The High Court has given doctors the go-ahead to perform abortions on under-16s without their parents’ consent.
The Department of Health issued guidelines in July 2004 stating that under-16s had the right to complete confidentiality when undergoing a termination.
But mother-of-five Sue Axon, who had an abortion 20 years ago and wanted to ensure neither of her daughters would ever have to undergo such an experience without at least their mother being present to guide and support them, launched a judicial review challenging the guidance.
However, High Court judge Mr Justice Silber ruled this week that confidentiality was paramount where a young patient’s mental or physical health could be at risk. He said it was therefore legitimate for doctors to advise patients under 16 on abortion, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent or knowledge.
The ruling was welcomed by the British Medical Association, the Family Planning Association and sexual health charity Brook.
Brook chief executive Jan Barlow pointed to a recent survey which found that three quarters of under-16s would be less likely to seek sexual health advice if they thought information could be passed on to others. “I very much hope that we can now draw a line under this unhelpful debate. Now young people can continue to seek advice knowing that their confidentiality will be respected,” she said.
Responding to the ruling, public health minister Caroline Flint said: “I understand this is a very difficult issue, which is why our guidance makes it clear that healthcare professionals should always try and persuade a young person to involve their parents.”
She added that confidentiality was not absolute. “Where a health professional believes there to be a serious risk to the safety of a young person, the case should be referred through local child protection procedures,” she said.
Mrs Axon, whose eldest daughter is due to give birth around her 17th birthday in March, said she was disappointed with the judgement. “I hope parents and children will recognise the trauma of abortion and be able to talk openly. It is only then that our children can be protected from potentially damaging advice offered by professionals who do not know them.”