Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Abortion Education: still failing young people?


According to the Office for National Statistics, rates of teen pregnancies are at their lowest since 1969, with the local figure standing at 30 per 1000 young women in the under 18 age group for 2011. However a report published by Education For Choice (EFC), part of the Brook sexual health charity, finds that education about contraception and abortion in the UK is still failing young people. Some schools are addressing the topic as part of comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE), but there is evidence of widespread bad practice including medical misinformation being provided by teachers and visitors to schools.

Bad practice falls into three broad categories:
Misinformation – making claims about contraception and abortion that are untrue - for example, claiming that taking the pill or having a contraceptive implant can cause an abortion, or linking abortion to breast cancer and infertility. A study co-ordinated by Cancer Research UK and published in the Lancet has shown that abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer.

Stigma – saying abortion is murder, that it is shameful and a sin. This is upsetting for those who have had an abortion, and may cause unnecessary distress for those who go on to experience abortion (one in three women in England and Wales).

Equalities – some anti-abortion groups invited into schools express views about sexuality (ie homosexuality) and the family which are likely to be at odds with schools’ equality and diversity policies and may negatively impact on students’ wellbeing.

SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) has given  school presentations which falsely link abortion to cancer, infertility and a fictional medical condition called ‘Post-Abortion Trauma’. Earlier this year a SPUC speaker told pupils at a Cambridge school that,  “Rape is the ultimate unplanned pregnancy,,,". To have an abortion at this stage can be a "second trauma," the 14 and 15 year olds were warned, with the advice that; "For some people who've been raped and had the baby, even if they don’t keep it, something positive comes out of that whole rape experience”.  However organisations supporting victims of sexual violence consistently emphasise that re-establishing the power to take control over one's own personal and life decisions is central to recovery. In other words, the choice to bear a child or not must be made freely by the woman on whom the pregnancy has been forced, and not by the rapist, or by those who collude in a violation by using it as an opportunity to manipulate vulnerable victims.

A 2012 YouGov poll found that the percentage of the population wanting a ban on abortion had fallen from 12% in 2005 to 7%.  Support for keeping the current limit on terminations had risen by about one third to a  majority (57%) among those who expressed a view.  The survey for the Westminster Faith Debates, a series of events designed to bring academic research into public debate, found there was no marked difference between the views of people with religious affiliations and everybody else, despite the vocal campaigns of religious leaders and lobbyists claiming to represent them.

Even amongst those who believe that human life begins at conception, most of the people surveyed believed that abortion should be legal. Over three quarters believe that abortion is acceptable in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and a half believe that abortion should be allowed at least up to 20 weeks. Amongst the religious people surveyed, Catholics, Muslims and Baptists were the most hostile to abortion, but only about half of these would like to see the law changed. Only 14% of Catholics surveyed support a ban and 33% would like to see the current 24 week limit lowered. Two out of three Muslims surveyed did not support a ban and just 16% would like to see the 24 week limit lowered.

Alice Hoyle, PSHE Advisory Teacher and Vice-Chair of the Sex Education Forum, said:
"Teaching about abortion is often seen as sensitive or tricky and this report shows some of the best and the worst examples of how it is done. It doesn't have to be that way. Young people need to know the law and their rights, they need to understand health issues related to pregnancy decisions and they need to understand there are a range of views about abortion.

"All teachers must have training and support to ensure this area moves from the too difficult box to a discussion they feel confident having as part of sex and relationships education. EFC’s Abortion Education Toolkit will help them do that. EFC provides a free toolkit on education about abortion which gives advice and examples of best practice in this area. EFC can also provide training, resources and advice for schools, teachers and professionals working with young people on all aspects of education about abortion."

EFC’s Abortion Education Toolkit as well as the report and executive summary can be downloaded from http://www.brook.org.uk/professionals/about-brook/education-for-choice or contact efc@brook.org.uk for further information on training.

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