It was truly ironic. During the Christmas season we celebrate the birth of a special Child, and many of us are blessed by having time to spend with family and friends. Just then, the nation’s newspapers covered the fight of the Alberta couple to save the life of their grandchild. As we all know, they lost that battle when their daughter went through with an abortion on the eve of the new year.
Less widely reported was another court case. Here, too, a set of parents objected to their child’s behaviour. And although no child’s life hung in the balance, nevertheless it was the kind of situation that most parents hope they will never face. These parents were ordered by a B.C. court to pay monthly support for their teenage son. He had been asked to leave home when his parents discovered his activities as a male prostitute. (To his credit, the young man has apparently started a support group to help other teens who are pressured, as he says he was, into leading a life of prostitution. He has not, however, returned home.)
What children need
Both these cases illustrate an increasing judicial disdain for the rights of parents to judge what courses of action are in the best interests of their children and their families. Unfortunately there are many more cases to substantiate what at first glance may seem isolated incidents and not enough to form a pattern. Space is too limited here to list all the cases, but it is worth pointing out that leaving parents in control of their teenage daughters’ “rights” to abortion – or the pill – does, for example, reduce abortion. Obviously really since parents, on the whole, are more likely than the state to understand what their children need at a particular time.
It is often claimed that parental interference stops a teenage girl from behaving responsibly (obtaining birth control before behaving responsibly (obtaining birth control before she is sexually active) and, thus, minimizing the abortion rate. Actual experience shows the reverse. In Minnesota when a parental notification law was in effect between 1980-1983, abortions done on girls 15-17 dropped 40 per cent and pregnancies dropped 32 per cent.
In Britain, Victoria Gillick became a household name when she battled right through the House of Lords – taking on the entire government bureaucracy. All she had originally wanted was written assurance that her local health authority would not give her daughters the pill without her consent. (Incidentally, she was condescendingly referred to time after time in the press as a “Roman Catholic mother of 10,” as if that disqualified her from undertaking such a fight.) Mrs. Gillick eventually lost. But, for a time in 1985, when she had obtained a lower court ruling in her favour, the number of abortions performed on girls under 16 was fewer than during the previous year.
Now, take another look at the story (elsewhere in this issue) about the Montreal school nurses who are covering up for students whose school trips include a quick visit to the local abortuary.
Parents are suing
In California, a mother is suing her daughter’s sex-education teacher, principal and school superintendent for arranging an abortion for the girl without her knowledge. She only learned of it several days after the event – when she was called to the hospital because her daughter required surgery.
There’s another case pending in Indiana, where a mother is suing Planned Parenthood. She claims that the doctor who examined her pregnant 16-year-old daughter said that an abortion could seriously harm or even kill the girl because of abnormalities of her reproductive organs. Although the mother went to court in an attempt to stop Planned parenthood from interfering, they helpfully took the girl to a neighbouring state with no requirements for parental consent. After the abortion the girl was hospitalized with severe cramps and high fever, and court documents show that long-term health problems are likely to result.
If I sound less than compassionate about individual circumstances in condensing these cases, it’s because I’m angry. As a mother, I find it completely outrageous and unacceptable that a third party should presume to step in and take over what is essentially a parental role.
My heart went out to the parents in Alberta who battled in court for their daughter and grandchild. I don’t for one moment believe that they did so maliciously, to thwart the girl’s wishes. I think they went to court because it was their last resort. Nor do I believe the parents in B.C. went to court just to save paying their son a monthly allowance.
It seems to me that both sets of parents were showing their children that they loved them and that they wanted what was best for them. And I hope that, some day, the son and daughter involved recognize that their parents did what they thought was right.
One more issue
Individual cases aside, we are still dealing with the wider issue of when the parental rights end and the right of the state to interfere begins. Because we’re frequently faced with the hard cases – those of parents who do not consider the best interests of their children, or of parents who simply cannot cope with their responsibilities in difficult times – we forget that the majority of parents are concerned people. They’re people trying to pass on to their children a set of decent values, often feeling they’re alone in their crises and failing miserably when children dismiss them as old-fashioned.
I don’t have a magic formula for raising children to ensure that parental values will be handed down and understood – any more than you so, or than our parents or grandparents did. I do believe that we do have a right to expect the state to make a concerted effort to help us, not undermine us.
It is, unfortunately, one more issue for us to tackle. We have to keep on the alert and protest vigorously at each new invasion into the family. And we must find ways to support and encourage the families going through difficult times.