Mike Farrington talked with Sue Axon following the long awaited High Court ruling on her application for the parents of girls under 16 to be given the legal right to be informed if their daughter was seeking an abortion.

Legal Ruling

Abortion is back in the news. On Monday 23rd January, Manchester mother Sue Axon hit the national media, when the High Court announced its long awaited ruling on her application for the parents of girls under 16 to be given the legal right to be informed if their daughter was seeking an abortion. The judge rejected Sue Axon's application, but she feels that a degree of victory has nonetheless been achieved.

Experience of abortion

Later that week I spoke to Sue on our weekday lunchtime programme 'Community Vision', about what had motivated her legal challenge. Her action had been triggered by the much publicised case of Melissa Smith, when a 14-year-old girl had been given an abortion without her mother knowing. However, central to Sue's own passion on the issue is the fact that she herself underwent an abortion at the age of 30. She describes the experience as "very traumatic":

"First of all there was the physical effect because I became quite ill; I ended up in bed for a week. But I was also living with my parents at the time and concealing it from them, so that was not only awful physically. It was highly stressful for me to conceal, and it was secrets and lies. I suffered long-term depression. I have had various breakdowns over the years. And the awful thought that my daughter could actually go through this, and I don't even know, and I can't even be there to understand her and support her, I find absolutely horrifying."

Legal progress

Although the judge rejected Sue's application, he also rejected submissions by the Secretary of State, who had argued that guidelines brought out over 20 years ago were now irrelevant. The judge in fact insisted that a doctor still had to comply with the letter of the law, and that failure to comply would bring the possibility of being disciplined. Sue explained that the judge also agreed that abortion could cause a girl medical or physical harm, and that if the girl did not understand what was going on, she should not be allowed to have an abortion. On this matter, Sue said that the judge remarked that very few girls would in fact be able to satisfy that test.

In her own response to this judgement, Sue commented that the ruling had actually laid a foundation for future cases to be brought. As she said herself, "If these abortion clinics are proven to be working illegally, something can be done." Despite the apparent setback, she feels encouraged: "I felt we had gained some ground, and I felt victorious in that."

Public awareness

Apart from progress in the legal battleground, Sue feels that a lot has been achieved simply in publicising the issue and bringing it to the public's attention:

"I believe I've actually got this message into every home in Britain who has a television, and I'm sure every parent in Britain who has a daughter now knows that this can go on. I do believe that from it, parents will be speaking to children and saying, 'Don't ever be afraid to come to us if you've got problems.'

"I believe I've got a massive platform now. I've already been approached by three programme-makers to contribute to documentaries for teenagers and about teenagers, which I think is very important."

Cost of the battle

However, the progress that Sue has made has come at a cost:

"I have had threats to my family. I've had people threatening to burn the house down. It's been very stressful."

Final message

I asked Sue what message she would like to give to other parents. She answered very candidly,

"I have always said to my children. I'm not saying I'm a wonderful mother; I've made some terrible mistakes, but I've always said to them, 'Whatever problem you have, it's never too big for me. It doesn't matter how bad it is, don't be afraid of telling me. I think parents, and I think especially fathers, should reassure their daughters, 'We still love you, whatever happens.'"

If you've been affected by the issues raised in this article, then you may like to contact a counselling service who could help you. For more information please go to Connections on the Cross Rhythms website. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.