Thursday 29 September 2011

Abortion - a Marmite issue?

Recently a friend described abortion as a Marmite issue to me. She confidently asserted that people are either for or against abortion, love it or hate it. Her assertion was that it divided people as much as Marmite. I couldn’t agree with her for several reasons (only one of which is that I belong to that awkward group of people the advertisers have conveniently ignored who quite like Marmite and choose to have it occasionally).

Seriously though, I really don’t see abortion as a Marmite issue. It’s such a normal part of women’s lives that it’s really more our bread and butter than a mere condiment. 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion in their lifetime and it is now considered by most people, including health professionals, as an essential element of the family planning toolkit, which confirms that it is more analogous to a staple of our diet rather than a luxury toast topping (to spread the metaphor thinly).

Even those using contraception conscientiously, consistently and correctly may experience contraceptive failure. Given our long, fertile and sexually active adult lives, it is amazing how well we all do really at preventing unwanted pregnancy. A fertile woman ovulates approximately 450 times in her life – that’s 450 potential opportunities to conceive. This means that a woman having one abortion in her lifetime has experienced a 0.22% contraceptive failure rate and even a woman having three abortions only a 0.66% contraceptive failure rate over her reproductive life time.

Another reason the Marmite analogy doesn’t really work is that while some people definitely hate abortion no one really loves it. They might love its availability, the crucial role it has played in promoting public health, the part it plays in promoting women’s reproductive – and by extension economic and cultural freedom and more, but like good quality dental care, we’re glad it’s there, but it doesn’t mean we actually enjoy having it or ‘love it’.

I’m sure that there are far more Marmite-haters than anti-abortionists in the UK. The main difference between the two is that much as they may loathe the brown, tarry, sticky, salty weirdness that is Marmite, most Marmite-haters don’t have an agenda to stop me eating it.

Monday 26 September 2011

Myth-Busting Monday - World Contraception Day Special

Today is ‘World Contraception Day’ so we thought we’d share some common myths we hear about contraception.

A multi-national survey was released today which reported a number of barriers young people have in accessing trustworthy information about sex and contraception. Only 55% of those interviewed in Europe said they had received sex education at school and 20% said that ‘their school does not provide a comfortable environment for questions on sexuality and intimacy’. One of the most worrying findings was that 14% of young people in the UK reported that their teachers had provided information about contraception which was inaccurate or untrue. We believe school is a place where young people should feel comfortable to ask questions and confident that they will receive evidence-based answers. Teachers need access to reputable sources of information on sexual and reproductive health (like fpa and Brook) as well as training and resources to deliver the balanced and informed SRE young people need. We believe this is particularly pertinent when dealing with the topic of abortion – a subject shrouded in stigma and myth, and that’s why we offer training and resources to help them do so.

So let’s bust some common myths about contraception. You can find detailed information on all forms of contraception by visiting the fpa website.

Using two condoms when you have sex means double the protection. This one came up just the other day in new Channel 4 comedy ‘Fresh Meat’ when two characters ‘double bag’ by using a female and a male condom at once. In fact, using two condoms at once is likely to increase friction and could mean that they are more likely to tear or come off. If somebody wanted to further decrease their chances of getting pregnant they could use condoms alongside a non-barrier method of contraception (like the pill or the implant).

Women who haven’t given birth shouldn’t be fitted with the coil. This myth is common enough that we’ve heard it from some medical professionals. In fact, women of all ages (including those who are ‘nulliparous’ i.e. haven’t given birth) can be fitted with an IUD/coil. Young women should be offered the full range of contraceptive methods with a discussion of the suitability and side effects of each one.

Taking the contraceptive pill can lead to fertility problems. Some people think that taking the pill for a number of years will affect a woman’s fertility in the long-term but this is not true. In fact, some women conceive immediately after stopping taking the pill and while it doesn't cause fertility problems the pill can mask problems that were already there, such as irregular periods.

Have you heard any other myths about contraception from young people or in the media? Let us know by commenting below!

Monday 19 September 2011

Myth-Busting Monday – ‘The morning-after abortion pill’

C’mon Michele Bachmann. Really? Even EFC, staunch defenders of The Facts, are getting sick of mythbusting this one. At a recent Tea Party debate Republican representative Bachmann talked about the ‘morning-after abortion pill’. There’s no such thing. She seems to be conflating the ‘morning after pill’ (emergency hormonal contraception) and the ‘abortion pill’ (medical abortion). In fact, the former is taken to try to prevent pregnancy, an abortion is the termination of an existing pregnancy. We’ve busted this one before, but it’s still being touted by anti-choice groups in the UK.

This isn’t the first medical issue Bachmann has slipped up on. Her claims about the HPV vaccine causing ‘mental retardation’ have led to a $11,000 reward being offered for anyone who can provide any evidence to back them up. Go science!

Monday 12 September 2011

Myth-Busting Monday - 'Abortion is the only procedure which requires 2 doctors' signatures'

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.Today's blog was inspired by a recent tweet from @christineburns who pointed out that abortion is not the only procedure which requires the signatures of two separate doctors.

As Christine points out, during discussions of Nadine Dorries' failed amendments to the health and social care bill last week some MPs and commentators stated that abortion is the only situation whereby somebody has to obtain the signature of two doctors for the procedure to be granted legal. Abortion rights campaigners are keen to point out that no other medical procedure requires this level of intervention, but, as Christine rightly points out, this same requirement is true of gender reassignment procedures. The 2004 Gender Recognition Act makes legal recognition of a transsexual person's true gender dependent on reports from two doctors and this GIRES document offering guidance to transmen on genital surgeries states that "two referrals supporting your clinical need for genital surgery are usually required before a surgeon will undertake it. In the UK one of these must be from a medical doctor (a gender psychiatrist) and the other can be a psychologist, endocrinologist or GP for instance."

So it's simply not true that abortion is the only procedure which requires two doctors' signatures- thanks again to Christine Burns for highlighting this. Check out her blog Just Plain Sense here. And the RCOG's comments on the requirement of two signatures for legal abortion here.

Monday 5 September 2011

The only incentives in life are financial

The myth that underlies The Dorries/Field amendment on abortion is that abortion providers have a financial incentive to promote abortion and therefore their employees do not and cannot provide independent, non-directive support for women trying to make a decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure if I had more time I could lay my hands on copious literature which finds that people are motivated and incentivised to act by a range of different factors, only one of which is money. I would take an amateurish stab at things such as shared values within your community or amongst your peers and family, strongly held philosophical or religious belief, and more. 

In my experience, for example, those working for abortion providers in any capacity are very strongly motivated by a profound and deeply held belief in a woman’s right to choose the outcome of her own pregnancy and a horror of the known consequences of witholding safe, legal, free and accessible abortion as a real option for women. 

Surely the biggest incentive people have is their own personal belief, and that’s why it’s hard to fathom that during this whole debate on ‘independent counselling’ not a single organisation that was founded on an anti-abortion principles, and staffed by people who oppose abortion, has felt the need to explain how their deeply held belief that abortion is wrong does not provide them with an incentive to dissuade or obstruct women from accessing abortion.

Even in this materialistic world we all inhabit, I still think that strongly held beliefs trump money for most people. So, once again I ask you... all of you who have a strongly held belief – whether grounded in a faith position or otherwise – that every abortion is intrinsically wrong, sinful, damaging and tragic, how can you NOT want to dissuade women from having an abortion. 

More discussion of this is here and here