Monday 28 June 2010

Myth-Busting Monday: Does abortion cause mental health problems?

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

Many people who oppose abortion claim that women who have abortions are at high risk of suffering from depression or suicidal feelings, but findings from methodologically sound (good quality) research studies from around the world find no evidence for this.  Most women are able to integrate the experience of abortion into their lives and can look forward to a healthy future. Many women express relief when they have had an abortion. Others feel regret that they were faced with what might have been a difficult decision for them and one they would rather have avoided having to make, but generally do not regret the abortion itself.  Where women do feel sadness or regret following abortion, it may come from the circumstances of the pregnancy rather than the abortion itself.  Those women who are at greatest risk of regret are those who feel ambivalent about the decision, or have been coerced or forced into having an abortion against their will, or have had previous experience of psychiatric problems.

For those women who do struggle emotionally following an abortion, for whatever reason, post-abortion counselling is available.  Abortion providers such as Marie Stopes and bpas offer post-abortion counselling.  For a list of registered, reliable pregnancy advisory services, visit the Department of Health website.

Monday 21 June 2010

Myth-Busting Monday: Is abortion in the UK available "on demand"?

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

The term “abortion on demand” describes an abortion law that allows women to choose abortion without interference from legal or medical authorities, usually within a given time limit.  In the UK, most GPs will refer a woman who asks for an abortion (and those who don’t should make provision for the patient to access another doctor who will refer, in line with General Medical Council guidance).  Additionally family planning clinics can also refer for abortion, and in some areas, central booking lines are available for patients to book their own abortions.  Nevertheless, abortion is not technically available “on demand” in England, Scotland and Wales (abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland). Two doctors must still authorise the abortion and there is a specific list of criteria that women must meet to access an abortion. The 1967 Abortion Act gives doctors the right to perform abortions legally under certain conditions. It does not provide women with the right to demand an abortion under any circumstances.  While it is true that any woman who wants an abortion within the legal time limit should be able to access one according to general medical guidance, UK law does not actually allow for abortion "on demand".

EFC Talk About Choice programme wins award

The fpa has announced that Education For Choice (EFC) is joint winner of their prestigious Pamela Sheridan Award for excellence in Sex and Relationships Education. Everyone at EFC is delighted to be the recipient of this award from an organisation that has been dedicated to promoting good quality sex and relationships education, sexual health information and sexual health services for 80 years (Happy Birthday fpa).

Talk About Choice workshops provide young people with stimulating, interactive resources to explore the issue of pregnancy decision-making and abortion. Facilitators encourage students to consider all the decisions that lead to and result from unintended pregnancy and to explore what it would feel like to face this choice. It is a project that is grounded in young people’s rights to access evidence-based information, their need to have a safe space and opportunity to explore their own and others views and values and which recognises that abortion is part of the wider sexual health curriculum and emphasises the importance of pregnancy prevention.

Talk About Choice is the heart of Education For Choice, informing its resource development, its professional training programme, its advocacy work and all the support EFC offer teachers, health promoters and health workers.

The project was delivered and developed by Anne, Lisa, Natalie, Paulo, Kate, Charli, Laura and a host of brilliant volunteers over many years. Recognition should go to all of them for making this project the success that it is. Thanks too for the teachers who recognised that providing good quality information to their students is better for their health than promoting fact-free and polarised debate about this potentially contentious issue and as a result have invited us back year after year.

Most of all, hats off to all the young people who have challenged us, talked to us, asked us questions and helped us to understand what they want and need to know about this topic. Without them none of our work would have been possible. They’ve been the guinea pigs for our new resources, the voice for all the young people who don’t get good education on this topic, and the ultimate arbiters of what is useful and what is not!

We’re also really pleased to be sharing this award with Brook Wirral who have been out there doing excellent education and outreach work for years and always with imagination and a spring in their step - Brook Wirral are part of the national Brook network of centres providing excellent sexual health and contraceptive advice, information and treatment for young people.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Q and A

‘What is a good age to become pregnant?’

So, what is a good age to become pregnant? It’s a question numerous world states, women’s magazines and indeed women themselves have found nigh on impossible to answer. And here it was being posed by a 14 year old in my very first Talk About Choice (TAC) workshop. Crumbs.

As an Education For Choice newbie I’d heard a lot about TAC but this was my chance to experience it in the flesh, with real live young people and I was kept on my toes by the smart, insightful (and at times, difficult!) questions they posed. I thought this blog might be a good place to share some of these questions as well as give an idea of how we might answer them in a session.

As EFC’s project worker for young people I’m eager for our ‘on the ground’ work in schools and other educational settings to inform every aspect of the organisation’s work. So, when we get a question like ‘Are there any more STIs than HIV and AIDS?’ we are alerted to possible gaps in students’ sexual health knowledge, and when a young person asks us ‘If the couple cannot agree can an abortion take place?’ it reaffirms our commitment to addressing the role of men in pregnancy and pregnancy decision-making.

I was impressed by the students’ maturity in discussing such an emotive topic and their passion and curiosity really brought the activities I had previously only seen on paper to life. Taking part in the workshops and hearing these questions directly from young people gave me a chance to reaffirm what drew me to EFC in the first place. I saw first-hand the importance of providing clear, unbiased information about sex and pregnancy and abortion. The participants seemed pretty taken with it too. Looking over the evaluation forms I was glad to see one young person say they had learned that ‘sex is something you have to be ready for’ and another say, ‘I will make sure I wear a condom’.

I relish having the opportunity to (in keeping with this very blog!) bust some myths and make sure young people are equipped with the knowledge they need to make informed pregnancy choices. So, watch out for forthcoming ‘Q and A’ blogs, and perhaps in the meantime I’ll think up a more exciting title. As for the best age to become pregnant...the jury is still out I’m afraid.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Teen Pregnancy Workers: Working Hard to Support All Young People

It’s a daunting task contacting numerous sexual health and pregnancy services for young people around England but it’s turned into an incredibly rewarding one. In order to create service audit tools for three pilot sites in England that I am working with and to learn how other services are evaluating their provision, I’ve been emailing and calling service providers, administrators and many different workers from all along the pregnancy services continuum – sex and relationships education (SRE), contraception, STI testing, and pregnancy testing services, pregnancy decision-making support, antenatal services, abortion services, and post-pregnancy contraception. Phew!

The workers I’ve spoken to all know that there won’t be much money for the vitally important prevention and support work they do. They know the Department for Education will ask local councils to decide how to cut budgets for their programmes, including teenage pregnancy. However, it’s heartening to hear from dedicated workers of their fierce commitment to implementing and maintaining the strongest sexual health and pregnancy services that they can provide for young people.

There is the UR Choice programme, a Sex and Relationships Education programme in Bradford and Airedale schools that hopes to expand into more schools. There is a great new pregnancy pathway resource used by health workers in the southeast to make sure young pregnant women have access to whatever services they need for whichever choice they make about their pregnancy. There is the robust teenage pregnancy team in the northeast that offers a number of education and health services for young people in schools, at clinics, and in other places young people are through outreach. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Our volunteer supporting this project commented on how impressed she was with the sheer number of services for young people in this country and that she wished she knew about them when she was younger (note: the definition of ‘young person’ varies from service to service, Brook accepts clients up to the age of 25 so do a bit of research before you book in; you never know, you might still be categorized as a young person!).

Despite budget cuts and a lack of public recognition, workers in teenage pregnancy services are working harder than ever and their commitment to the issue is crystal clear to me. Let’s give it up for our sexual health and teen pregnancy workers!

(We’re always keen to learn what’s going on in other parts of the country. Why not tell us what’s going on in your area in the comments section below?)

Monday 14 June 2010

Myth-Busting Monday: Do your parents have to know about your abortion?

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

Young people under 16 have the right to confidential advice on contraception and abortion. Medical professionals will help a young person to explore the benefits of involving a parent or carer in their decision, but must respect a young person’s wish for confidentiality if that is what they choose. (There are some exceptions to confidentiality, such as if a young person is at risk of harming themselves or someone else.) A young woman can be referred for abortion without parental involvement if the doctor believes she is ‘competent’ to make this decision i.e. she has sufficient maturity understanding of the procedure they are requesting.  Most young women under 16 do choose to involve a parent or other adult relative when they have an abortion.

We DO talk to men about abortion

An article in the Daily Telegraph today asks why no one is holding men responsible for abortion.

I can reassure you that some of us are absolutely committed to including men in the discussion about abortion; helping them to understand the scope and limitation of their rights when it comes to abortion; and acknowledging their responsibility and role in unintended pregnancy. We do this by creating resources and facilitating workshops that help young people to explore men’s role in pregnancy and men’s positive and negative feelings when their partner finds herself pregnant. We do this by working with teachers to facilitate discussion with BOTH sexes about pregnancy prevention, pregnancy options and abortion. We do this by encouraging the youth-workers, sexual health workers and nurses who work with young people to make spaces for young men to explore and express their feelings about their partner’s unintended pregnancy. We do this by asking policy-makers to ensure that constructive and evidence-based discussion of pregnancy decision-making and abortion is included in all programmes of Sex and Relationships Education.

Only by positioning abortion as a real-life health issue which acknowledges how common it is, rather than a solely abstract moral issue which says how wrong it is can we begin to make space for the kinds of discussions Education For Choice encourages: how do unintended pregnancies happen in the first place? what role could young men play in helping prevent them? what does it feel like to face the dilemma of an unintended pregnancy for the young woman and for her partner? what would you need to think about and who would you need to talk to if this happened to you or your partner? how would you manage the conflicting opinions of your partner, family and peers? how do you find a way to listen to what you actually feel and want in all of this? which professionals can you go to for accurate information and impartial support... and on and on. These are the conversations that help young men understand that abortion is an issue that directly and intimately involves and affects them. These are the kinds of conversations we have every day. These are the conversations that result in this kind of feedback from young men in answer to our question ‘what has this workshop taught you?’:

'To think about my actions that might take place and their consequences'

'It is important to think forward before having sex'

'Contraception is more important than ever – be more serious about it'

'I would really think before I have sex because I don’t want to take the risk'

'Use protection and be more careful'

'I will think before I have sex'

Visit Education For Choice for more information on professional training, best practice toolkits and resources for teachers

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Comedy fundraiser - Sneak Preview For Choice

Education For Choice is hosting a comedy fundraising night with Edinburgh festival veteran Kate Smurthwaite headlining.

This is brilliant news for all of the world cup widows and widowers out there and all those footie fans who will have lost the will to live by then after watching England go out on penalties (again). So, if you want to laugh instead of crying or laugh until you cry turn off the football and please come along to: An exclusive sneak preview of Kate Smurthwaite's new Edinburgh show "The News At Kate 2010", plus support from up and coming comediennes. Feminist comedienne Kate Smurthwaite brings her fourth solo show to this year's Edinburgh festival. Expect an hour of political satire and hilarious true stories from the activist front lines. Sunday 27th June at the Round Table pub, St Martin's Court, nearest tube Leicester square. Doors 8pm, show 8.30pm. Tickets strictly STRICTLY limited to 40 at £10 in advance, please book early. All proceeds to Education for Choice.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Myth-Busting Monday (a.k.a Tardy Tuesday): Does your GP need to know about your abortion?

Every Monday (or in this case, Tuesday- oops!) EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

You can get a referral for abortion at places other than your GP. If you are under 25, you can go to Brook or another young person’s contraceptive and sexual health clinic in your area; for women of all ages family planning clinics offer abortion referral. In some areas, women can ring up and book themselves in for an appointment to request an abortion referral directly from the abortion provider. If you don’t want information about your abortion being sent back to your GP to add to your medical records, you can request to keep the procedure confidential.

Friday 4 June 2010

He said, she said: single gender sex ed?

A bit late on this, but Knowsley has been making news in the sexual health community lately. If we had a water cooler, we’d be talking around it about their possible new approach to sex ed: the county council recently announced its intention to consider teaching aspects of sex and relationships education (SRE) in single gender groups. The decision follows a report from the (creepily Orwellian-sounding, if we do say so) Children and Families Scrutiny Committee, which recommended that the Council consider gender-segregated delivery.

Children and Young People Now asked experts to weigh in. Simon Blake, director of national young people’s sexual health charity Brook, points out that young people often ask for elements of sex ed to be delivered separately. Lucy Emmerson of the Sex Ed Forum agrees, and adds that bringing the girls’ and boys’ group together after a separated lesson can also be beneficial for learning outcomes. Dr. John Lloyd of the PSHE Association takes a different stance, stating that as SRE should be delivered as part of PSHE, mixed groups make the most sense.

Education For Choice delivers its Talk About Choice workshops, examining issues around unintended pregnancy and abortion, to young people in a wide variety of settings. Whether we’re working with a single-gender or mixed group, gender forms a key part of our discussions. We encourage all young people to consider pregnancy decision-making from all perspectives, including what it might be like for their partner(s). While young men have no legal rights when it comes to a pregnancy decision, Education For Choice encourages young men to share their feelings with their partner(s) and access professional support where desired. In mixed groups, young men are often surprised about their female classmates’ opinions about men’s roles in pregnancy choices, whether it’s their willingness to consider their partner’s preferences, or to make a decision without such consideration. Likewise, young women find themselves surprised by their male classmates’ strong opinions, or apparent indifference.

Young men and women (and, for that matter, old men and women!) do not discuss the issue of unintended pregnancy and pregnancy choices often with one another. Even long-term partners may never have discussed what would happen if faced with an unexpected decision. This leads to more pressure in the already-stressful situation of unintended pregnancy. Talking about these issues in mixed gender groups encourages young people to talk openly about contraception, pregnancy, and pregnancy choices with their partners and friends, leading to more careful consideration of this situation before it arises. Ideally, this equips young people to make a considered, informed choice about pregnancy in the future.

In the end, I think I’m with Gareth Davies of the Terrence Higgins Trust: this idea perhaps deserves some exploring, but in my experience young people benefit from the diversity of experience that comes with a mixed-gender group. We’ll keep an eye on Knowsley and in the meantime, look forward to abortion education stories here on the blog!

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Canadian safe abortion project launched

Pro-choice organisations and those working to tackle maternal mortality were dismayed at the recent news that the Canadian Government insisted on excluding the issue of safe abortion from its new maternal and child health initiative announced for the G8 summit meeting in June 2010. While international funding for family planning services has long been a contentious and political issue in the US, until recently, Canada joined the rest of the developed world in supporting international initiatives to support safe, legal abortion internationally. In response to this recent shift, the Anna Project has been launched.

Unsafe abortion is a major contributor to maternal deaths around the globe. Most maternal deaths result from the lack of trained birth attendants to recognise and address serious problems during and after labour, but botched backstreet or self-induced abortions still account for about 13% of maternal deaths – 70,000 a year. Tens of thousands more women each year will survive illegal abortion, but suffer serious gynaecological injuries and infections that can affect their health for the rest of their lives. It seems crazy that a country like Canada, which provides access to safe abortion for all its citizens, should explicitly refuse actively to support safe abortion for women elsewhere. Last year, the UK Government Department for International Development (DfID) published a paper which stated its commitment to supporting provision of safe abortion around the world. DfID states explicitly that ‘This preventable mortality and ill-health due to unsafe abortion is seriously undermining countries’ ability to achieve MDG 5* (to improve maternal health) and places a high burden on already over-stretched health systems.’

Marie Stopes recently launched a website about the issue of global unsafe abortion:

MDG* – the United Nations Millennium Development Goals were goals set to accelerate progress and improvement across a range of areas including maternal health, infant mortality, poverty, environment etc.