ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, August 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — When a 12-year-old girl was brought by her stepfather to Planned Parenthood in St. John’s, Newfoundland, no one questioned her story that she was pregnant by consensual sex with a teenage boyfriend.
Instead, the doctor at the Planned Parenthood/NL Sexual Health Centre gave the girl advice on contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases, and referred her to Eastern Hospital for an abortion.
There, too, no one raised the alarm that a child was seeking an abortion.
Indeed, a nurse at the hospital “assumed a 12-year-old could provide consent unless there was a clear cognitive impairment.”
Two years later — and after another abortion in another province — the child told “authorities in another province that she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by her stepfather over a period of 26 months.”
The stepfather “pled guilty to this and to other offences on other individuals, including sexual assault. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.”
All this is documented in a damning report released Wednesday by Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh, child and youth advocate for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Lake Kavanagh blasts the “system” for repeatedly failing to protect the child from her stepfather’s sexual predation.
The “inadequate screening and assessments” the girl received “potentially enabled the sexual abuse of the child to continue,” she wrote.
“Had appropriate measures been taken when this child presented to terminate her pregnancy, or when child protection concerns were reported, the abuse may potentially have been detected and stopped.”
Moreover, the girl’s age should have been an instant red flag, Lake Kavanagh pointed out.
“[A] child who presents at a community agency or Regional Health Authority to terminate a pregnancy should not be treated as an adult.”
Planned Parenthood staff didn’t question the stepfather’s claim he was the girl’s biological father, she wrote. The mother “resided out of province and was not involved.”
The report states the Planned Parenthood clinic physician:
could not recall asking about the child’s mother but understood the family unit had relocated. The child said she had consensual sex with her teenaged boyfriend. The boyfriend’s age was not questioned. Age is a significant consent issue and is critical in determining whether, legally, a sexual assault had occurred. The stepfather’s guardianship status was not verified.
The child was referred to Eastern Health to have the pregnancy terminated. Age-appropriate counselling services were not provided nor offered; no screening for potential sexual abuse or potential coercion occurred.
Similarly, when the 12-year-old arrived at Eastern Health hospital with her stepfather, “no screening for potential abuse occurred, nor was a referral made to counselling services either before or after the abortion was performed.”
The abortion “was performed despite two sections of the consent form being incomplete, one of which included the legal capacity of the stepfather to sign for consent,” the report states.
Again, the girl was told about birth control, but “there was no discussion about the child’s sexual activities, the circumstances of the pregnancy, potential abuse or coercion, or how the child felt about the procedure.”
After the abortion, the child was discharged and went home with her stepfather.
About a month later, the province’s Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development (CSSD) got involved because of “multiple protection referrals” on the family, including allegations the stepfather was physically abusing the 12-year-old and one of her siblings, according to Lake Kavanagh’s report.
After a few CSSD interviews, the stepfather and grandmother became uncooperative and claimed harassment. The family moved out of Newfoundland about four months later.
“There were many opportunities to intervene with this little girl and her siblings, but they were missed,” noted Lake Kavanagh. “Based on the experiences and lessons from this case, a collective effort is required to do better for and by these children.”
The Planned Parenthood doctor “should have at least questioned the age of the teenaged boyfriend and ensured the stepfather’s guardianship status was verified,” she wrote.
“In an interview, the physician said she could not recall anything unusual about the child or her stepfather, and that it was common to encounter sexually active children in her work, though uncommon to encounter pregnant children.”
Similarly, medical staff at the hospital “did not consider a 12-year-old seeking abortion services” as a warning signal for further assessment.
Rather, they “focused more on completing the medical procedure than on fully assessing the child’s overall safety and well being,” Lake Kavanagh stated.
Marie-Claire Bissonnette, youth coordinator with Campaign Life Coalition, described the story as “tragic on many levels,” adding that “this little girl's suffering increased because Planned Parenthood and the hospital didn’t investigate further.”
Because parental consent “is not required for minors looking for abortion, insisting on knowing her legal guardian was not mandatory,” she told LifeSiteNews. “This knowledge could have brought the abuse in the open.”
Added Bissonnette: “When society treats abortion like the solution or a quick fix, the underlying problems women and girls face are not treated. This little girl's abuse might have been stopped as soon as her pregnancy started showing, yet it continued for years afterwards.”
The report calls for several changes, including a“review of policies and practices on consent for minors,” and “protective intervention and followup” with youth and child protection services.
Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada says this doesn’t go far enough.
“This has shown there’s a great hole in our legislation in that we’re not protecting our young people,” she told LifeSiteNews.
An investigation into why a minor girl is pregnant should be a legal required, said Landolt, a lawyer.
“There’s obvious negligence here,” she added. “You can’t have let a 12-year-old have an abortion without there being quite clearly some negligence.”