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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
New abortion rules spark protest
Guidance stresses that adult support is important
Anti-abortion campaigners have condemned new guidelines which confirm doctors can help girls under 16 to have an abortion without involving parents.

They argue the Department of Health guidance on contraception and abortion ignores the parent's right to know what is best for their child.

But supporters say girls have a right to get confidential advice. They say it will help to protect them, reduce the number of teen pregnancies and tackle the spread of infections.

The guidance follows uproar after a case in May where a 14-year-old girl was allowed to have a secret abortion after speaking to a community health worker at her school.

It's vital young people feel confident enough to approach health professionals and receive the information and treatment they need.
Anne Weyman
Family Planning Association

Michelle Smith, from Mansfield, Notts, took the first of two pills as part of the chemical abortion process.

Within days her mother, Maureen Smith, found out what was happening and the teenager changed her mind but it was too late.

The new advice stresses every effort should be made to find adult support if a girl under 16 is seeking an abortion without the consent of her parents.

It also says a good rapport is the key to providing under 16s with effective sexual health advice.

Parents confused

Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said: "We are ensuring doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are clear about providing advice about sexual health and contraception and are providing the best possible care."

It seems absurd to us that the government is saying parents should be sidelined in this way.
Paul Tully, Society for Protection of Unborn Children
Confidentiality will remain a duty for them, except when a young person's right to privacy is outweighed by a risk to her health, safety and welfare.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Head of Science and Ethics said: "It is essential that competent young people's autonomy continues to be recognised and respected in this way, to ensure a good doctor-patient relationship, based on trust, within which young people feel they are able to seek advice."

But family rights campaigner Victoria Gillick said no parent would think the guidelines were right.

"Parents are totally confused," she said.

"They are knocked sideways by the proliferation of advice coming to children about how they can get round their parents and keep them in the dark about their sexual relationships, contraceptive devices and abortion."

Right to confidentiality

The new guidance is an update of advice issued in 1986 after a ruling by the House of Lords enshrined the right of young people to confidential advice on contraception.

I can understand why parents are angry but why aren't they looking to see why their children fell pregnant in the first place?
Lucy, UK

Victoria Gillick had wanted to bar doctors from prescribing contraceptives to girls under 16 without telling their parents, but this was rejected.

The guidelines re-emphasise a young person's right to confidential sexual health guidance - and also make explicit reference to abortion for the first time.

It says health workers should discuss:

  • The emotional and physical implications of sexual activity, including the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

  • Whether the relationship is mutually agreed or whether there may be coercion or abuse.

  • The benefits of informing their GP and encouraging discussion with a parent or carer. Any refusal should be respected.

  • In the case of abortion, where the young woman is competent to consent but cannot be persuaded to involve a parent, every effort should be made to help them find another adult to provide support, for example another family member of specialist youth worker.

  • Any additional counselling or support needs.

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"The rule of confidentiality can be broken"


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