Monday 23 May 2011

‘Abortion: The Facts’ – A film by young people, for young people

Last week saw the final meeting of the first EFC Youth Advisory Group. Sob. Thanks so much to Kiki, Ruth, Rosa, Rachael, Sam and Zalika for being involved and making it such a success. As well as attending events and focus groups on behalf of EFC the group worked hard to produce this short film to give other young people the facts about abortion. Please watch 'Abortion: The Facts' (below and also on our YouTube page) and let us know what you think – and do pass it on to any young people/educators who might be interested! Some closing comments from the YAG follow...

Kiki: We went to an exhibition concerning sexual health at City Hall where we got freebies, leaflets and met sexual health organisations. We also created a film of some of the facts about abortion to dispel the myths around the topic. The production was good fun as we collaborated ideas and did audio snippets.

Rachael: During my time at EFC I was introduced to the different views as well as facts of abortion. Personally I feel that I have learnt valuable information not only for myself but also family and friends. By contributing to the creation of our video: ‘The Facts About Abortion’ I have learnt how important it is to encourage young people to think about the subject.

Ruth: The film project came about after us noticing the lack of decent information about abortion online – particularly in video form. YouTube is populated with sometimes misleading anti-abortion videos. Young people deserve to have the facts to make an informed choice and they need to know their rights. What I found particularly interesting when making the video was the common theme of the lack of sex education in schools which addresses abortion. Perhaps our video can help to fill this gap and even prompt a discussion about how limited sex education is in UK schools. I’d like to share the film with anyone and everyone!

Rosa: From my time at EFC, I have learnt a lot. I was one of the many without a knowledge surrounding abortion that I should have got from school. I found that a lot of things I took as truths were not at all, and I have felt better within myself and feel that my autonomy has grown as a result. The making of the film was largely good fun, at times difficult, but with a strong group around us we could always find a way to laugh whilst we worked. I’m proud of the film but I can’t help but feel sad it’s all over. This is a fantastic organisation and I have loved being involved.

Monday 16 May 2011

Myth Busting Monday: 'Abstinence education is a really good idea'

So, a topical myth-bust today in light of Nadine Dorries' recent proposal that young women be taught abstinence education in schools. Lisa has already blogged on that issue here; so today is all about debunking the myth that abstinence education actually works, i.e. empowers young people to delay sex, and reduces levels of STIs and unplanned pregnancies.

The Sex Education Forum gives a very sensible, straight-forward account of abstinence education here. In answer to the question 'Does abstinence education work?' it states:

'There is no evidence that ‘abstinence – only’ education either reduces teenage pregnancy or improves sexual health (Kirby 2001 & Swann et al 2003). There is also no evidence to support the claims that the teaching of contraception leads to increased sexual activity (Swann et al 2003).'

Worryingly, the research suggests that such programmes which withhold information about sexual health can place young people at higher risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Not a huge shock to anyone with some common sense.

In terms of abortion education, we hear similar arguments from the 'abstinence-brigade' against giving young people information about pregnancy options. There is a sense that if you tell young women what abortion is and where you can access information and services they'll all want to run out and have one. In fact, our own student evaluations tell us that having the space to think about pregnancy decision making actually motivates the young people we speak to to use contraception and consider the choices they make. The University of Southampton's report on second trimester abortions shows that some women's lack of information on what abortion involved, or where to access it, meant that they delayed the procedure, with possible increased risks to health.

All of this is why we side with those, like the Sex Education Forum who believe in educating young people about sex and pregnancy in a balanced way, helping them to think about not just how to prevent unwanted pregnancies but examining their motivation to do.

Monday 2 May 2011

decisions decisions...

My relationship with TV researchers is one of false hope followed by inevitable disappointment. Each time researchers have been putting together a new series of the Sex Education Show they have called me up. Like a fool my heart beats a little faster and my brain starts whirring and I believe, I really believe, that this time they actually want to get it right.

The first time abortion was mentioned on the Sex Education Show (an episode first aired in 2010) it was a description of an abortion method, accompanied by the presenter making eeuch faces and yeuch noises. I tweeted like a lunatic - Why the focus on the abortion procedure? Why the pulling of faces? Another missed opportunity to represent abortion and abortion education constructively.

This time when they rang asking for something I couldn't and wouldn't provide them with (probably a young woman who would talk about her abortion to the nation), I grabbed the bull by the horns. 'I'm afraid we can't help you with a real life case study, but what we can do is spend a bit of time helping you to consider useful ways in which to represent abortion and ways to address it within the Sex Education Show.' Silence at the other end of the phone.

'For example', I blathered on, 'I could send you the resources we use in schools. If you like you could come and observe one of our workshops to see what it is that young people really want to know about abortion and how you can usefully address the subject. I can send you a list of the questions they commonly ask and an explanation of how to answer them. Anything you'd like to know about this we'd be happy to explain, or to demonstrate '...SILENCE.

'It's just (I don't give up easily) it would be so much better if we could help the young people think about why abortion happens and how people come to that decision, rather than looking solely at the abortion process as you did last time. After all the abortion process is quick as a few minutes, and labour a few hours, but the decision to have a baby may be life changing.'

'Ok, well we'll get back to you, thanks' came the chirpy TV researcher voice on the other end of the phone.

So, did she get back to me?...No!
So, did the show focus on decision-making and avoid obsessing about the procedure itself?...No!
So, was I surprised?...No!

The show got some things right – abortion is a 'real' issue that YP aren’t given many opportunities to learn about. As one of the girl’s commented, the only stuff about abortion she knows comes from East Enders, hardly a reliable source of accurate information on the subject.  40,000 young women under 18 become pregnant in England and Wales each year many of whom face a real dilemma about what to do. As the show rightly stated, 18,000 abortions carried out for young women under the age of 18 every year in England and Wales, so it's a real shame so little good quality work is done around this topic within SRE. The young people interviewed were - as we find they always are - hungry for discussion of abortion.

Once again the opportunity to demonstrate good work was lost. Once again the abortion procedure took centre stage. As the presenter said 'we want to show teenagers the cold hard facts about abortion'.

At 40 minutes in to Episode 3 you can watch as a group of young people are led into the procedure room of a Marie Stopes abortion clinic. I've met the nurse who talked them through the procedure. She might even have participated in some of our training, and she was great - calm, clear and reassuring. But the constant camera fixation with the stirrups on the bed, and the cutting in of a photo of surgical instruments (which would only be used in a small proportion of the 9% of abortions that take place after 13 weeks) couldn't but make the whole procedure seem scary. One of the young women who had her hand over her mouth to denote 'I'm going to be sick' mode, before she even entered the room, became another point of repeated focus for the camera and editor.

Although both surgical and medical methods of abortion where mentioned, the information given was muddy and unclear, it implied that all abortions after 9 weeks are surgical which is not true - in fact the RCOG recommend medical procedures be used at all stages of gestation.

On the positive side it was instructive to see the small size of the cannula (a straw sized tube) which is inserted through the cervix and into the uterus to perform a 'surgical' or vacuum aspiration abortion. Many young people we talk to assume that it will be done using something the size of a hoover or, worse, that they have to actually cut you open. One of the young men in the programme said he had always assumed that this was how they performed abortion and it's not surprising since it's a common piece of misinformation deliberately disseminated by some anti-abortion organisations speaking to students in schools.)

As part of a comprehensive discussion of abortion it is natural that young people will ask about different abortion methods, but it really is only one part of the discussion and not, IMHO, the most important.

In Education For Choice workshops we explore the reasons women get pregnant when they don't intend to. That means looking at different contraceptive methods, different circumstances, positive and negative situations. We then get everyone to consider what that must feel like. What would the dilemma be like for the young woman and how would her partner be feeling. How easy would it be for them to talk to each other, what would they have to take into account in making a decision about pregnancy, who else could they talk to and would they get family support for whichever option they chose. We always ask them to consider adoption as well as parenthood and abortion and allow them to consider the pros and cons of all of these. We ask them to identify local services that can help with contraception, pregnancy testing and impartial pregnancy decision-making support. These lessons generate thoughtfulness and empathy as well as a lot of forthright views and interesting questions. Most young people leave the classroom with a much better understanding of what abortion is and why it is the right option for some people, but most importantly they are more motivated to avoid conception and to use contraception.

We always answer questions about abortion method clearly and simply, but just as I would if I had a pregnant young woman in front of me, we try to get them to prioritise thinking about the decision itself. However squeamish we are or fearful of pain and discomfort, the decision to bring a baby into the world and the lifelong commitment to caring for it must take priority over worrying about the relatively short abortion procedure or even the potentially long and painful labour.

I'm sad that I couldn't get this message through and that once again Channel 4 has prioritised 'shock and awe' over quality information giving. I wonder whether the next time the Sex Education Show ring me up to ask for help will I rebutt them?

Somehow I doubt it. Once again, my heart will beat faster, my brain will start to whirr and I will try again. Maybe I'm stupid, but this is just too important to get wrong.