(First published in The Dominion Post, September 4.)
Mention abortion and a lot of people metaphorically block their ears and start humming loudly.At the very sight of the word in this column, some readers will probably turn the page and move on. But this is an issue that refuses to go away.
It was re-ignited last week when Hillary Kieft of Stratford courageously spoke before a parliamentary select committee.Kieft’s daughter, at the age of 15, was referred for an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. She later tried to kill herself.
The abortion was arranged by the daughter’s school. According to her mother, she was given no other option.That a vulnerable teenager could be referred for a potentially life-changing and psychologically damaging operation without parental knowledge seems despicable. It deprived her of family support when she most needed it.
The defence for keeping parents in the dark in such situations is that they can’t always be relied on to support pregnant daughters. Some girls would risk being harshly punished for bringing disgrace on their family, which is despicable in its own way.This provides politicians with a ready-made excuse not to accede to Kieft’s petition for a law change that would require parents to be notified before girls under the age of 16 could be referred for an abortion.
It seems an extraordinarily modest request, given that parents are normally assumed to have some control over what happens to their children. But don’t expect Parliament to act.Most politicians run a mile from the abortion debate. Too difficult; too likely to stir up raw emotions.
I expect that the select committee will gratefully seize any reason for not meddling with the status quo. The possibility that not all parents might be as loving as Hillary and Peter Kieft will provide them with all the justification they need.But that would leave a grave wrong unremedied. It’s not hard to understand why the Kiefts and others in their situation feel their rights as parents have been coldly disregarded.
What made matters worse in their case was that it wasn’t just a passive deception. It appears they were wilfully misled.Kieft said that when their daughter was dropped off after the abortion, she and her husband were told she had been to a counselling appointment. If that’s true, they were told a bare-faced lie.
So this is what it has come to: an agency of the state not only usurping parents’ rights, but trying to cover it up by lying.We should expect no more, because the administration of the abortion law is drenched top to bottom with dishonesty.
The dishonesty starts with the pretence that abortions are carried out for the mental health of the mother. It was officially acknowledged as long ago as 1998 that this is a “pseudo-legal” justification to get around the fact that otherwise, abortion remains an offence under the Crimes Act.If dishonesty can be practised on such a scale that it’s used to justify 14,000 abortions every year, it’s easy to see why lying to a schoolgirl’s parents would be considered no big deal.
The school can always say it only did what everyone else associated with the carrying out of abortions does. You might call it top-down dishonesty.In this case the deceit was compounded because even when a psychology team was called in to help with their daughter’s deteriorating mental state, the Kiefts were not told what had triggered the change in her behaviour.
In other words there was a conspiracy of silence which involved health professionals too. And in the meantime the Kiefts were afraid to go to sleep at night for fear that their daughter might not be alive when they woke up.Kieft told the select committee there was no follow-up counselling or medical care for their daughter. Once the job was done, neither her school nor the Family Planning clinic where the abortion was carried out showed any further interest.
So much for all the hypocritical cant about abortionists being primarily concerned for women’s wellbeing.The acute irony is that a University of Otago study found in 2008 that women who had had abortions had a 30 per cent greater risk of developing mental health problems.
No one talks about this. That’s more dishonesty, right there.So while abortions are ostensibly about protecting women’s mental health, they often have precisely the reverse effect. And so it turned out in the sad case of Kieft’s daughter, who still takes medication every day to deal with depression.
Footnote: A letter in the Dominion Post of September 7, written by Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond, says the abortion in question could not have been carried out by a Family Planning clinic because only its Tauranga clinic is licensed to carry out abortions.
I accept that that's technically correct. My column was based on information in a Dominion Post story that said the girl was taken to a Family Planning clinic. But the distinction is an academic one. The abortion was arranged by Family Planning, and I find it interesting that the organisation now gives the impression of wanting to distance itself from the case.