Mother launches abortion 'right to know' bid

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Sue Axon, 51, a divorced single parent from Baguley, Wythenshawe, Manchester, is seeking a judicial review with implications for parents across the country.

She had an abortion 20 years ago which caused her "guilt, shame and depression for many years and to this day regrets having undergone it", a judge heard.

"She hopes that neither of her daughters will have to undergo such an experience without at least their mother being present to guide and support them."

Her QC Philip Havers told Mr Justice Silber, sitting in London: "This case raises the important question whether the parent of a young person aged under 16 who goes to her doctor or other health professional for advice and treatment in respect of contraception, or in respect of sexually transmitted infections, or in respect of an abortion, are entitled at least to be told about the proposed advice and treatment before it is provided."

Mr Havers said Mrs Axon, who has five children, "does not say that doctors cannot provide such advice or carry out such treatment without the parents' consent.

"Her contention is much more modest. She merely says that as a matter of law she has the right to be notified - in shorthand, the case is about 'the right to know'."

Mrs Axon has stressed that her own teenage daughters, Joy, 16, and Amber, 13, have not sought abortions and that she is bringing the case "as a matter of principle".

Mrs Axon is challenging the legality of Department of Health guidance issued on July 29 last year on the provision of advice and treatment to under-16s on contraception and sexual and reproductive health.

The guidance replaced earlier Government advice in the wake of a case brought by Catholic mother Victoria Gillick over the prescription of the pill to under-16s.

The House of Lords ruled in 1986 that doctors and health professionals were justified in giving contraceptive advice and treatment without parental knowledge or consent, provided certain conditions were met.

Mr Havers said today the court had to decide whether the current guidance was lawful, bearing in mind times had changed since the Gillick decision in the 1980s.

Mrs Axon's concern was that it "undermines her role as a parent" as she believed that a parent should be involved in "helping her daughters in their early teenage years to make wise decisions as to matters such as contraception, and, if it came to it, abortion".

The current guidelines infringed her parental rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, he said.

They stated that, although doctors should try to persuade children to tell their parents or a family member, terminations can take place without parental consent.

The guidelines advise doctors that the confidentiality of under-16s must be respected if they want to terminate a pregnancy.

Before today's hearing, due to last three days, Mrs Axon said outside the Royal Courts of Justice: "I am hoping to have the guidance overturned so that young children can have their parents involved if they have to go through an abortion."

She described the law at the moment as "absolutely crazy" and said it "lets these children down".

Mrs Axon said if their school wanted to give one of her daughters a paracetamol "they would have to phone and ask my permission".

"Not long ago my daughter needed a plaster on her toe and her youth club asked for my permission.

"I find the law absolutely crazy that she can have an abortion without me supposed to know about it. I think the law is absolutely crazy and lets these children down."

Asked about the young girls who would suffer if their parents found out they were pregnant and needed an abortion, she replied that the same rules could not be applied "to every single girl".

She added: "I accept there are some families where parents cannot be involved.

"But we keep using the argument 'What about these girls that self-harm?' You know they are frightened and that there should a path to help these girls.

"But I would say 'What about all these girls who have had an abortion, and they have gone on to self-harm, and they have gone on to take drugs, and they have actually gone and committed suicide? What about these girls?"