March 7th, 2016

Unwise to require parental consent for abortions

silhouette-teenBy Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

We disagree with Mr Darius Lee’s recent call to require parental consent for under-18s to access abortions (“Restore parental consent for abortions for under-18s“; Forum Online, Feb 25).

Girls and young women who are fortunate enough to have a relationship of trust with their family would already voluntarily consult their parents, take into account their views, and receive their support, even without a formal consent requirement.

If this relationship of trust does not exist, then, requiring disclosure to parents against the minor’s will may expose her to the risk of family violence.

Moreover, Mr Lee does not consider the possibility that a minor’s pregnancy may be the result of sexual abuse by a family member. The unfortunate reality is that parents may be complicit in – or even the direct perpetrators of – such abuse.

A consent requirement has its biggest impact in a case where the minor has already decided to terminate the pregnancy but her parents might disagree. In such a case, the parents would be given the power to coerce the minor to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth against her will.

This situation is very different from age-based regulations on cigarettes, alcohol, marriage and contracts, which Mr Lee cites as parallels.

A parent who withholds consent to any of these enterprises will not materially harm the minor’s well-being and quality of life. They are experiences which the minor can access later, in adulthood, should he so choose.

By contrast, a minor seeking to terminate a pregnancy is already in a difficult situation and the decision cannot be deferred.

Carrying a pregnancy to term will have an enormous impact on her physical and psychological well-being as well as her social circumstances, possibly for the rest of her life. In this matter, her wishes should be respected as paramount, and not overridden by others.

The Health Promotion Board already provides additional mandatory counselling to under-16s to address their particular needs.

It may be helpful for the state to offer support and resources to assist voluntary mediation between parents and pregnant minors, but a consent requirement for abortion would be harmful.

This letter first appeared on The Straits Times Forum on 29 February 2016.

Comments are closed.