Young women and contraception or abortion
In Queensland, there is no legal requirement for parental consent or notification if a young person wishes to access contraception or abortion. There is, however, a legal responsibility for professionals to report any concerns about a young person's safety to the Queensland Department of Child Safety.
Medical practitioners are able to provide contraception or abortion to young women aged 18 and under if they are deemed to be ‘Gillick competent’. This means the young woman has "sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable … her to understand fully what is proposed". Practitioners are able to make this assessment on a case by case basis, often using the HEADSSS assessment. If a young women is Gillick competent, she is able to provide a valid legal consent to an abortion.
Practitioners may encourage a young person seeking access to contraception or abortion to involve her parents or guardians, but when a Gillick competent young person refuses to include them in her consultation or treatment this must be respected. Where parents or guardians are involved it is important that the medical consultation allows space for the young person's consent to be discussed without a parent or guardian present, in order to manage potential issues of coercion.
Where a young woman is not Gillick competent, her parent/s or legal guardian/s are not able to consent to the termination of her pregnancy on her behalf. In that situation, the Queensland law requires that consent to a termination of the pregnancy be provided by a court, acting in the best interests of the young person.
Queensland is the only Australian State or Territory which requires court approval, rather than parental consent, for the termination of a non-Gillick competent young woman’s pregnancy, following the Queensland Supreme Court’s decision in State of Queensland v B (2008). Further information about the law on this issue (and whether the law may be open to challenge) is provided in an article by Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott, ‘Termination of a minor’s pregnancy: critical issues for consent and the criminal law’ [(2009) 17(2) Journal of Law and Medicine 249-260].
If you are unsure if your young patient is Gillick competent you can contact the Children by Choice counselling team for support. For more information on Gillick competetence see the Youth Advocacy Centre's resource Can young people make their own decisions?
If you are supporting a patient under the age of 14 who wishes to access an abortion, it is important to note that due to Queensland licensing restrictions services for this age group are extremely limited outside the public system. At present only the East Coast Women's Centre in Nambour are licensed to provide termination services to girls aged under 14. As New South Wales has a different licensing regime, the Tweed Heads Options Clinic can also provide services to girls aged under 14. Contact the Children by Choice counselling team for more information or assistance.