Monday 20 June 2011

Myth Busting Monday - pro-choice orgs don't care about pregnancy counselling

The Dorries/Field amendment on abortion counselling is based on the false premise that women cannot currently access impartial support with pregnancy decision-making . Whether or not they expect their amendment to be successful, it is obvious that the main intention of the amendment is to promote the view that:
those who provide abortion are hell-bent on encouraging women to have abortions they do not really want
those who support access to safe, legal abortion don't care about whether women make the right decision about abortion

As an organisation that believes women should have easy access to good quality abortion services, EFC has worked very hard to improve the level of support that young women and their partners get with pregnancy decision-making. 

For ten years EFC has delivered a training course for school nurses, youth workers, sexual health workers, teachers, social workers (in fact anyone who works with young people). This provides tools and information to help professionals provide impartial support with pregnancy decision-making. It recognises that young people may find this process difficult – they may lack: knowledge and understanding of the different pregnancy options; the skills to assess their thoughts and feelings and weigh up the benefits and disadvantages of parenthood; or the support at home to decide what’s best for them.  Young people may not want to go to their GP and may not know how to access an abortion provider directly for information or support. It’s important that the professionals who young people trust are able to provide this support when and where they ask for it.

Education For Choice has written a toolkit to encourage and enable professionals to provide support with pregnancy  decision-making to the young women and men they work with. The toolkit makes the case for providing this support when and where it is needed and includes practical information and ideas on how to do so. It also provides a checklist for professionals and local area commissioners to assess the quality, impartiality and usefulness of local independent pregnancy services.

Education For Choice has published a workbook of practical tools and exercises to help those professionals working with young people to work through their decision-making process with them and to create a document of the process to increase young women’s confidence in their decision.

As a pro-choice organisation we’re really committed to good quality pregnancy decision-making support.

Friday 17 June 2011

Who are the new SRE Council?

Last month Care (Christian Action Research and Education) issued a press release to announce the launch of a new SRE council which has received support from Education Secretary Michael Gove. The release states that the council ‘has been formed to promote the best possible sex and relationship education both at home and at school, recognising the particular importance of enhancing the role played by parents in SRE.’ This blog takes a closer look at the groups involved and what their vision of ‘the best possible SRE’ might look like.

‘Lovewise is a charity which seeks to help schools and youth groups by providing presentations on the subjects of marriage, sex and relationships from a Christian perspective’.

Lovewise’s charitable objectives are to ‘advance the Christian faith...particularly (but not exclusively) the Biblical teaching on human sexuality, marriage and the complementary callings of man and woman’. A glance at their sample presentations for schools shows a shocking disregard for facts (for example claims that abortion causes infertility and breast cancer).

Evaluate ‘supports (young people) in delaying sexual experience until a long-term committed exclusive relationship’

Evaluate is an education programme run by Care, in connection with partner organisation Care Confidential (a network of independent pregnancy advice centres). Care’s charitable object is: ‘The advancement and propagation of the Christian gospel and in particular Christian teaching as it bears on or affects national and individual morality and ethics’. Care advocates for ‘an educated Christian view of life from its beginning at conception to its natural end’.

Challenge Team UK
‘The Challenge Team UK presents its message from a common sense and health perspective, without any religious references.’ That message is, ‘Saving sex for marriage is a positive, realistic and healthy lifestyle.’

Although Challenge Team rejects the term ‘abstinence’ for the work they do, they ‘promote(s) healthy sexuality by...suggesting that teens 'save sex for marriage' in order to stay healthy now and enjoy marriage later’. They claim that although ‘all of those involved in the Challenge Team so far have Christian beliefs’and that ‘The Challenge Team Trust Deed has a Christian basis’ none of the materials mention religion.

In line with many of the other organisations in this group Challenge Team take a dim view of current SRE practices: ‘By giving information about condoms and showing teens how to use them, adults who are the authority figures in teens' lives may be giving them, unintentionally, permission to have sex’.

‘The most important and influential part of LIFE's ethos is our opposition to all abortion on principle.’

Life, which has also recently joined the government’s sexual health forum describes itself as non-religious. It advocates for ‘Our young people (to be) given a true sense of their self worth and a full appreciation of the importance of loving, stable and faithful relationships and has spoken out against contraception education and current SRE practices. This article evidences Life’s false claim that the morning after pill is an abortifacient.

Silver Ring Thing
‘There is only one true "Safe Sex" message and that must be the message of abstinence until marriage. Through this programme teens are able to understand that 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.’

The UK’s Silver Ring Thing is an import from the U.S which teaches abstinence to young people who are encouraged to wear a silver ring as a symbol of their pledge to abstain from having sex until marriage. The website claims that: ‘the only way to reverse the moral decay of any youth culture is to inspire a change in the conduct and behaviour from those within the culture’ – youth volunteers are used to achieve this aim.

Family Education Trust
‘Sex education is an ideological battlefield on which a war is being waged for the hearts and minds of children. Behind the innocuous-sounding words used by the sex education lobby, there is a definite agenda at work to undermine the role of parents and to tear down traditional moral standards. The need for parents to be alert and vigilant has never been greater’.

The Family Education Trust produce literature campaigning against ‘modern’ methods of SRE arguing for a ‘clear moral framework that shows a proper respect for parents and for marriage.’ Lisa from EFC has blogged about one of their pamphlets aimed at young people here.

Right to Life
‘Right to Life is a political lobby group defending the right to life from conception to natural death’

This campaign group’s charitable aims include:
• Advancing the public’s education with a view to recognising the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death
• Provid(ing) young girls, in need of assistance and protection who may be under pressure to have an abortion.

Their educational worksheet on abortion can be seen here.

Some of these groups use the term ‘abstinence’ outright, some don’t. Many of them are anti-choice. Some use misinformation and false statistics. Many make statements which ostracise lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, or those who have/are single parents or are from 'non-traditional' families. But what they all share is a commitment to fighting any kind of ‘comprehensive’ SRE programme in which young people are given factual information about their rights and responsibilities and information on how to practice safer sex alongside advice on delaying sex until they are ready. The heavy push these groups make for heterosexual (often assumed to be Christian) marriage being the only valid context for sex is arguably offensive, and at best irrelevant to the lives of many young people in this country.

Monday 13 June 2011

Myth Busting Monday: 'Post Abortion Syndrome is a recognised medical condition'

In light of this recent story about a nurse distributing an anti-abortion booklet to colleagues we thought it was important to address one particular myth being bandied about in the media regarding abortion and mental health. The myth of ‘post-abortion syndrome’.
The booklet in question is produced by an organisation called Forsaken. Their website states that:

‘This book is about the reality of Post Abortion Syndrome (also known as "Post Abortion Stress", "Post Abortion Trauma" or "Post Abortion Stress Syndrome").

The book features ‘five true stories written by women from Taunton who have gone through post abortion, some of whom have found healing and release.’

EFC believes that information about abortion and services for women following abortion should acknowledge their wide range of responses to abortion: from satisfaction and relief, to sadness or regret. Now this blog isn’t about denying individual women’s experiences of their own abortion or their beliefs and feelings about abortion in general. However, as there is no evidence that women generally experience trauma following abortion EFC cannot support Forsaken’s claims about Post-Abortion Syndrome. That it causes women who have had abortions to suffer this long list of problems, or that it exists as a medical condition at all.

As the American Psychological Association makes clear in its comprehensive report on abortion and mental health, the study on which the case for ‘PAS’ is based is extremely unreliable:

‘Speckhard and Rue (1992; Rue, 1991, 1995) posited that the traumatic experience of abortion can lead to serious mental health problems for which they coined the term postabortion syndrome (PAS). They conceptualized PAS as a specific form of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comparable to the symptoms experienced by Vietnam veterans, including symptoms of trauma, such as flashbacks and denial, and symptoms such as depression, grief, anger, shame, survivor guilt,and substance abuse. Speckhard (1985,1987) developed the rationale for PAS in her doctoral dissertation in which she interviewed 30 women specifically recruited because they deemed a prior abortion experience (occurring from 1 to 25 years previously) to have been “highly stressful.” Forty-six percent of the women in her sample had second-trimester abortions, and 4% had third-trimester abortions; some had abortions when it was illegal. As noted above, this self-selected sample is not typical of U.S. women who obtain abortions. PAS is not recognized as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.'

Ellie Lee of the University of Southampton has written about the myth of ‘post-abortion syndrome’ in the UK:

‘In the light of the substantial amount of evidence against the existence of Post Abortion Syndrome, it is perhaps surprising that the claim for PAS retains any credibility...Evidence from the research literature suggests that, in the aggregate, legal abortion of an unwanted pregnancy does not pose a psychological hazard for most women. They tend to cope successfully and go on with their lives. There is no credible evidence for the existence of a Post Abortion Syndrome’.

Yes, women should be given information on pregnancy options, including all possible risks to their physical or mental health following childbirth and abortion. But this information needs to be evidence-based and scientifically sound if we want them to make confident, informed decisions. Deliberately misinforming women about risks to further an ideological agenda is profoundly unethical.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

We're not scared of talking about sex. SRE...NOW

With the announcement of the new SRE council, consisting mainly of those opposed to comprehensive sex and relationships education and a new bill being presented to Parliament calling for abstinence education for *girls*, it may be timely to print this transcript of a presentation EFC Director, Lisa Hallgarten made to a health conference in March 2011.

'Education for Choice works primarily to ensure that all young people are enabled to make informed choices about pregnancy prevention, pregnancy options and abortion and we have been delivering sex and relationships education for nearly 20 years now. 

Last week I attended a conference where the Public Health Minister affirmed her support for sex and relationships education and I was really delighted about that as I think everyone at the conference was...but she couldn’t provide any concrete commitments as to funding or policy. One of the things that was said was that making SRE statutory doesn’t in and of itself ensure quality.  I think that’s something we can all agree on. Just getting a school to tick a box saying it does it is not enough; just getting a school to provide a couple drop down days a year is not enough; just getting a form tutor who is overworked, under-skilled and unconfident to deliver a couple tutorial sessions on sex and relationships education is not enough. But actually, after 10 years of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, Healthy Schools, Sex Ed Forum briefings and more, there's been a kind of flourishing of innovative practice all around the country, and we do know what good SRE looks like now.  Nobody is suggesting that when English, Maths and Science aren’t taught well we should pull them from the curriculum. What we say is we need to invest in workforce training to make sure that teaching and learning of these subjects is improved. I would like to argue that we should be investing in workforce training to make sure that the delivery of sex and relationships education is improved. 

Something else that I heard last week from the Minister and that really, really bothers me, is that we are all scared of talking about sex with young people and that’s the real obstacle to progress.  There’s this common wisdom that everyone in Britain is culturally incompetent, that we all go beetroot at the mention of sex and that we are just tongue-tied around the whole issue. This simply isn’t true. There are hundreds of people out there who are brilliant communicators about sex and relationships, who are experts at talking to young people about sex and relationships and whose profession it is to talk to young people about sex.  Personally I am not in the slightest bit coy or anxious about talking about sex with young people or anyone else.  If you put me in front of a class and asked me to talk about the periodic table, I would be in serious trouble, but talking about periods... piece of cake.  If you ask me to talk about international relations to a history group, I would be paralysed with fear, but intimate human relationships... yes please.  If you want me to analyse the text of Romeo and Juliet with an English class I couldn’t do it, but I can talk about teenage romance... I think you get the picture.  There is an expertise, it’s not rocket science, but there is an actual set of skills and knowledge educators can acquire. What we need to do is get the people who want it to do it and  train them and give them the skills, information and confidence to do it.  For example, my organisation is the acknowledged authority on talking to young people about pregnancy decision making and abortion, that’s a subject that lots of people think is just too difficult to tackle, but actually we do it, and we do it every day in schools.  Teachers like it, students love it, and we have trained about 500 nurses and teachers all around the country to do that every year. Really the cost of that is relatively small when you think how many young people those professionals then reach, it’s a very cost effective way of improving the sex and relationships education people get, in fact you could say it’s a no-brainer.  Young people want it, professionals want to do it, professionals want training to do it and there are people out there like Education for Choice and a load of other agencies who can train them to do it. WIN!

Like most people in this room, I’m not really that worried about the small print, I could even accept that SRE isn’t going to be statutory, I don’t care whether it’s called sex and relationships education, or relationships and sex education, what I do care about is that there will be universal provision of good quality sex and relationships education which means evidence-based information, which means supporting young people to access local health services and knowing which professionals they can talk to about what, where, and how? This means that whoever the child is, wherever they are, whether they are in a community comprehensive school, an academy school, a Faith school, a free school, a private school, a public school, or whether they are being educated at their mum’s kitchen table, that they all have access to evidence-based information which, after all,  is an entitlement; which is a need; and which we know contributes to a whole range of wellbeing outcomes, including reduction in unintended teenage pregnancy. 

Monday 6 June 2011

Myth Busting Monday: '7 year olds are putting condoms on bananas'

So, since this meeting is taking place in London tonight to get together some like-minded opponents of Nadine Dorries’ recent plans to introduce abstinence education in schools and ‘independent’ pre-abortion counselling we thought we’d be topical and touch on one of her oft repeated myths: That children in primary schools are being taught how to put on condoms using bananas.

Here’s Dorries on her own blog claiming that:
“Girls as young as seven are taught about intercourse, safe sex, how to apply a condom on a banana, where to get condoms, how to detect an STI and that they don’t need to tell their parents anything.”

And she’s repeated the banana thing in quite a few of her numerous media appearances. Now we know that Dorries' blog is, by her own admission, 70% fiction but this little nugget of fiction is particularly galling to those of us who actually work in sex education. Yes, thankfully there are some primary schools doing great SRE, but for children below 11 this focuses very heavily on the ‘R’ – relationships. By talking to children about appropriate relationships educators introduce awareness of boundaries and what is and isn’t safe.

Anyone who does work in schools/SRE will tell you that when condom demonstrations are done they a) generally take place from about Year 9 in secondary school when SRE starts to cover topics like contraception and STIs and they b) don’t tend to use fruits and vegetables but rather an appropriately but perhaps boringly named ‘condom demonstrator’ (which generally look something like this).

What’s worrying here is why Dorries chooses to roll out this myth again and again. This post on the Children’s Services Blog suggests an underlying rejection of comprehensive SRE altogether:
‘Dorries sounds alarmist. She sounds Puritan. Her objections to banana-condom practice hint at a disregard for lessons on safe sex altogether’.

So let’s file this one in the ‘70% fiction’ pile. Busted.