from overseas jurisdictions indicated that this approach (parental notification) increases the likelihood of young women seeking dangerous and illegal abortions:

"There is a well-established right for a young woman, who is able to give informed consent to medical treatment, to make those decisions for herself. The young woman’s decision-making process includes choosing who is best able to give her emotional support, before and after treatment. Providers of abortion services offer professional counselling and have procedures on place for providing post-treatment care.”

In a conscience vote on the amendment, MPs voted 45 to 75 against it. One Member of Parliament stated that although this was supposedly a 'conscience vote,' politicians were aware they would not advance in the Labour Party if they voted against the Party's wishes.

Ms Collins was quoted in the Howick Times as saying: “[The legislative change] would protect the girl and at the same time acknowledge the role of parents. I don’t think it is it – I will wait for a new Parliament and try again. There are far too many Labour MPs in there and not enough that think about our mums and dads.”

A second amendment, that the Abortion Supervisory Committee keeps records of girls being abused, was also lost. Ms Collins said the committee was established in 1977 to supervise the issue.

“They don’t keep sufficient records of these girls and what happens to them. Do they come back for another abortion 10 months later? Do they commit suicide?” She said the committee relies on anecdotal evidence and there’s no accurate statistics.

“By bringing this issue into the open, there is a greater awareness – 71 per cent of people surveyed agreed with this provision. I think there will be growing support.”

Cause Celebre in UK
A celebrated British case, headlined in the tabloid press as “Mum’s Shock at Schoolgirl Abortion” in May 2004, generated nationwide publicity and controversy.

Mrs Smith discovered that her 14 year old daughter had been given an RU486 tablet to start the termination process after the girl changed her mind.
Maureen Smith of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, was walking down the street when she met a school friend of her 14-year old daughter Melissa. The girl let slip that Melissa had been referred for an abortion by a health worker at her school.

Mrs Smith discovered that her daughter had been to Kings Mill Hospital and given an RU486 tablet to start the termination process. After taking the pill, Melissa, with the support of her boyfriend, changed her mind and asked the doctors for an antidote so that her baby could be saved. She was told it was too late.

When Melissa returned to the hospital to complete the abortion, her mother was able to accompany her. She later told the news media:

“My daughter is just a kid, she needed her mother with her. I had no idea this sort of thing could happen without me knowing. I feel like my right as a parent has been taken away from me. I feel like my heart has been ripped out, so God knows what my daughter has been going through. Had I known in time, she would have had my full support, and that of her boyfriend’s parents, and we could have discussed it as a family.”

“If I hadn’t been there during the termination and something had gone wrong, who would they have called then? Me, her mother, of course.”
When Mrs Smith contacted the school based clinic she was told that under confidentiality laws, they did not have to share any information with her.

When Mrs Smith contacted the outreach health service at Brunts School, the managers told her that under confidentiality laws, they did not have to share any information with her. The Brunt School principal and health management defended the outreach service, insisting that Melissa had received total support and would do so when she returned to school.

The Daily Mail and other papers gave the episode front-page coverage. Mrs Maureen Smith received overwhwelming public support, whilst 28-year old Claire Chapman, the health worker who arranged Melissa’s abortion, was so distressed at the media scrutiny that she went on paid leave and into hiding.

A California teen, Holly Patterson, and a 16 year old Swedish girl both died after taking RU 486 without parental knowledge.

The case for confidentiality
  • Parental Notification laws may force minors (under 16) to have illegal abortions rather than tell their parents
  • Some teenagers face physical danger from angry parents. Others are pregnant due to rape or incest, and cannot tell their parents
  • Parental Notification interferes with a woman’s right to an abortion
  • Most teenage girls are mature enough to make their own decisions about an abortion
  • The majority of teenagers already talk to their parents, or at least one parent, before having an abortion, so such a law change is unnecessary
The 13 year old girl was considered too young to consent to the abortion and was subjected to further abuse and a second abortion because of the clinic's failure to report the case.
Legal liability
In 2003, a judge ruled that Planned Parenthood of Arizona was negligent for failing to report performing an abortion on a 13-year-old girl who was impregnated by her 23-year-old foster brother. The girl's lawyers argued that the clinic should have reported the case because the girl was too young to consent to the abortion under Arizona law and that she was subjected to further abuse and a second abortion because of the clinic's negligence.

In 2005, an Ohio Planned Parenthood abortion facility has had charges filed against it by the parents of a 14 year-old girl who was allegedly coerced into an abortion after being statutorily raped by her 21 year-old boyfriend. The suit alleges that the girl's boyfriend misrepresented himself as her stepbrother to cover up the statutory rape and he paid for the abortion with a credit card.

Despite Ohio's parental notification laws, the girls' parents claimed that the abortion business never told them they would be performing an abortion on their daughter.

Abortion opponents claim that Planned Parenthood, in its opposition to parental notification, frequently allow sexual predators to continue their exploitation of underage girls.

NZ Family Planning Association’s case against Parental Notification/Consent
Adapted from their September 2003 submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Care of Children Bill.

  • Women as a whole do not in the vast majority of cases suffer negative effects from abortion. “Legal, safe” abortions carry a very low risk for women medically and psychologically. Research has disproved the existence of post-abortion syndrome
  • A legal requirement for parental consent can result in increasing unsafe abortions and other risks, including delay in seeking a pregnancy test, support, or an abortion
  • Research in the USA has found that most under-16s faced with an unplanned pregnancy, do consult at least one of their parents. In cases where they do not consult their parents, they are often both competent to make the decision, and have good reasons for not informing their parents. They will also have been involved with the health professional who refers them
  • Under NZ’s international obligations (ICPD Programme of Action), adolescents have rights to services that meet their reproductive and sexual health needs, and to privacy, confidentiality and informed consent (73a).
The case for Parental Notification/Consent
A GP and counsellor with 25 years experience, comments on this situation

  • An estimated one-third of pregnant teenagers tell one or both parents. More confide in their mother. The main reason for secrecy is embarrassment, shame and reluctance to hurt their parents: “Mum would just die! Dad will kill me!” Girls are reluctant to shatter the good girl image their parents have of them
  • A doctor usually makes the pregnancy diagnosis. A doctor advises that if the girl has real fears for her safety, her doctor can invite the parents to the surgery and break the news with the daughter present, or speak to them over the phone. The result is that the parents (particularly the father), have been put on notice that this authority figure knows, can and will report any child abuse. As a result it never happens.
  • “Few girls want to tell their parents. They think they’ll explode, condemn, reject, feel ashamed – they don’t want to hurt them. The girl feels alone, frightened, defiant, worried. She desperately needs her parents love and help.”
  • “Some parents do ‘explode’ initially, but then offer love, help and understanding. I have found that when a girl does receive such help from her parents, it becomes the occasion of real growth in maturity, love and confidence. She faces her responsibility and stands tall. The family bond is strengthened by the sharing of the burden.”
  • When a girl under 16 has an abortion without her parent’s knowledge, she is conscious of her “dark secret”, and the act of deliberate deception, however justified. There can be considerable post-abortion trauma, compounded by the deception, leading to risk-taking behaviour such as drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and even suicide attempts, particularly around the time when the child would have been born. Parents notice the change in behaviour, but cannot comprehend the cause.
  • Often, when parents do find out, they are angry at the authorities that arranged the abortion. Their powerlessness under the law, only aggravates their frustration. They have been denied the opportunity to demonstrate love and support to their daughter.
Teenagers have a higher risk than mature women of developing psychological and emotional problems after an abortion.
Psychological considerations
David Reardon of the Eliott Institute, which does research on the after effects of abortion, wrote a study based on research showing teenagers have a higher risk than mature women of developing psychological and emotional problems after an abortion. (1)

Their psychological defence mechanisms are not fully developed. Consequently abortion can be especially harmful for teens because of it occurs at a critical time in the development of their self-identity. (2)

Teenage girls are more likely to experience intense feelings of guilt, depression and isolation after an abortion (3) and great risk of suicide. (4)

What if there are medical complications?
  • Parents of a minor are required to give consent for medical and surgical procedures – the exception is abortion. If the girl has an abortion and there are later complications requiring surgical intervention, the parents will be informed.
  • With RU 486 abortions, the girl can be at risk if she is unaware of her family’s medical history, which could bring about a reaction to the medication.
The risks of breast cancer are supposed to be further increased if the girl’s mother herself aborted her first pregnancy.
It is still a very controversial issue with cancer agencies, but numerous studies indicate a link between aborting a first pregnancy and later breast cancer. Dr Angela Lanfranchi, a breast cancer surgeon recommends that parents be informed of the risks, so that they can arrange mammograms eight-to-ten years later, when the first signs may appear and can be treated. The risks are supposed to be further increased if the girl’s mother herself aborted her first pregnancy.

Voters support parental notification
Floridians voted on Nov. 2 2004 to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to require abortion businesses to notify parents if their minor daughter is seeking an abortion. The amendment passed with the support of 64.7 percent of voters, while 35.3 percent opposed it.

The measure, known as Amendment 1, does not create parental notification but clears the way for the legislature to put such a law in place. The Florida Supreme Court blocked two previous attempts by the state legislature to implement parental notification, but the voter-approved amendment overrides the Court's decisions.

Opponents of the bill had argued that parental notification puts girls at risk of abuse if their parents find out they are pregnant. However, 'pro-life' advocates have pointed out that abortion is often used as a tool to cover up and continue sexual abuse by hiding the evidence.

Research has also shown that teens are more likely than older women to report feeling pressured into abortion and to see the abortion experience as stressful, and that they are at higher risk of suicide and other emotional problems after abortion.

New Zealand's Maxim Institute questions the conflict between the rights of the child and the rights of the parent. They say that the child's right to protection has been eroded, because the law has been shaped around feminist ideology rather than around the best interests of the child or the rights of parents. Read more here.

A wider picture
In America an overwhelming 80% of Americans support parental notification. The fight against parental notification, driven by lobby groups such as NARAL, and the nation's largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood would appear to be less about 'choice' and women's rights than about money.

In September 2002, when Democrats first blocked Justice Priscilla Owen from a circuit court nomination over a Texas Supreme Court ruling that upheld a parental notice law, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah put it this way:
I fear the opposition to Justice Owen from the abortion lobby is not at all about abortion rights, because abortion rights are not affected by a mere notice statute.

The opposition to Justice Owen is not really about abortion rights, it is about abortion profits.

Simply put, the abortion industry is opposed to parental notice laws because parental notice laws place a hurdle between them and the profits from the abortion clients--not the girls who come to them but the adult men who pay for these abortions. These adult men, whose average age rises the younger the girl is, are eager not to be disclosed to parents, sometimes living down the street. . . .

At nearly one million abortions per year, the abortion industry is as big as any corporate interest that lobbies in Washington. They not only ignore the rights of parents, they also protect sexual offenders and statutory rapists.
While it was noted that abortion lobbyists present were shocked at Mr. Hatch's statement, no Democratic senator responded to Hatch's charge. Something very unusual. Not even Dianne Feinstein of California, who, as she always notes, ran for the U.S. Senate to protect abortion rights.

Abortion opponents in New Zealand point out that although those who promote the right to abortion in New Zealand and oppose the parental notification of minors do not profit from the abortions directly, they do profit in other ways.

When the abortion statistics are released each year, and the number of schoolage girls having abortions is publicly decried, abortion rights advocates call for greater funding for more sex education. Sex education, opponents point out, that is provided by those who help underage girls to get abortions.

"When in doubt," they say, "follow the money."

  1. Rue & Speckhard: “Post-Abortion Trauma, Incidence & Diagnostic Considerations”, Medicine & Mind, 1991
  2. Deutsch, M, “Personality Factors, Self Concept, and Family Variables Related to First Time and Repeat Abortion-Seeking Behaviour in Adolescent Women” Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, American University, 1982
  3. Franz, W & Reardon, D, “Differential Impact of Abortion on Adolescents & Adults” Adolescence
  4. Biro, Wildey, Hillard & Rauh, “Acute and Long-Term Consequences of Adolescents Who ChooseAbortions”, Pediatric Annals, 1986