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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 10:27 GMT
Q&A: Abortion challenge
Sue Axon
Sue Axon believes parents have a right to be told
A mother has taken a legal challenge to guidelines allowing girls to have abortions without parental consent to the High Court.

Sue Axon wants parents to be informed if a girl under the age of 16 is referred for an abortion.

The BBC News website examines the issues at the heart of the argument.

What is the current law?

The Department of Health guidelines state that doctors should try to persuade children to tell their parents or a family member if they want an abortion.

However, they also say if this is not possible then an abortion can take place without parental consent.

In this case every effort should be made to find another adult - such as another family member or specailist youth worker - to provide support.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. The guidance says the duty of confidentiality is not absolute.

The right to privacy can be over-ridden where there is thought to be a serious risk to the health, safety or welfare of a young person.

In this circumstance, health workers are advised to follow locally agreed child protection protocols.

Some local health authorities have already changed their guidance so that professionals are required to report all sexual activity among younger teenagers to social workers and police, regardless of the circumstances.

Why do campaigners want the law changed?

Mrs Axon, a mother of two from Wythenshawe in Manchester, claims the guidelines infringe her parental rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

She says it is "crazy" that she should not be told if either of her daughters had a termination.

Her lawyers will argue that the House of Lords has already ruled that only in "exceptional circumstances" should parents not be told about treatment given to their children.

Victoria Gillick went to court in 1983 to try to stop doctors prescribing contraception to under-16s without parental consent.

She said it was not enough to say that only a small minority of girls would be affected by the guidelines.

She told the BBC: "Children are being told at school you can go to your school nurse and if you're pregnant, we'll actually take you to a hospital, put you on an operating table, you will be aborted, and sent home with nobody actually knowing what has happened to you."

Who backs the current law?

Doctors and sexual health groups fear that scrapping confidentiality would drive teenage girls away from sexual health clinics.

This, they fear, could trigger a rise in sexually transmitted infections and late abortions among those who delay seeking help because of their parents' reaction.

They argue that girls with violent parents, and those who have been the victims of family sexual abuse would be particularly at risk.

Anne Weyman, of the Family Planning Association, said confidentiality was the "single most important factor" in a young person's decision to go to a health centre.

Sexual health charity Brook carried out a survey which revealed that almost three-quarters of young people under 16 would be less likely to seek advice at all if they thought other people could be told about their visit.

The BMA said it was essential that patients have access to impartial and confidential medical advice.

See why Sue Axon demands to know if her daughter has an abortion

Mother seeks abortion rule change
08 Nov 05 |  Manchester
Mother to challenge abortion laws
14 Dec 04 |  Manchester
Mother calls for abortion review
18 Oct 04 |  Manchester
Mother angry at secret abortion
13 May 04 |  Nottinghamshire
Should parents give consent to abortions?
17 May 04 |  Have Your Say
Q&A: Teen pregnancy and confidentiality
31 Jul 04 |  Nottinghamshire
Abortion guidelines: Your views
03 Aug 04 |  Have Your Say

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