'I wish I had told my parents'

CATHERINE WICKHAM: Says of her decision at 16: 'You're naive at that age and choices are very one-dimensional.'
DONNA WALSH
CATHERINE WICKHAM: Says of her decision at 16: 'You're naive at that age and choices are very one-dimensional.'

A Hamilton mother-of-two who as a teenager had a secret abortion with the help of her school, says she wishes now her parents were informed.

But Catherine Wickham, a former social worker, said if students weren't assured confidentiality when seeking help with surgical abortions, they might "go black market" for the procedure.

Family groups were yesterday calling for a law change over a student's right to privacy after a mother was horrified to learn her 16-year-old daughter had undergone an abortion arranged by the girl's school counsellor.

Ms Wickham, who had an abortion when she was 16, said in hindsight it would have been better if her parents were involved in her decision so they could have supported her through it.

"I went to the school counsellor and we discussed my options. I didn't want to share it with my mum and dad... but maybe I wish the teacher had said something and mum and dad were included in the process," the 34-year-old said.

"I guess in hindsight it was probably not a wise decision because my mother is so spiritual and when I eventually did tell her we went through a process of trying to spiritually bury the baby."

She said at the time she had no real comprehension of what she was doing and was only asked by a GP if she was sure about her decision.

"You're naive at that age and choices are very one-dimensional."

Fortunately she was supported by an older sister and a friend but said her emotions were not dealt with at the time.

When she told her parents three years later, her mother was unhappy the abortion had been arranged in secret.

"She felt it took away her right as a parent. Losing the moko and not having the opportunity to know that I was pregnant were important to her. My dad was just supportive."

Ms Wickham believed pregnant teenagers who didn't want to tell their parents could "take matters into their own hands" without the security of confidentiality with a counsellor.

"They'll go black market with abortions. They'll try and miscarry."

She understood as a parent wanting to be informed and suggested counsellors could encourage students to nominate a trusted family member who could help approach the parents.

Ms Wickham said though she wouldn't change her decision, it had haunted her and she felt great guilt over the lost life.

"When it comes to the time that you become a mother, there's guilt with that."

She believed her 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son would tell her if they had any serious problems in life.

"What that situation did for me was to make it a priority to have that kind of communication with my own children."

Family First NZ national director Bob McCoskrie wanted the law amended to allow for parental notification in all cases of medical advice, prescriptions and procedures unless it could be proved to a family court that it would place the child at extreme risk.

"The law currently means that while a parent has to sign a letter for their daughter to go on a school trip to the zoo or to play in the netball team, they are totally excluded from any knowledge or granting of permission for that same child to be put on the pill, have a vaccine, or have a surgical abortion."

Mr McCoskrie said parental notification laws in the United States had resulted in a drop in both the pregnancy rate and the teen abortion rate.

"This is especially relevant when almost 80 teenagers a week have an abortion in NZ."

Waikato Times