A case is being brought by Sue Axon to challenge the right of health professionals to give sexual health information and treatment (including contraception and abortion advice) to children without their parents knowledge. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,,1637418,00.html.) She claims this breaches article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for family life. This isnt a simple repeat of the Victoria Gillick case, who argued that parental consent was necessary for giving contraception to under-age girls: Sue Axon just wants the right to know. But its going to be difficult to argue that a child has the right to make possibly fairly drastic decisions about their own health treatment, but not the right to decide who should know about them. And if you demand parental notification, youre then going to get very difficult cases about whether girls are being effectively coerced into having/not having an abortion by their families. Parents have a lot of leverage over children, up to and including throwing them out of the household if they dont do as they want, and its possible they may abuse it.
I can have some sympathy with Sue Axons point of view: she is saying that parents should be available to support a girl who is making a very difficult decision about abortion, and shes prompted by regrets about an abortion she once had. But it seems to me that shes wrong to try and argue for a legal remedy for this problem. (There are parallels here to Bitch PhDs comments on spousal notification as morally obligatory versus legally obligatory ((see http://haloscan.com/tb/bitchphd/113141609567346086). The law has to be there for all cases, including the worst, and clearly there are some cases where it would be wrong or actively harmful to inform the parents (e.g. if theres suspicion of abuse). And its almost impossible to think of a way of deciding judicially what such cases should be. How realistic would it be to have confidential judicial hearings, for example, for a child to argue that their right of confidentiality should be preserved? I think you have to have a right to confidentiality, and then you have to have strong guidance to health professionals (as there is already) to do everything they can to encourage children to talk to their parents. The Family Planning Association seems to have made a rather arrogant and poorly worded response in the case (judging by the report at http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1640257,00.html), but the statement on their website (http://www.fpa.org.uk/news/press/051107.htm) is better and makes the good point that fears about confidentiality would put a lot of children about seeking advice on any sexual matters.
There also seems to me a rather tragic air about the case, that there wasnt about the Gillick one. Mrs Axon is seeking to prevent her children suffering in the way she did, but even if she got her way, it would not have altered anything in her case, since she was of age when she had an abortion. Meanwhile, it has been reported that her oldest daughter has become pregnant since Mrs Axon began bringing the case (http://www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,,1639368,00.html). Since the girls 16 its not clear that any supposed change would actually have affected the outcome. But I do wonder whether Mrs Axons concentration on the case has affected the time and energy shes had available to give her own children. As for her argument that the pregnancy was encouraged by the availability of confidential advice, thats pretty weak. The one thing thats clear is that the daughter didnt get advice about contraception or abortion (or at least didnt follow it).