Friday, 5 July 2013

What the SPUC?

We regularly get requests from teachers across the country who are looking for a ‘pro-choice’ speaker to come in and balance out a talk on abortion from a ‘pro-life’ group. We’ve written before about EFC’s general concerns with this approach. Namely that a ‘debate’ around abortion can be confusing and stigmatising for young people, and rarely provides them with the factual information they need for living their lives (especially when we know that a third of women have an abortion).  This blog gives specific examples of the issues involved when inviting the most well-known anti-abortion group, SPUC, to a school. The teachers I speak to are rarely aware that SPUC runs an outspoken campaign against same-sex marriage and that the information they use regarding contraception and abortion is very often at odds with the medical establishment. So here is the lowdown:

•    Misinformation about abortion
SPUC’s educational materials make claims about abortion which are not supported by medical experts. For example, they link termination of pregnancy to ‘post-abortion trauma’, which is an invented medical condition, and claim in their student pack that 'the risk of ectopic pregnancy may increase up to 30% after a first abortion and 160% after two or more'. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (who tend to know about such things) state that there is no evidence for a link between abortion and subsequent ectopic pregnancy. A SPUC speaker also made misleading links between abortion and breast cancer at a Cambridgeshire school last year.

•    Misinformation about contraception
SPUC’s booklet ‘Birth control methods which can cause abortion’ suggests that all forms of hormonal contraception can act as abortifacients. This is based on the belief that pregnancy begins at fertilisation, rather than implantation, which is unsupported by the law and established medical practice.

•    Stigmatisation of abortion and use of distressing images
The SPUC speaker in Cambridge told students that 'rape is the ultimate unplanned pregnancy...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'. SPUC's student pack claims that 'pregnancy as a result of rape is extremely rare...the extreme physical and psychological trauma of being raped makes it difficult for fertilisation or implantation to occur.' This is untrue and may be upsetting for those who have experienced rape. SPUC has a history of presenting information to young people in a way which can be distressing. As far as we know, SPUC continues to use graphic images in its school workshops, and images of aborted fetuses remain on the ‘education’ section of the website, likely to be used by young people for school projects.

•    Stigmatisation of same-sex relationships and family units

SPUC currently runs a campaign against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which it claims would increase numbers of abortions. John Smeaton, the director of SPUC, states the following on his blog:
“The fundamental argument against gay marriage is that homosexuality is disordered, as it is radically at variance with the truth and meaning of human sexuality ... Catholics must proclaim loud and clear that it is impossible for any homosexual relationship to be a marriage because genuine personal, sexual and spiritual union between persons of the same-sex is impossible.” SPUC has also made statements against same-sex couples adopting, claiming that ‘lesbian parentage is not in the best interests of children’.

•    Opposition to sex education
SPUC fronts the ‘Safe at School’ campaign which lobbies against so called ‘explicit’ sex education in schools. A recent blog claims that sex education lessons tackling pornography are ‘about dangling porn in front of young school pupils and encouraging them to embrace it in their lives.’ The group has expressed concern about sex education materials which ‘include explicit images of male and female sex organs, lessons on menstruation in mixed classes (boys and girls)’ and has labelled masturbation‘intrinsically unethical’.

SPUC are extremely well funded and do not charge for their schools work. They regularly contact schools with the offer of a free speaker on this tricky subject and it’s understandable that many teachers decide to run this lesson using an external organisation. However, we would advise all teachers to think carefully about how such an organisation might fit with their school’s SRE and equality and diversity policies, as well as their commitment to the well-being of their students, some of whom may already have experience of abortion, and many of whom will definitely go on to.

If SPUC has visited your school, we’d be interested in hearing what you thought about the lesson.
SPUC leaflet opposing same-sex marriage


  1. SPUC are idiots. Even if you believe that life DOES begin at fertilization (rather than implantation), that still isn't a reason to oppose hormonal methods of birth control. About a third of fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant, which means that someone who is sexually active throughout their life without using any contraception at all (such as a Catholic) will end up being responsible for more "deaths" than someone who uses the pill, simply because the person on the pill will have very few (if any) of their eggs fertilized in the first place.

    The numbers are crunched here:

  2. Hi - can you please give a link or citation for the following statement
    "SPUC currently runs a campaign against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which it claims would increase numbers of abortions."
    I'd love to see that - even by SPUC's standards that is one very special claim!

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Here is SPUC's position paper on same-sex marriage:

  3. Hi - thanks for replying - yes, you're right, they do make that claim. If they weren't so dangerous they'd be funny. I've despised these people for thirty odd years but every now and again they still manage to surprise me!

  4. "This is based on the belief that pregnancy begins at fertilisation, rather than implantation which is unsupported by the law and established medical practice."

    1. This point commits the "appeal to authority" fallacy - expert groups/individuals say X, therefore X is true.

    2. It begs the question - implanataion of what? A human embryo of course. That is a significant fact, yet sided-stepped.

    3. The fact, rather than mere belief, is that human life begins at fertilisation. This is not a controversial point. The state we call "being pregnant" is a result of and contingent upon, a human person being conceived.

    4. An abortion ends the life of the human person in the womb. The moral objection to abortion is that it is the murder of a human person in the womb, not that it ends a pregnancy - all pregnancies end, generally around 9 months time with the bith of the child, although a pregnancy can end earlier in the case of a miscarriage, or premature birth. Opponents of abortion would not take issue with these cases, clearly.

    5. Finally, implanation is not the first interaction of the human embryo with the body of the mother. There is a significant interaction of embryonic and maternal hormones that affect the whole body of the mother, and prepare the womb for implanation. Again, this is side-stepped in favour of placing all the focus on implanation because of the reliance upon the "appeal to authority" fallacy.

  5. Nature does not respect the sanctity of the fertilised egg and many fertilised eggs will not implant successfully. Those who seek protection for the fertilised egg are ideologically opposed to the idea that a woman can control her own fertility - they should just own this position and see how much support they get instead of pretending that the unimplanted zygote is such a cause for concern.

  6. In reply to anonymous:

    1. Good job on totally misunderstanding the appeal to authority; this only holds if the sole basis for the advice is based on authority without proof or question. For example, a religious leader says X - for example, the assertion life begins at conception might be a good example. However, the 'authority' here stems from actual research based upon the best clinical evidence; this is not an appeal from authority. If your doctor tells you to stop smoking, it's not an appeal from authority, it's good medical advice based on years of research.

    2. So what exactly? Your point?

    3. Life begins at fertilisation? Prove it. This is an assertion without an iota of backing. Are you stating the egg and sterm aren't alive? Are you aware that a large number of pregnancies self terminate?

    4. *Yawn* You've conflated embryos with personhood - without evidence, or reasoning. This is an appeal by an assertion and frankly boring.

    5. Even skipping over the fact you've mangled some of the biochemistry, you seem to ignore the fact that despite all these hormones, between 25% - 75% (age dependent) of these pregnancies self terminate within 8 weeks. The women carrying them often won't even notice, as the embryo is little more than a ball of cells.

    In summation, your points are riddled with holes and rely on ropey assertion throughout. You can shout out the "life begins at conception" argument all you like, but you're selectively playing with the terms life and conception here.

    1. 1. The appeal to authority stands - the unquestioning acceptance (in this post) to a particular authority which interprets a specific set of data in a way that suits the point EFC want to argue in the first place. You could have two authorities of equal status, using the same set of evidence, but arrive at opposite conclusions. Which do you choose, if any? EFC have picked one that fits an already decided conclusion.

      2. The point is a significant fact has been side-stepped. I could suggest reasons why that might be, or I could require EFC to justify such a move.

      3. I wrote "human life" not merely life. Also, as you’ll appreciate, the gametes possess 23 single chromosomes. That a new human life begins at fertilisation is obvious and not a disputed point e.g Keith Moore et al, Essentials of Embryology 8th edition 2013. Yes, a percentage of human embryos are lost naturally. It seems you are citing the appeal-to-nature fallacy: X occurs in nature, therefore X is morally acceptable. Aside from this being a fallacy, human embryos dying (spontaneous miscarriage) is not the moral or practical equivalent to a human being deliberately killing another human being. If that were the case, a mother who miscarries her child at 8 weeks or 3 months would be equivalent to a mother having her child killed by an abortionist, which is a repugnant conclusion.

      4. Personhood from fertilisation is not a new idea. It's a point where human biology, philosophy, and law intersect. Science cannot answer every relevant question here, neither can biology. It would be a problem if either discipline attempted to. Philosophers (Christopher Tollefsen, Christopher Kazcor, David Oderberg, John Finnis, Robert George, Alexanedr Pruss to name a few) argue for the immorality of abortion based on personhood and/or humanity of the human embryo onwards. Not all opponents of abortion oppose it on the grounds of personhood.

      5. You’ve already made this point (natural embryo loss). Human embryos, newborns, children, teenagers, and adults are made of cells. Cell production and organisation is a normal and continuous part of life which begins at fertilisation and continues throughout life. Humans begin life ball-shaped, albeit for a short period of time. Some adults are ball-shaped, others tall and thin, some have darker skin, others lighter skin. Moral worth is not decided on the shape of one’s body or other physical attributes. To begin making such arguments is a dangerous slippery slope.

    2. You're continuing the same spiral of assertion, and committing the argument from authority with a bit of argument from antiquity thrown in for good measure with regards to quoting selected philosophers.

      The rest of your point in rambling and boring, so I'm not wasting any futher brain cells on you, cheers.