Monday, September 13, 2004

Sensible, my arse!

David Farrar nods approvingly at Judith Collins' proposal to require parental notification before abortions can be performed on under 16's. After all, it's only a right of notification, not a right of veto or to refuse consent, and there's no harm in that, right?

Wrong. Given the powers of parents to restrict their children's movements, a right of notification is effectively a right of veto. Legal nicities of consent mean nothing when you cannot leave the house and when parents can use "reasonable force" to enforce their decision. That's the extreme case; more generally, parents have an enormous amount of emotional and financial power over their children, and can easily use this to force them to continue a pregnancy. That's why the present law leaves the decision to notify parents in the hands of the teenager - because there is simply too great a potential for coercion.

What about the judicial safeguard? I think it's illusory, for two reasons. Firstly, in the absence of evidence from other parties (which cannot be collected in the sort of process Collins describes), a judge will be no better qualified to decide how parents will react than the child themselves is. In these circumstances, they'll be nothing more than glorified counsellors - which is, in a way, the point. The sole purpose of this amendment is to increase the number of hoops teenagers must jump through to get an abortion, to force them to justify their decision (and their sexual activity) to a perceived authority figure - in short, to increase the emotional cost and the shame involved in the hope of putting them off. It's intended as a punishment, and teenagers will rightly see it that way and try and avoid it. And the consequences of that are fairly horrific.

This is not a proposal any liberal should support, and Labour should abort it as quickly as possible.