Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Schools Arranging Secret Abortions For Students

Schools are helping teenage girls keep abortions secret from their parents. Imogen Neale reports.

A MOTHER is angry her 16-year-old daughter had a secret abortion arranged by a school counselor.

Helen, not her real name, found out about the termination four days after it had happened. "I was horrified. Horrified that she'd had to go through that on her own, and horrified her friends and counselors had felt that she shouldn't talk to us," she said.

She had suspected something was wrong, but her daughter insisted her tears were over everyday teenage dramas.

But Helen confronted her daughter's friends, who said the counselor had taken the girl for a scan and to doctors. "I didn't know that they could do that."

Helen said teachers could discuss how a student was doing in school or phone parents when their child misbehaved, but would then keep life-changing situations such as abortions secret.

Her daughter had since told her the counselor "wasn't very forthcoming" with advice. The counselor did ask the girl if she had talked to her parents, but never pursued it.

Helen said follow-up counseling for her daughter was "nonexistent". She concedes patient confidentiality is a tricky issue and said her child feared she'd be disowned. "She's come to realize that's not the case. But if you're responsible for them, surely you should be told."

Helen has been too upset to approach the school. "Afterwards I was too wild, and I probably still am."

Another mother who was worried for her 15-year-old daughter "hit a brick wall" when she approached the school, and eventually discovered it was a friend of her daughter's who had undergone an abortion. "But I went through the horror of knowing that under the legislation, they did not need to say anything to me."

One teacher told the Sunday Star-Times she had seen parents become "absolutely livid" after finding out they had been kept out of abortion decisions.

She knew of a Year 13 student who had had two abortions – one with her parents' knowledge, and one without.

She said the law catered for the "lowest common denominator" – pregnancy as a result of incest or rape, but girls sometimes did not want to tell their parents for fear they would react badly or demand prosecutions for statutory rape if their daughters were under 16.

Christchurch lawyer Kathryn Dalziel, who wrote Privacy In Schools: A guide to the Privacy Act for principals, teachers and boards of trustees, said students who saw counselors were promised confidentiality, and the service was bound by the Health Privacy Code.

"When it comes to contraception and abortion, they [counselors] would need the consent of the person before they could share information with a parent or the school," she said.

"If that protection disappeared, you can pretty well guarantee the young person won't tell the counselor a thing – particularly the thing you need them to talk about."

And a counselor who broke the rules and told a parent without the child's consent could be struck off.

Dalziel said she would be devastated if any of her daughters had an abortion without her support. "But knowing it is something that could happen, my whole thing about raising my children is to know how to listen and learn and get information."

Guidance counselor Helen Bissett said the situation could be an "ethical nightmare", and a number of schools now had wellness centers so girls could see a nurse, not a counselor.

Read More From Stuff.co.nz

No comments: