January 2nd, 2014

Troubling consequences of seeking consent for abortion

By Jolene Tan

The proposed consent requirements will thus have the greatest effect in cases where there is the danger of family violence.

abortionRecent calls for parental or spousal consent when minors or married women seek abortions overlook some troubling potential consequences (“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy not ideal” by Dr Yik Keng Yeong and “Why parental consent laws are necessary” by Mr Darius Lee; both published on Thursday).

These requirements would be triggered only when a patient has already decided to seek a termination. Therefore, the main effect of a parental consent requirement is to give parents the power to coerce minors to bring unwanted pregnancies to term and give birth against the children’s wishes.

Dr Yik also proposes a requirement for spousal consent or involvement. Taken in tandem with marital immunity for rape in the Penal Code, which treats marriage as a defence to charges of rape, this would give husbands the legal freedom to force their unwilling wives to have children.

Minors who have a relationship of trust with their family already consult their parents and listen to their views, even without a formal consent requirement. The same is true of women with loving and supportive husbands.

The proposed consent requirements will thus have the greatest effect in cases where there is the danger of family violence.

Introducing a court process will intimidate and distress patients, especially those who already live in fear of abuse. Legal inquiry into abuse allegations would be time-consuming, creating difficulties for patients already facing a 24-week time limit.

Moreover, it is difficult to see how a genuine investigative process could remain confidential and avoid the very disclosure to parents that minors at risk of family violence need to avoid.

Dr Yik believes a consent requirement may address the sexual abuse of minors.

In our experience, many sexual assault victims are reluctant to make reports because they fear they will not be trusted or believed. Denying them access to the medical services they have requested will do nothing to allay these concerns.

Mr Lee suggests that abortion carries the risk of complications, but he ignores the far greater risks attached to bringing a pregnancy to term and childbirth, which have much more significant impact on physical and mental health.

Notably, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital identifies women under the age of 21 and those with unplanned pregnancies as two groups facing especially high risk of post-natal depression.

Jolene Tan is the Programmes and Communications Senior Manager at AWARE. This article was first published in The Straits Times Forum on 30 November 2013. See the published version here.

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