Monday 19 December 2011

Myth-Busting Monday: ‘Abortion causes mental health problems’

In light of the recent Systematic Review of Induced Abortion and Women’s Mental Health it’s time to put to rest any myths about abortion increasing risk of mental health problems.

The comprehensive review stated that:
•    The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth
• An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.
• The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion.
• The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following abortion were similar.
• There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortions in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of the abortion.

The recommendation is that ‘future practice and research should focus on the mental health needs associated with an unwanted pregnancy, rather than on the resolution of the pregnancy’. So let’s make sure that rather than invent or inflate risks to mental health we focus on trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies and ensuring women have the support they need during the decision-making process when they are pregnant. Jennie Bristow has a thoughtful piece on this in the Huffington Post.

Monday 12 December 2011

Myth Busting Monday – The morning after pill is a ‘DIY abortion’

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

In yesterday's Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens frothed;

'There is no better symbol of the squalid New Britain than the choice of Christmas to make the ‘morning-after pill’ easier to get. Now this do-it-yourself abortion for people who are not just feckless but incompetent too is to be given out by post, in advance (surely it should be renamed the ‘night-before’ pill, in that case?). Under-age girls will easily be able to get it. Like all such measures, it will be followed by more under-age sex and more abortions. And nobody will make the connection.'

We are getting sick and tired of national newspapers (and in this case, well known journalists!) touting the myth that taking emergency hormonal contraception (aka the morning after pill) is an abortion. We’ve posted about this myth in the past but it just doesn’t seem to go away. In fact, the Telegraph are guilty of posting similar just last week.

For some, there is a belief that pregnancy begins at fertilisation, when the sperm meets the egg. So yes, those people may well consider the taking of contraception which can act to prevent implantation of the fertilised egg as ending a pregnancy, akin to an abortion. However, what is rarely made clear in such missives against accessible contraception is that this is a belief. Legally and medically, pregnancy begins following implantation of the fertilised egg meaning that abortion and contraception are different things.

From the British Medical Association’s ‘Abortion Time Limits’ paper:

What is abortion?
The term 'abortion' is used throughout this paper to refer to the induced termination of an established pregnancy (i.e. after implantation). It does not include the use of emergency hormonal contraception which the High Court has confirmed is not an abortifacient. All current methods of emergency contraception work prior to implantation and therefore are not abortifacients.’

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Teaching about marriage

Current Sex and Relationships Guidance asks schools to teach about the nature and importance of marriage and of stable relationships for family life and bringing up children. This wording recognises a range of different family structures and acknowledges that a child brought up in a variety of contexts can be fine if some basic pre-conditions are met.

It now transpires that conditions for funding for Free Schools and Academies obliges them to teach about the superiority of marriage and its importance in bringing up children, but apparently not other kinds of relationships or families. This new SRE formulation seems to have dropped the term ‘stable relationships’.

Why does that matter?
 I think we can all think of examples of children being brought up by single or non-married parents who are happy and healthy and some who are damaged and vulnerable. We all know marriages that are destructive and that provide a bewildering and distressing context for family life as well as those that are safe and lovely. However, I will leave it for others to discuss the pros and cons of marriage itself and whether it is the societal panacea it is believed to be by some.

As an educator I am most concerned about classroom practice 
When you work in a classroom you become very sensitive to the variety of backgrounds and experiences that make up the student group. You think carefully about the words you use and how they will impact on the feelings and future choices of the young people who are sitting in front of you. If I was teaching about different kinds of relationships and different models of family life, I would be acutely aware of the fact that the young people in my class could be being brought up by married biological parents; could be adopted,  fostered or in care; could be being brought up by a single parent (single through choice, through abandonment, through bereavement); could have a gay parent or two gay parents; a trans-parent may have lost their parents; or may simply have two biological parents who co-habit, but never ‘tied the knot’. The last thing I would want to do is to stigmatise them, make them feel I am judging their family or pre-judging their future life based on their current family life. Unfortunately this is exactly what happens when people try to promote marriage above all other models of family life.

Telling these children that they are more likely to fail, because marriage is the only legitimate model for family life, that it confers some unique protection on children, and guarantees them an advantage in life, is hardly a good educational tactic is it? Whatever your moral or political beliefs about the benefits or otherwise of marriage over other kinds of relationships you have to think about whether stigmatising  a student’s life experience is going to reap educational or emotional benefits.

Most parents do their level best to create a family and home in which children feel safe and loved, are motivated and supported to do their best in life and are healthy. Parents hope their children will find a loving partner and create a loving home for their grandchildren too. Talking about how to achieve this: what makes a child feel safe and loved, how to manage the challenges of parenting, how to make decisions about when/if to become a parent, and how to get the support all parents need to make a good go of it, are all vital parts of Sex and Relationships Education. Most people would agree that children thrive with certainty, security, boundaries, and consistency. With this in mind, exploring the concept of ‘stable relationships’  seems a really sensible approach. Telling a large proportion of our children that their families are inferior, failing or illegitimate because their parents/ carers aren’t married -  or that they, as a result are disadvantaged and set up to fail -  is just plain wrong.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Responding to the vigil-antis

How to respond to aggressive and intimidating anti-abortion activity outside clinics.

For 40 days last month anti-choicers ‘40 Days for Life’ stood outside MSI and bpas abortion clinics in London. Many people found the sight of these vigil-antis standing in judgment over women entering abortion clinics repellent and there was some discussion about setting up counter-protests. However, staff didn’t really want even more people out on the streets in front of their clinics. In the event ‘40 Days of Treats’ emerged, delivering daily treats by way of a non-confrontational 'peculiarly British' counter-protest.

Today, members of Abort 67* stand outside bpas in Brighton. Abort 67 could have been air-lifted out of Texas and dumped from the sky given how incongruous this kind of protest is in the UK. Vast billboards of dismembered fetuses are displayed along the road and some women and their partners have been shouted at on their way in to the clinic. It is understandable that this perceived ramping up of aggression and intimidation tactics has led some people to feel that it is no longer good enough to turn a blind eye. Twitter has been abuzz with call outs for people to join a counter-protest.

So, is it time to get out on the streets and show solidarity for women and clinic staff by protesting against these vigil-antis? Our concerns are:

anything which increases the volume (of noise or people) around clinics may increase the discomfort of women seeking abortion (and the other sexual health services provided)

counter-protests will give additional attention to anti-abortion campaigns

we still live in hope that we can find more constructive ways to conduct debate about abortion in this country – ones which recognise most people in the UK think abortion should be an option for women. We don’t want to do anything that accelerates our progress towards a US style ‘abortion-war’. 

these people are fanatics. You won’t change their mind by reasoning with them or confronting them

That’s why we are calling on all those who want an outlet for their anger to help think of creative responses that:

  • are supportive of women seeking abortion and clinic staff
  • don’t give excessive attention to intimidating vigil-antis
  • draw the attention of the local authorities to the distress this is causing women 
  • ask the question about whether this kind of protest is compassionate, caring or ethical
  • ensure that the communities and congregations that are supporting this kind of protest are called out on this intimidating behaviour
  • can be used to mobilise for positive support of abortion provision and rights

Answers on a postcard please...(or via twitter or comments of course)

*I am not linking to Abort 67 because a gory video opens up within seconds of clicking on the site and I wouldn’t want anyone to come across it unprepared. If you want to visit the site, Google it.

Monday 28 November 2011

Myth-Busting Monday – Teaching children about sex and relationships is child abuse

We really shouldn’t have to be busting this one. Would anyone think that giving young people factual, age-appropriate information about their bodies, relationships with others and sexuality is akin to paedophilia? Unfortunately, it seems the answer is yes. At least if they’re a Daily Mail journalist, ‘family values’ campaigner or member of the BNP.

The Daily Mail published this rambling article about SRE last week, implying that materials being shown as part of primary school education were being used to sexualise children and destroy their childhoods.

The BNP latched onto this and started an attack on a primary school in Sheffield claiming that 'Sex education for 6-year-olds is mental paedophilia’. They wrote to the school, 'We believe that your evil plans to introduce these children to sex at such a young age borders on paedophilia and that it is not acceptable.'

And you may remember us covering the charming views of Lynette Burrows on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live last month. She made the bold statement that: ‘this sort of education (SRE) is so unhelpfully obsessed with destroying childhood innocence, in a way that's reminiscent of paedophilia. To me, anyone who wants to talk dirty to little children is a danger to them.'

A worrying trend seems to be appearing. The notion that anyone who talks to young people about sex and relationships in an educational setting is necessarily ‘a paedophile’ interested only in sexualising young children and encouraging them into early sexual activity. Alice Hoyle (the sex educator who was pitted against Lynette Burrows on the BBC) has written about this vile accusation on her blog Sexedukation. But we thought it might be useful to outline not just the case against SRE being ‘psychological paedophilia’ (as the BNP would have it), but also the importance it has in helping children make informed choices as well as to recognise and report sexual abuse.

The Department for Education acknowledges that ‘young people who have good sex and relationship education at home and at school, start sex later and are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy or to get a sexually transmitted infection’. In terms of sexual abuse, research actually suggests that having information about sex and relationships may help young people negotiate inappropriate sexual behaviour. This quote from the Australian Institute of Family Studies makes the case clearly:

‘It is important for young children to learn about body parts, healthy relationships and consensual adult expressions of intimacy. Age-appropriate education involves teaching children the correct names for and functions of their body parts and teaching them to care for, respect, and protect their bodies. It means talking with them about “healthy” touch. It does not involve talking about “monsters”, “bad people”,“down there” and “those bits”. Age-appropriate education is clear, accurate, positive and protective. Education and access to resources on self-protection and sexuality can reduce the risk of sexual assault. Research shows that positive messages about sexuality and participation in a comprehensive self-protection program (that is reinforced at home) may protect children from experiencing sexual assault’

The majority of parents and health professionals support SRE being taught in schools, so we think it’s time for that majority to stand up and be heard. Those of us who support accurate, comprehensive SRE need to assert our belief in the importance of giving young people the facts, and also how vital this information can be for their own health and well-being.

  • Let your child's school know you support the teaching of age-appropriate SRE

Sunday 27 November 2011

EFC Charity ART sale

This year we're incredibly fortunate that two brilliant artists have offered to support Education For Choice with money from their Christmas art sales.

Lottie Davies
Award winning photographer Lottie Davies, has a range of prints she is selling to fund a new art project of her own, but has generously agreed to donate 25% of Sales to Education For Choice for any sales that come via our blog or twitter @edforchoice


  1. Click on Lottie's website it's packed with large images so be patient while it loads. 
  2. Click in the centre of the Print Sale screen to see the gallery of photos available as prints.
  3. Choose your print from here and then click on Buy Christmas Prints
  4. When you order remember to tell Lottie you'd like her to donate to Education For Choice
Leading British painter Blaise has a range of canvasses of various sizes and has generously agreed to donate 25% of all sales to Education For Choice

  1. Click on Blaise's flickr gallery
  2. Choose the painting you'd like to buy
  3. Email lisa (at) to arrange payment and delivery
  4. Published costs do NOT include p+p

A message to Grenoside primary school

This is a message to the senior management and all the staff, parents and children of Grenoside to express our disgust at the totally irrational and unjustified targeting of the school by the British National Party. Our organisation works primarily in secondary schools delivering SRE, and we totally support the development of age-appropriate SRE for primary pupils. We all know that good quality SRE is designed to protect children against abuse and paedophilia and - as students move into adulthood - unwanted or risky sexual experience. We totally reject the accusation that your desire to provide your pupils with good SRE is in any way abusive or unethical and we condemn, unreservedly, the intimidation you are experiencing.

Thursday 24 November 2011

EFC Youth Advisory Group - Round Two!

Calling all young people aged 16-21 and living in London! EFC is launching the second version of its Youth Advisory Group from January 2012.

To find out more about the success of this year's project (the group created a short film giving the facts about abortion which is now being viewed on a number of educational sites) read this blog.

And for details of next year's group just click here. We ask that everyone who wants to apply fills out the short application form but this opportunity is open to all regardless of experience.

If you've got any questions about the group just email laura {at}

Monday 21 November 2011

Myth Busting Monday: ‘Where abortion is legal, all women will be able to access safe, legal abortions'

This week The Guardian has published some interesting short articles on unsafe abortion in Zambia, written by Alice Klein, a young mother who has recently had an abortion herself.

Klein writes about the places women in Zambia can access illegal abortions for varying sums of money: an unhygienic Chinese clinic, drug stores selling misoprostol illegally, and ‘witch doctors’ offering herbal ‘medications’. There are also horrifying stories of women attempting to end pregnancies themselves; ‘inserting knitting needles and turkey basters into their vaginas, [to] drinking laundry bleach and jumping off stairs on to their stomachs’.

You’d be forgiven for taking from this that abortion is outlawed in Zambia, but another article reveals that this is not the case. In fact, Zambian ‘abortion law is one of the most liberal in sub-Saharan Africa and allows the procedure if the pregnancy risks the mother's physical or mental wellbeing’. However access to legal abortion is affected by a number of barriers: ‘it requires three doctors' signatures, almost impossible in a country with one doctor per 8,333 people (compared with one doctor per 435 people in the UK)’; also, in a country with an 80% poverty rate, costs of safe, clinical procedures can be prohibitive. The article also highlights the widespread stigma and religious objection to abortion in Zambia, which again, contributes to misinformation about available services, further reducing accessibility. One ‘healer’ offering illegal, herbal abortions advises the researcher to ‘avoid hospital abortions, saying metal clamps are used to open the vagina and scratchy cotton wool used to clean the womb. She repeated common myths, such as clinical abortions leave women infertile and unclean.’

Clearly, in Zambia, although abortion is effectively legal, this doesn’t mean it is accessible to all women who want to end their pregnancies. As a result, women undergoing illegal, unsafe abortions are risking their health, and in some cases, lives.

Of course, this is one example – there are many areas of the world where, although abortion is technically legal it is difficult (and generally for poorer, or younger women, virtually impossible) to access. Abortion has been legal in the U.S since 1973 but 88% of all U.S counties have no abortion provider (this rises to 97% in rural areas).

For more information on abortion worldwide, including the gaps between legality and accessibility, visit the Guttmacher Institute website.

Monday 14 November 2011

Myth Busting Monday – ‘Abortion makes you infertile’

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

We’ve talked about this before but we think it’s worth repeating: legal abortion doesn’t cause infertility. Young people and professionals often come to us with concerns that someone who has an abortion will not be able to have children in the future. In fact, as the RCOG point out:

“There are no proven associations between induced abortion and subsequent ectopic pregnancy, placenta praevia or infertility”

In fact, “ovulation occurs within a month of first-trimester abortion in over 90% of women” which means that those wishing to prevent future pregnancies should get information about contraception following abortion. Some contraceptive methods can be fitted or initiated at the time of abortion while a woman's motivation is likely to be high.

This myth may relate to times and places where abortion is illegal and thus unsafe. However, some organisations in the UK are still making this claim about legal abortion: Care Confidential talk about ‘relative infertility’ as a risk of abortion and a centre in their network recently gave out literature stating that ‘sub-fertility or infertility’ is a longer term effect of abortion.

Monday 7 November 2011

Myth-Busting Monday - 'Abortion is legal in all parts of the UK'

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts. Today’s myth-bust relates to the fpa’s current abortion campaign Time For Change.

Although abortion is legal and accessible (though not available ‘on demand’) in England, Scotland and Wales, it is allowed in Northern Ireland only under exceptional circumstances. The 1967 Abortion Act, which governs abortion provision in Britain, only applies in England, Scotland and Wales. When the Act was debated and passed by Parliament in 1967 it was not extended to Northern Ireland.

Last year, over a thousand women from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales to obtain a legal abortion. Although women in Northern Ireland pay UK taxes they are not entitled to an abortion free on the NHS so would need to raise funds for the procedure itself (as well as travel and possibly accommodation). Abortion is also restricted in the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands so a number of women from these places travel to England and Wales to have abortions (see the 2010 abortion statistics for exact numbers).

There are no recorded statistics on the amount of illegal abortions taking place in Northern Ireland, but there have been reports of women ordering abortion medication online via services like Women on Web. The Abortion Support Network has been set up to provide financial assistance to those women travelling from Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. 

For more information on abortion in Northern Ireland check out the fpa’s Time For Change campaign.

Monday 31 October 2011

Myth Busting Monday – National Adoption Week

This week is National Adoption Week so we thought we’d post some common myths about adoption for today’s blogpost. Please do add a comment if you have any examples of misinformation you’ve seen and check out our website for more information on adoption and pregnancy decision making.

Abortion isn’t the only pregnancy option which can fall prey to misinformation. Although adoption is much less likely to be targeted by those seeking to deliberately misinform it is certainly a topic which can be misrepresented by tabloids and soap operas, often with only a fleeting regard for those with real life experience of the adoption process.

Last year the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) carried out a survey which found that a large proportion of those questioned carried outdated notions of what adoption entails. We’ve addressed a few myths below but check out the BAAF website for more detailed information on the process.

Myth 1: Most children are adopted because they have been given up by their birth family.
When abortion was illegal in England,Wales and Scotland, and single motherhood still seen as culturally unacceptable, the placing of newborns into adoptive families was a lot more common than it is now.  Young, unmarried women who became pregnant were coerced into giving babies up for adoption as their other choices became severely restricted. Nowadays, the most common reason for adoption is that the child has been removed from their birth family due to abuse or neglect in the home.

Myth 2:  Adopted children are never allowed any contact with their birth family.
Research has shown that for many children, some form of contact after adoption between the children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives and significant others can be beneficial. When proposing any arrangements for contact, the first consideration will always be what is in the best interests of the child.

Myth 3: You can’t adopt if you’re single, gay, over 40, religious, obese, a smoker etc.

Although there are some clear restrictions to who can and can’t adopt (such as certain criminal convictions or health issues) the remit for acceptance is not as strict as many people seem to think. The BAAF Chief Executive states that in fact, ‘94% of people who make it to an adoption panel get approved.’

Friday 28 October 2011

Safe at school? Abortion Education

The final blog of #SREisSAFE week looks at the false and stigmatising information about abortion given out in schools by anti-choice groups and those that seek to influence SRE policy.

False information about abortion is everywhere, including schools. The stigma surrounding this particular pregnancy choice means that misinformation, often spread by those groups who oppose women’s legal right to abortion, is able to flourish. We know that both Life and SPUC, the two main anti-abortion organisations in this country, have given non-evidence-based information about abortion on their websites, educational materials and directly to young people via school presentations. There are also groups like Lovewise (a member of the SRE Council) which provide school presentations with medically inaccurate information from a ‘pro-life’ perspective.

For example, websites run by Life claim that ‘Post Abortion Syndrome is now a recognised heath condition’ (false), that ‘there is some extremely strong evidence’ for a link between breast cancer and abortion (false) and that abortion leads to ‘increased suicide rates’(false).

A 2008 copy* of SPUC’s school presentation reveals an alarming amount of misinformation. We covered its misleading stance on contraception in this post, and links to breast cancer, Post-Abortion Trauma and infertility are also made.

We are frankly baffled that teachers would be happy to invite in groups which give misinformation about one of the most common medical procedures being performed in this country. It seems the topic of abortion is one where young people are expected to sort fact from fiction themselves, something which would never be expected in a history, maths or science lesson.

But the misinformation is only one side of the problem. These groups, in their opposition to abortion, may also stigmatise this pregnancy option over parenting or adoption. Of course, it’s perfectly valid for organisations to put forward their viewpoint that abortion is morally wrong. But this becomes unacceptable when presented as fact rather than opinion, by using false information to bolster the argument, or when a negative stance on abortion is intended to – or is likely to result in – distressing or stigmatising young people in the audience.

At the beginning of its school presentation SPUC claims: ‘Although SPUC are against abortion we do not judge or condemn anyone involved in them, neither doctors, nurses and especially not the girls and women who have them.’ However, the content of the following slides (including graphic images of aborted fetuses), and indeed its website materials, give a very different picture:

SPUC:  ‘The abortion pictures are not very pleasant to look at and I will warn you before I show them. My intention is not to shock you but rather to inform you sensitively of the truth and reality of what abortion entails’
SPUC: ‘As you can see this little boy is not just a clump of cells. He is a living growing unborn baby who deserves a right to live‘(photograph of fetus in utero – no indication of scale/size)
 SPUC: ‘A hysterotomy abortion involves major surgery and is like a delivery by caesarean section’ (accompanied by a full colour picture of a late-term fetus being removed from open, bloody abdomen – with the implication that this is an ordinary abortion procedure  and no indication that this procedure is very rare indeed and is only ever used as a procedure of last resort in a medical emergency ‘when a pregnancy must be ended promptly under general anaesthesia because of an acute medical condition and a vaginal method is impracticable or unsafe.’** So rare is this procedure that in recent years hysterotomy does not appear at all in UK abortion statistics)
SPUC:  ‘It can never be compassionate deliberately to take innocent human life’

By using shocking images, emotive language - ‘the aim is that the baby dies’, and presenting opinion as fact, SPUC seek to stigmatise the option of abortion. We would argue that this kind of presentation could be upsetting for young people who have experience of pregnancy themselves or who know somebody who has had an abortion (extremely likely since we are talking about a third of the female population).

LIFE’s ‘preg help’ advisory website displays a similarly judgmental tone:

LIFE: ‘Abortion exploits everyone involved’
LIFE: ‘The abortion ethos depends upon denying that the deliberate killing of the unborn child has any traumatic effect on anyone involved’
LIFE: ‘Abortion, for men as well as women, is not the best solution to the problem of unplanned pregnancy.’

So, as campaigns like SPUC’s ‘Safe at School’ argue against ‘explicit’ sex education we wonder why a photograph of a miscarried fetus passes muster?

Are young women who have experienced abortion and been told it is ‘the deliberate killing of an unborn child’ which could lead to cancer, infertility or serious mental health problems ‘safe at school’?

Are students, the majority of whom will go on to experience abortion either themselves, or support a partner, friend or family member who does, ‘safe at school’ when they receive misinformation like this?

Guardian ‘Shock Tactics’ article on anti-abortion groups in schools.

If you want to help EFC campaign against misinformation in schools please text EDFC22 followed by the amount you wish to donate (e.g. EDFC22 £10) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

*We do not have access to a more recent copy of this presentation, wording may have changed.
** Risk Management and Litigation in Obstetrics and Gynaecology [Ed. RV Clements. published in 2002 , Royal Society of Medicine Press in association with the RCOG].

Thursday 27 October 2011

Safe at School - abstinence, chastity, marriage and the family

Today’s blog looks at what some of the groups seeking to influence current SRE policy or delivering SRE in schools have to say about marriage and the family. This is the fourth  in our #SREisSAFE series of blogs.

Sex educators all over the country acknowledge the reality of young people’s lives and the reality of adolescent sexuality, and try to give young people the tools, knowledge and confidence to make the best decisions they can. Good sex education is inclusive – has something to say to everyone in the room whether they are already sexually active, or plan to wait to meet their life partner before they have sex. It also recognises that young people represent a range of sexualities and identities; and that the families they live in come in all different shapes and sizes. It's in this context that members of the new SRE Council, which hopes to influence UK SRE policy, are still committed to preaching about marriage as the only context in which to bring up a child. They would prefer our young people to be brought up on a diet of abstinence-only education and vows of chastity. While organisations promoting these views often co-opt the notion of family values, the reality is that they only place value on one particular type of family.

Challenge Team UK (an SRE council member) proclaims as a matter of fact: ‘Children brought up with married parents do better in every department of life’ and state ‘(we) made the difficult decision not to use the term 'long term committed relationship' as interchangeable with marriage.’
SPUC which is not a member of the SRE Council, but claims to work with hundreds of young people in schools across the UK and has launched its 'safe at school' campaign, doubts that gay people are capable of caring for children. ‘In the past fifteen years the breakup of the traditional family unit has escalated in Britain and with it we are witnessing an increasing number of child tragedies. Whereas it is not the aim of the writers of this paper to comment on the lifestyles of homosexuals one does have to consider the best ways in which society can encourage a happy and healthy environment in which children may grow up.’ 

On sex before marriage Silver Ring Thing (also SRE Council members) say, ‘There is only one true "Safe Sex" message and that must be the message of abstinence until marriage....abstinence until marriage is not only God's plan for their lives, but also the best and only way to avoid the harmful physical and emotional effects of premarital sex.’ 

So, no safer sex messages for those young people that do have sex before marriage. Why? Because not telling them about ways to avoid physical risks is the best way to help them avoid physical risks...hmmm. And if you’re gay I guess you have to resign yourself to never having sex because you can’t get married. So that's well... no sex ever then? However there is a silver lining to that particular cloud. According to Challenge Team Gay and Lesbian youth can join in with the saving themselves for marriage project if not marriage itself.
‘Saving sex gives adolescents who may be confused about their sexuality time to mature before deciding whether they are 'gay' or 'straight'. The underlying message being that gay adolescents may ‘grow out of’ being gay *Challenge Team crosses fingers*.

Lovewise – also SRE Council members say that ‘it is God’s desire that we keep sex for marriage’ and somewhat more scarily that ‘choices in relationships can have life and death consequences’ and ‘you can never get back what you have given away.’ 

Evaluate – another member of the SRE council makes a cursory nod towards the feelings of students observing their presentations, recognising that while their aim is to ‘be a voice into society affirming marriage and faithfulness in relationships,’ they should be ‘mindful that for many young people, this ideal is not their home experience’ This acknowledgement is important because one of our key concerns is how damaging it could be to the aspirations and confidence of young people to be told by a ‘professional’ speaker visiting their school, that because of the shape of their family, their life chances are severely compromised. However, we would like more specifics about what ‘being mindful’ would actually look like. If it’s a pitying look from a well-meaning visitor it won’t go down well with most of the young people we know.

We ask:
Is a young person being brought up by a single mum ‘safe at school’ if a visiting speaker is telling her she is more likely to fail in life. 
Is a young gay or lesbian person ‘safe at school’ if they are told that abstaining from sex until civil partnership may give them the chance to mature and to get over their confusion about their sexuality.
Is a young person who is sexually active already, is likely to become sexually active or may experience abuse or rape ‘safe’ without information about how to use and access contraception including emergency contraception.

If you want to help EFC campaign against misinformation and bad practice in schools please text EDFC22 followed by the amount you wish to donate (e.g. EDFC22 £10) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Anti-choice groups and contraception

Today’s blog looks at what some of the groups seeking to influence current SRE policy or delivering SRE in schools have to say about contraception and fertility. This is the third in our #SREisSAFE series of blogs.

Contraception and abortion are fairly obviously linked. Whenever EFC delivers a presentation or workshop in a school we make sure we address how unplanned pregnancy can occur and give a brief overview of the contraceptive methods, including those which can be used after unprotected sex. We make clear that although some methods have extremely high effectiveness rates, no form of contraception is 100% reliable. We also stress that condoms are the only method which can also help to prevent STI transmission – the operable word here being ‘help’ as again, due to imperfect use and the existence of STIs which are passed from skin to skin they won’t protect everyone every time.

At EFC we see abortion education as a matter of sexual health and think it’s important that young people understand fertility, how contraception works and where they can find out more information should they need it. We are concerned that some speakers visiting schools may not be giving accurate information about contraception to young people.

Myth 1: Contraception = Abortion
Two of the main anti-abortion organisations which deliver presentations in schools have made the false claim that certain forms of contraception are the same as abortion – working to end rather than prevent a pregnancy. Although some people believe that pregnancy begins when the sperm and egg meet (fertilisation), legally pregnancy begins when this fertilised egg is implanted in the womb. Which means that emergency contraception (aka the ‘morning after pill’) works to prevent pregnancy occurring and is not medically considered to be an abortion.

A blog on the LIFE website (downloaded by EFC 22/06/2011 but now removed) claimed that Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) is an abortifacient. In SPUC’s school presentation* EHC is described as ‘another threat to early human life in the womb’ which ‘ends the life of the tiny baby, it is abortifacient i.e. causes an early abortion.’ SPUC goes one step further in its booklet ‘Birth Control Methods Which Cause Abortion’ claiming that all hormonal contraceptive methods - the combined and mini contraceptive pill, implant, injection, IUD, and IUS - can cause ‘abortion’.

This belief, that pregnancy begins at fertilisation rather than, as legally defined, at implantation, is not acknowledged as a belief but rather presented as fact. SPUC are being invited into schools to deliver misinformation which may have direct impact on young women’s health, and may confuse and upset those who have taken emergency contraception or may need to take it in the future.

Myth 2: Abortion results in infertility
Recent research on repeat abortion indicates that the belief that abortion results in infertility reduces young women’s motivation to use contraception after abortion and may be contributing to the incidence of repeat abortion. This misinformation is promoted to a greater or lesser extent by several of the anti-abortion/ pro-abstinence groups. In its presentation on abortion Lovewise says one of the ‘long term physical consequences of abortion’ is ‘infertility’. A newsletter published by, and given out by 40 Days For Life at their ‘vigils’ outside UK abortion clinics, claims that ‘women who abort are more likely to experience...infertility’. Care Confidential refer on their website to the risk of ‘relative infertility’ following abortion. SPUC, in its school presentation* also claims infertility as one of the ‘long-term risks of abortion.’ In fact most women are fully fertile within two weeks of abortion and it is recommended that they choose and begin to use an effective contraceptive method at the time of abortion to prevent subsequent unintended pregnancy.

SPUC is currently leading a campaign against comprehensive SRE called ‘Safe at School’. We ask: Is a young person ‘safe at school’ if they are deterred from using contraception for fear they may be causing abortion? Is a young woman who is told using contraception won’t be necessary following abortion ‘safe at school’?

If you want to help EFC campaign against misinformation in schools please text EDFC22 followed by the amount you wish to donate (e.g. EDFC22 £10) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

*EFC has a copy of a SPUC presentation from 2008 from which this quote is taken. We cannot be sure that this wording is used in their current presentation.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Anti-choice groups and homophobia

Government guidance states that ‘young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationships education (SRE) is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs’. Indeed, any school SRE policy worth its salt would communicate the importance of inclusive education which doesn’t discriminate against same-sex relationships. So why are groups which hold homophobic views allowed to speak to young people as part of their sex and relationships education?

We weren’t particularly shocked when the director of anti-abortion organisation SPUC (The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) posted a missive railing against ‘gay marriage’ on his blog. We are however, still bemused by the fact that schools across the country allow this group to speak to young people.

In this recent blog SPUC director John Smeaton used text book homophobic arguments in his opposition to ‘gay marriage’ stating that:

‘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... 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.’

Helpfully, Smeaton clues us in as to why exactly he’s arguing against gay marriage on a blog dedicated to ‘pro-life issues’:

‘Why is the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality (and sexual ethics generally) important specifically for the pro-life movement? The late Pope John Paul II, the great pro-life champion, taught ... that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection.’

Smeaton’s blogs are not simply personal musings but directly linked to SPUC’s work and identity – the title is ‘John Smeaton, SPUC Director’ and the header states: ‘I write this blog in my role as SPUC's chief executive, commenting on pro-life news, reflecting on pro-life issues and promoting SPUC's work’.

SPUC is currently leading a national campaign called ‘Safe at School’ bemoaning the current state of sex education in schools. It offers schools resources and send out speakers to give presentations on topics such as abortion and euthanasia.

Another organisation, Care (Christian Action Research and Education), one of the founding members of the SRE Council, which runs the sex education programme Evaluate in schools, also raises a red flag concerning its position on sexuality. Care was a vocal supporter of Section 28 and has also responded negatively to David Cameron’s speech in support of ‘gay marriage’. In 2007 CARE co-sponsored a conference entitled: ‘The Possibility of Change: Understanding the Causes and Healing of Homosexuality’.

A Stonewall survey of young LGBT people found that over a third didn’t feel safe or accepted at school. We are concerned that some organisations, which hold views contravening good practice in SRE, are being invited into schools and could share opinions which stigmatise, or may trigger negative feelings and bullying. Is a young person who is questioning or coming to terms with their sexuality, or who has friends or family members  who are in gay relationships, ‘safe at school’ when an organisation with homophobic views is given a platform?

If you want to help EFC campaign against misinformation in schools please text EDFC22 followed by the amount you wish to donate (e.g. EDFC22 £10) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

Monday 24 October 2011

10 ways to support your pregnant teenage daughter

Today I read this article about a mother’s response to the news that her 18 year old daughter is pregnant. I was saddened by the way in which this mother responded and started to think about what she could have done differently...

Ten ways to support your teenage daughter when you find out she’s pregnant:

1. However shocked you are, give her a hug.
2. Tell her how much you love her and reassure her that you are going to be there for her -  whatever happens.
3. Ask her how she feels...and listen to her answer. Do not try and project onto her what you are feeling, what you felt when you got pregnant at 16, or what you think she should be feeling.
4. Don’t tell her how you feel until you’ve had a chance to calm down and really think. This may help you avoid saying things you’ll later regret.
5. Ask how she knows she is pregnant (has she done a pregnancy test?); if she knows how pregnant she is (pregnancy is counted from the first day of a woman’s most recent period); and how long she has known.
6. Don’t make any assumptions about what she will choose to do about her pregnancy. Ask her what she thinks she might want to do (continue with the pregnancy and become a parent, or give the child up for adoption; or end the pregnancy). 
7. Remember – it is important that she takes responsibility for the decision, owns it, and feels confident that she is making the right decision. Even if you think she is making the ‘wrong’ choice it is, ultimately, her choice. If she feels judged for her decision she will find it hard to come to you for support when she needs it later on. Tell her you’ll support her even if you don’t agree with her decision.
8. Tell her that you will be honest about what you think when you've had a chance to think about it but that you will help her identify other people she can talk to as well because it is often helpful to speak to someone outside the family who can be more objective.
9. Ask her about who she got pregnant with, the status of their relationship, whether he knows about the pregnancy, whether they are in contact and, if so, what support he is offering and what support she is hoping for.
10. Roll up your sleeves and prepare for some hard work. Your daughter needs you now more than ever.

This is only the beginning. In the days to follow there will be lots more to do to help your teenager with making a decision, or if she has made one, finding out more about what her choice entails. 

Reliable websites:

Education For Choice  (information about pregnancy decision-making and abortion)
Brook (young people's sexual health clinics and helpline)
fpa (information about abortion and local clinics)
Abortion providers bpas and MSI

British Association of Adoption and Fostering

Healthy Pregnancy
NHS Choices  (how to eat well and stay healthy during pregnancy)
National Childbirth Trust (lots of information on pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding)

Gingerbread (information for single parents about available support)
Prymface (a personal and informative take on teenage pregnancy)
Girl-Mom  (a forum for young mums)


Miscarriage Association

10 ways to support your son when his girlfriend is pregnant coming soon...