The United Nations alongside its member states recognises children as those who fall under the age of eighteen. (UNICEF, 2006)Therefore laws protecting children’s rights will apply to the above mentioned groups. The extent to which children have rights in abortion laws and provision will be examined under to main perspectives. The first perspective is with regard to the rights of the unborn child and the second is in relation to parental involvement during abortions for under-eighteens. The laws will be compared to abortion laws in other countries and also the effect of the European Union will be included.
How rights of the unborn child are protected through abortion laws
The UK is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Children’s rights held in the month of December in the year 1991. The Convention acts as a basis for protection of children’s rights in all member states. (Every Child Matters, 2008)
The convention provides that all children have the right to life. This brings up a vital question; can a foetus be considered as a child? The United Kingdom recognises viable foetuses as those ones who have exceeded twenty four weeks. (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2004) This is why the Abortion Act of 1967 allows abortions before a pregnancy has reached that stipulated time. In relation to this, the UK only allows abortion in cases where the unborn child will affect his mother’s health both physically and mentally. By providing such a restriction, the unborn child’s right to life is protected because mothers may not terminate their pregnancies for minor reasons. This ensures that unborn children’s rights are protected in the most viable way possible.
The Abortion Act of 1967 also provides that abortions should only be carried out after obtaining consent from two medical practitioners. (Abortion right, 2007) The purpose of this stipulation is to further ascertain that abortions are only carried out in extreme conditions and that a child’s best interests are protected even before they are born. However, certain human rights groups like the Society for the protection of the unborn child claims that these laws are not doing enough to protect the unborn child. They argue that all abortions should be made illegal through repealing of the abortion acts relevant to women in the UK today. (Arthur, 2007)
Experts agree that the United Kingdom’s abortion laws are quite severe to women but protect unborn children through its restrictions. In comparison to other countries in that area, unborn children take precedence over women. In countries like Turkey, Austria, France and Norway, abortions are allowed on request by women. This is something that does not occur in the UK. In the former mentioned countries, unborn children are not considered as a priority. The State does have the right to protect children and this can be extended to unborn ones especially those ones in later stages of pregnancy.
Parental involvement for under-eighteens
Current UK laws have guidelines that provide that pregnant girls under the age of eighteen can conduct abortions on their own without parental involvement. (Kerrilie, 2007) Doctors are also obliged to maintain those girls’ privacy and confidentiality. However, according to the UN Convention of Children’s rights, Governments are expected respect children’s rights to a nationality, name and even family ties. Additionally, the Convention states that;
‘Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to direct and guide their children so that as they grow, they learn to use those rights properly.’ (UNICEF, 2006)
One can argue that current guidelines on parental involvement in abortions performed for under-eighteens in the United Kingdom do not apply this principle. They do not respect children’s rights to family ties. This argument was seen in a case brought forward by a fifty one year old Sue Axon against the UK government. (BBC, 2005) She believed that girls should not be allowed confidentiality by the State when seeking termination because it was undermining family life and family ties. During examination, the prosecutor claimed that parents should be given the mandate to advise their children about their health and lives. She asserted that abortion guidelines currently encourage a culture of mistrust and secrecy between children and their parents. This prosecutor’s arguments were quite relevant to her life because she had been a victim to an abortion herself and that she had been living with the negative effects of the act all her life. She also added that she was not against children’s right to terminate pregnancies, but she was advocating for parental involvement so as to strengthen family ties. (BBC, 2005)
In light of her arguments, one can conclude that the UK has not adhered to its obligations as stipulated in the UN Convention which require that all signatories should protect children’s rights to family ties. This argument is supported further by laws passed in other countries of the world. The US has strict laws about parental consent in abortion cases. More than half of the States in the US require that parents be involved in children’s abortion cases. On the other hand, other States require that parents be given a notice and then a waiting period in order for abortions to be carried on people under the age of eighteen. (Jones et al, 2005) The United States has continued to take the issue of children’s rights seriously by introducing the ‘Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act’. This law requires that parent need to comply with parental consent laws within their State and those who assist children to enter other States that do not impose parental consent laws in order to perform abortions will be liable to punishment as befits federal criminals. (Guttmacher Institute, 2008)The passage of such laws indicates that the United States values family ties and children’s rights to these ties. This is something that has not been covered in current abortion laws within the UK. The UK should follow examples set by other developed countries like the US.
However, the flipside to this argument can be seen in subsequent articles found within the UN Convention on Children’s rights.
‘Children have the right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into account…’
‘Children have a right to privacy. The law should protect them from attacks against their way of life, their good name, their families and their homes.’ (UNICEF, 2006)
The first phrase allows children to participate in decisions that affect them. The UK government has complied with this requirement through its abortion laws. (Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, 1998) This is because it allows children to seek for abortions independently. The second phrase requires parents and states to respect children’s right to privacy which is something that they have complied with in their abortion laws since doctors are obliged to protect their privacy. (Eastwood et al, 2006)
In the field of abortion laws, the UK government partly protects children’s rights and also disregards them in other instances. It protects unborn children’s right to life by restricting legal abortions. In addition, it also protects children’s right to privacy and freedom to express themselves through its privacy laws during abortions. (Every Child Matters, 2008) However, it does not protect children’s rights regarding parental responsibilities and family ties since minors may seek for terminations without parental involvement. (Wood et al, 2005)
Abortion right (2007): History of Abortion law in the UK; retrieved from http://www.abortionrights.org.uk accessed on 28th April 2008
Arthur, J (2007): Repeal all Abortion laws; report for Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 27th October 2007
BBC (2005): Abortion law breeds ‘family lies’; retrieved from; http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk accessed on 28th April 2008
Every Child Matters (2008): UN Convention on the rights of the Child: UK report; retrieved from http://www.everychildmatters.gov.k/resources-and-practice/IG00249 accessed on 28th April 2008
Eastwood, K. et al. (2006); Abortion training in United Kingdom obstetrics and gynaecology residency programs, Obstet Gynecol Journal; 2006; 108(2): 303-308
Foster A. et al (2006); Abortion education in nurse practitioner, physician assistant and certified nurse-midwifery programs: a national survey, Contraception Journal, 73,2, 408-414
Guttmacher Institute (2008); Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States, New York, NY; Guttmacher Institute Journal
Guttmacher Institute (2008); Counselling and Waiting Periods for Abortion, State Policies in Brief; New York, NY: Guttmacher Institute, retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_MWPA.pd accessed on 28th April, 2008
Jones R. et al (2005); Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health Journal; 40, 1, 6-16
Kerrilie, R. (2007); Women’s Health Victoria Regulation of abortion Services, retrieved form http://www.whv.org.au accessed on 28th April
Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria (1998); Report on Late Term Terminations of Pregnancy (1998)
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2004); The care of women requesting induced abortion, London, United Kingdom Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Journal
UNICEF (2006): Children’s rights; retrieved from http://www.unicef.orguk/tz/resources/assets/pdf/rights_leaflet.pd. Accessed on 28th April 2008Wood, M. et al (2005); National Clinic Violence Survey, Arlington, VA: Feminist Majority Foundation Journal