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of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) carried out a survey which found that a large proportion of those questioned carried outdated notions of what adoption entails.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...

‘Safe at school ?’

This week we’ll be posting daily blogs about Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) focusing on those organisations and campaigns which oppose inclusive, comprehensive SRE. A number of anti-abortion groups and ‘family-values’ campaigners are fighting against what they consider to be ‘explicit’ sex education in schools and attempting to curtail young people’s access to factual, impartial information about sex, contraception, pregnancy and abortion. This week’s blogs will look in greater detail at what exactly such groups would like our children to be learning.

Lessons from the US: We only have to look to the States to see how those who oppose abortion often have a much wider conservative agenda. For example, anti-choice Republican Michele Bachmann’s ‘moral’ opposition to the life-saving HPV vaccine which she saw as a plot to sexualise ‘innocent little girls’. Or campaigns to defund Planned Parenthood which were ostensibly aimed at preventing government money being spent on abortion, but will, in effect, eradicate contraceptive services. Since contraceptive provision can help reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions this might look like a bit of a logic fail, but actually it’s part of a wider campaign by organisations that are as opposed to condoms as they are to abortion.

Scratch the surface of individuals and groups with an interest in curtailing women’s reproductive rights and too often you expose an underbelly of misogyny and  homophobia  and a zealous belief in the importance of ‘the family’ (i.e. heterosexual marriage) at the expense of all other relationships. These are viewpoints that people are entitled to hold and to express on blogs, but our concern is when such sentiments have a danger of crossing over into the classroom and creating a stigmatising or unsafe environment for young people learning about sex and relationships.

A number of increasingly vocal groups have been speaking out against comprehensive SRE in the UK and have been gaining airspace and even political support. The SRE Council, a body of organisations promoting abstinence-only style sex education, gained the public approval of education secretary Michael Gove  (this within days of anti-abortion group LIFE’s appointment to the Department of Health’s Sexual Health Forum). Anti-abortion organisation SPUC have founded ‘Safe at School’, a campaign against ‘explicit sex education’ in schools which has been featured in local press; and just last week anti comprehensive SRE campaigner Lynne Burrows went unchallenged on a BBC TV show when she accused sex educators of being akin to paedophiles.

Some of these groups do not just oppose evidence-based and comprehensive sex education, but also have strong views about contraception, homosexuality and marriage.

With so many victories for the anti-choice movement in the States, and with the UK political climate seemingly receptive to abstinence-only and anti-abortion campaigners we are concerned that this minority will seek to gain further influence over what happens in our classrooms. In the next four days we’ll post blogs looking at exactly what these groups and others campaigning against comprehensive SRE have said about these topics and pose the question – what would they like our children to learn?

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 £20) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

Monday 17 October 2011

Myth-Busting Monday – Pictures of genitals are ‘dirty’ and ‘corrupting’

This myth-bust was inspired by yesterday’s debate about sex and relationships education on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live. You can watch it on iPlayer here.

On the show Lynette Burrows, ‘family rights campaigner’ claimed that sex education in schools is ‘unhealthily obsessed with destroying childhood innocence in a way that’s reminiscent of paedophilia.’ She accused sex educators of ‘talk(ing) dirty to little children’ and described SRE as ‘a stranger in a classroom showing (children) dirty pictures’.

She was backed up by Nick Seaton from the Campaign for Real Education who claimed that primary school education included ‘explicit details of male and female genitalia’ as well as, outrageously, non-judgmental teaching on heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Although a lot of tosh was spoken on the show, it’s this disgust with telling children the names of their body parts which we want to focus on today.  Presumably the ‘dirty pictures’ Burrows references are things like diagrams of male and female reproductive organs. We’re not talking pornography here but likely illustrations of labelled genitalia showing the vulva, vagina, urethra and so on (and yes, there are still plenty of young men and women who don’t realise that women have more than one ‘hole’).  We would argue that in fact, telling young people what the different parts of their body are called is not about destroying children innocence. In fact it gives them the appropriate language they need to describe their own body parts. Body parts they can see every day just by looking down! Body parts they may well need to talk to a doctor (or yes, a lover) about one day. Such language is particularly important for the recognition and reporting of sexual abuse. Through sensitive and evidence-based SRE children can learn which sort of touching is appropriate in which situations.

Alice Hoyle (who also appeared on the show as an actual sex educator) has written a great blog about this with loads more detail. We suggest you check it out. Another teacher adds her thoughts here. Oh and do visit Scarleteen for more information about (and ‘dirty pictures’ of) male and female gentialia.

Monday 10 October 2011

Myth-Busting Monday – 40 Days For Life

You may have seen that U.S anti-abortion campaign group, ’40 Days For Life’ has set up some UK branches in Birmingham and London. They are holding 40 day vigils outside abortion clinics hoping ‘to bring an end to abortion’. EFC has a copy of a leaflet being distributed by the group entitled ‘You can stop injustice’ which is full of misinformation. So much so that had we the time, we probably could have found 40 myths in it to bust. Here’s 5 for now!

1. ‘The Long-Term Effects of Abortion’
‘Women who abort are more likely to experience future ectopic pregnancy, infertility, hysterectomy, stillbirth, miscarriage, and premature birth than women who have not had abortions’
Such physical risks listed in the booklet are either false or misrepresented. Where genuine complications are given it is without any sense of frequency or likelihood. Many of the claimed ‘risks’ such as infertility or breast cancer do not have foundation in medical fact. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ guidelines for health professionals in abortion care state:  ‘there are no proven associations between induced abortion and subsequent ectopic pregnancy, placenta praevia or infertility. Abortion may be associated with a small increase in the risk of subsequent miscarriage or preterm delivery.’

The RCOG advise that “For most women an abortion is safer than carrying a pregnancy and having a baby. All medical and surgical procedures have risks, but the earlier in pregnancy you have an abortion, the safer it is” 

2. Women who abort are not only putting their own lives and health at risk; they also endanger the lives of their current and future children. Women who abort are 144% more likely to physically abuse their children’

This claim is based on a study led by Priscilla Coleman, whose ‘bad science’ has been taken apart in rather more detail than we could manage on this blog by Ministry of Truth and Tessera

3. ‘According to scientific research, all hormonal contraceptives have the capacity to cause an abortion (the pill, patch, mini-pill, jab, vaginal ring, emergency contraception, intrauterine devices etc)’.
You heard ‘em right. ALL forms of hormonal contraception can cause an abortion. We’ve busted the myth that emergency contraception is an abortion method before and the same applies for these other methods. 

4. ‘When a couple waits until marriage to have sex, and remains faithful to each other during marriage, oxytocin and vasopressin increase the biological bond between the husband and wife’ 
In ‘The Science of Sex’ section of the booklet much reference is made to oxytocin, the so called ‘love-hormone’. This ‘science’ aside, from being incredibly heteronormative seems to suggest that the very act of marriage (Is it signing the names? Eating a many layered fruit-cake?) causes a hormonal bond between a man and a woman which acts as ‘emotional superglue’. Hmm.

5. ‘Countries with laws restricting abortion have the lowest maternal mortality rates. Ireland has laws restricting abortion and also has a maternal mortality rate of 1 death per 100,000 live births, the lowest in Europe. The UK, with abortion on demand, has 8 deaths per 100,000 live births.’
This statement about the legality of abortion versus maternal mortality rates is deliberately misleading. Only Ireland and UK are used as examples, and whilst it’s true that Ireland has a lower maternal mortality rate than the UK, and indeed that its abortion laws are more restrictive there is no evidence given for any link between these two facts. The fact that women from Ireland routinely access safe abortion in England and other countries is not mentioned. Also, of course, when you look at the list of countries for which we have maternal mortality rate figures it is clear that those with the worst records of maternal mortality (for example, the bottom three in this table, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Malawi all have very restrictive abortion laws which allow abortion only to save a woman’s life).

We’re concerned that in the interests of pushing an anti-abortion agenda 40 Days For Life are distributing material which is littered with false statistics and myths about abortion. 

Thursday 6 October 2011

Young women, pregnancy and domestic violence

A new study from the University of Bristol and the NSPCC represents the first UK research to focus on disadvantaged young people’s experiences of violence and control in their intimate relationships. The report gives some depressing statistics about pregnant young women and young mothers’ increased exposure to domestic violence. Two thirds of those interviewed had experienced physical violence in at least one of their relationships and nearly all reported some form of controlling behaviours from their partners.

As the report points out, ‘an increased risk of domestic violence, in both pregnancy and after birth, is something universally experienced by women, irrespective of age or disadvantage. However, a young mother’s age, alongside the social stigma associated with teenage pregnancy, profoundly impacts on young women’s ability to protect both themselves and their children’.

The Include study mentioned in the report found that ‘young women are less likely to access services than other women and have fewer resources to help them leave relationships’. Some young mothers were reluctant to leave their partner and be seen as fitting into the stereotype of a ‘young single mum’. Another concern, which we’ve also heard anecdotally from professionals working with young people is that young mothers are afraid to report domestic violence for the fear that their child(ren) may be taken away from them.

Beyond the physical violence done to women during or post-pregnancy there is research to suggest that some young women are also victims of ‘reproductive coercion’. That is to say, their ability to control the sex they have, the contraception they use or the reproductive choices they make (such as whether to continue or end a pregnancy) is controlled by a male partner. This report makes clear that ‘for some young women pregnancy was not a personal choice due to their experiences of sexual violence and coercion’. Arguably, the choice to continue a pregnancy or to have an abortion may also be one which is heavily influenced by a controlling partner.

So what can be done? The NSPCC report recommends that work is carried out which challenges negative stereotypes around teenage pregnancy and that greater awareness of the issues relating to domestic violence and young pregnant women is encouraged. The Include research found that the majority of young women were accepting of screening for domestic violence during antenatal/abortion appointments and provided this is done sensitively and with thorough training it provides a chance to pick up on any violence or coercion a young woman may be facing.

There are some great charities such as Tender delivering educational work on domestic violence to young people. This sort of work seeks to raise awareness about what domestic violence is and challenge some of the gendered and societal assumptions which can form silence and acceptance around it. At EFC we’ve long been arguing (alongside most of the young people we meet!) that more attention needs to be paid to the ‘R’ in SRE. By giving young people a better grasp of what a balanced, safe relationship looks like we give them the tools to recognise coercion, and hopefully find professional help and support should they need it.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Tribute to Madeleine Simms

We are sad to report the news that stalwart pro-choice campaigner Madeleine Simms died this week. She was a member of the Abortion Law Reform Association, which campaigned successfully for the introduction of legal abortion in the UK in 1967. She remained committed to the provision of safe legal and abortion and was always very supportive of EFC's work. As a tribute to Madeleine we are publishing an interview with her taken from Abortion Law Reformers: Pioneers of Change
(with kind permission of Abortion Review and bpas)

Interview with Madeleine Simms, Author of Abortion Law Reformed (with Keith Hindell) and founding trustee of Birth Control Trust

In about 1960 I went to a Fabian Society lecture by Gerald Gardiner QC, who later became Lord Chancellor. He outlined a list of legal issues to which he thought the next Labour Government should apply itself. He just mentioned in passing that the abortion law needed to be reformed. This was the first time I became aware that abortion was illegal. In retrospect this seems rather odd, because I was already a 30-year-old married woman with a child. It shows how hidden the subject was then, that you could actually reach that stage in life and not quite understand what the position was about abortion.

I joined the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA). The Association didn’t seem to do very much, but I joined anyway.

We were the second wave of ALRA activists. Alice Jenkins and her friends Janet Chance and Stella Browne had founded ALRA in 1936. They did a lot of educational work and held meetings and conferences, but when the war came, the whole thing went into hibernation. When I joined 25 years later, there were a lot of elderly and rather respectable people running it, with an Indian army Colonel as the chair, which was not quite what I had expected. They were restrained and discreet. They felt you could hardly mention abortion in public, you could not write letters to the press about it, nor even to MPs unless you knew them personally. But in the 1960s we younger members started writing letters all over the place and found they were often printed. We showed that you could go into the House of Commons and not only talk to MPs about the subject, but pounce on the first few names drawn in the annual Private Members’ Ballot and ask the lucky MPs to sponsor an Abortion Bill. This was new – we probably pioneered this type of lobbying. Now of course everyone does it.

I became really active when the Thalidomide tragedy occurred. I have always been particularly concerned about the prevention of handicap, and it struck me as so appalling that there were people around who were actually prepared to compel women to have handicapped babies when this could be avoided. A friend of my parents had a brain-damaged son who grew far too big for her to handle; he was quite violent. It devastated her life. Seeing this at close quarters affected me. Until people have experienced the devastating affect on their own or a friend’s life of having a handicapped child, they do not always understand what the implications are for the mother and the whole family. There is a lot of sentimental talk about the joys of a lifetime’s caring, particularly on the part of those who do not have to do it themselves. If people choose to have a baby with Down’s Syndrome, that is their right. But the notion that you have the moral right to inflict your preferences on other people who are much less able to cope is monstrous.

So Thalidomide was my original motivation, but once you become involved in a cause, other issues come into play. I became very conscious of the social injustice involved. Middle-class women in a sense needed abortion law reform least because they could always buy abortions in Harley Street and could obtain them most easily. Working-class women often in desperate need had to go to the most appalling and often self-mutilating lengths and put themselves in great danger to obtain an abortion. Alice Jenkins, one of the founders of ALRA, wrote a book Law for the Rich, which particularly drew attention to the social injustice.

Another very important motivation was my love of children, and the horror that they might be born to women who did not want them, and who might therefore resent, neglect or abuse them. Children born in these circumstances often end up in care and in the courts. The notion that the law favoured inflicting unwanted children on hostile mothers makes no sense at all. I cannot understand why anyone should support such an idea – religion has a lot to answer for. 

Some of our political opponents in the 1960s really did believe that those who were in favour of having children by choice not chance disliked children. So they were quite surprised that between us we had so many. I remember being amused by this thought when I was correcting proofs of an article about abortion law reform while sitting in bed at University College Hospital awaiting the birth of my second child.

I continue to be shocked by the notion of having a child carelessly. It is too important and far-reaching a decision to be undertaken lightly. It is a lifetime’s commitment, and only to be entered into with deliberation. It’s not like choosing a holiday or making some other trivial decision. If parents have children only when they really want them, this maximises the chances of the children having happy and successful lives, and this is what matters most.

The Steel Bill was not the ideal Bill. It was too hedged around by bureaucracy and restrictions. But I thought it was probably the best compromise we could achieve in the circumstances. It was scandalous that Northern Ireland wasn’t included, as long as it continued to be part of the United Kingdom, but at the time we nearly lost Scotland too. It was only because David Steel was a Scottish MP that we did not. I was unhappy about the absence of a straight social clause, but we had to settle for what we could – in this case the ‘medico-social’ clause as it came to be called. We had to fight hard to save even that. David Steel was under enormous pressure to cut down his Bill. I greatly admire what he did and regard him as one of the great unsung heroes of the women’s movement, but he was desperate, as MPs are in these circumstances, to achieve an Act of Parliament. We knew we could not go through all this again in a hurry, so we had to ensure that we obtained a major reform, which we did.

Years later the Abortion Act seems inadequate and restrictive, however advanced it appeared in the 1960s. This is inevitable. Perspectives change over time. I don’t think the abortion decision should be up to doctors, it should be the decision of women. They are the only ones who can truly judge their social and emotional resources. It seems obvious now that abortion should be available on request at least in the first three months of pregnancy, and thereafter on serious grounds. It should be treated like any other operation, and not hedged round by special regulations, for two doctors to agree, and legal notification, and all the rest of it. At that time, of course, doctors did not want their authority taken away from them and handed to patients. They said in effect: ‘We know best’. The 1967 Act enshrines this attitude, which is my chief objection to it. On the whole doctors now recognise that they can’t know best in this particular context, though they generally do of course know best about the technical aspects of the operation, which is anyway becoming more simple all the time. Most doctors now recognise that it is not up to them to deny women birth control or abortion if that is what the women require. Of course, in the 1960s, Roman Catholic MPs and doctors were as opposed to contraception as they now are to abortion. People have forgotten that, and Roman Catholics do not much like to be reminded of this now. A series of national opinion surveys have shown that a majority of Catholic voters now support abortion law reform, even surprisingly in Northern Ireland, and this despite all the pressure on them from the Church and their politicians.

Despite my reservations, I do think the Abortion Act was an enormously important reform. It has enabled anyone who needs an abortion on grounds of serious handicap to obtain it, and there has been a huge increase in access for working-class women. There are still problems. But, yes, I do think reforming this law was a great thing to do. It was also an important international landmark which had tremendous influence in changing the abortion laws in Europe and America and throughout the developed world. I am enormously proud of having been a part of it. It is the most useful thing I have ever helped to do in my life and I am grateful to have had the chance to participate in such a campaign.

The group of people who came together in the 1960s was formidable. Getting to know them well was one of the marvellous side effects of being so closely involved in this cause. I suppose it was in the spirit of the age to some extent. Reform was in the air. We were getting rid of the last bits of Victorian baggage that were surplus to requirements – the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act in our case. The whole thing could not have taken off without Vera Houghton, our chair, who was a superb co-ordinator of all our individual and slightly chaotic efforts. She was the only one of us with previous high-level political and administrative experience both in her own right and with her husband, the greatly-respected Labour MP Douglas Houghton.

I remember it primarily as a parliamentary campaign. I always loathed demonstrations, of which there were many by the 1970s, and always marched rather unwillingly, doubting how effective this form of mindless activity was. But the Catholics did it so we felt we had to as well. I preferred sitting at those round tables in the lobby of the House of Commons helping MPs to write speeches. I remember the great excitement when the Bill finally went through, having stayed up all night, then going out in the morning to find a barrow selling coffee and buns off Parliament Square.

I am a bit sad that my own children are not involved in this sort of campaign, though they and my husband have been wonderfully supportive of my activities. I feel they are really missing out on something. Making common cause with people brings very close ties. It is natural in a way that young people today are a little complacent about abortion because they have grown up taking for granted that it is legal and safe. But if you look across the Atlantic you can see how threatening it can be if you do not keep up the pressure. 

The 1967 Abortion Act has helped a new generation of women plan their lives and careers in a way that very few women of my generation were able to. If you are confident that you can control your fertility you can afford to be ambitious and compete with men for the really interesting, worthwhile and powerful jobs. This is beginning to happen now and it is wonderful to witness.

I have often heard people say at meetings that the Abortion Act was the result of the women’s movement, but this isn’t so. The women’s movement did not really start until the 1970s. The 1960s campaign for abortion gave impetus to the women’s movement. It brought women together and showed that, by concentrating their efforts on a central issue, they could achieve something. I think this example encouraged women to come together on other issues too. It was a stepping stone to the whole feminist rising in the 1970s and 1980s. I hope it will continue.

Do read fascinating interviews with the other Abortion Law Reformers in this book including David Steel 

Monday 3 October 2011

Myth Busting Monday – ‘Nearly 10% of all mental health problems are directly attributable to abortion’

A recent study claiming a causal link between abortion and mental health problems has been cited by a number of anti-abortion groups, keen to support the notion that abortion is ‘bad for women’.

The study makes some bold claims, these quotes are from The Telegraph coverage:

“Overall, the results revealed that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems were shown to be directly attributable to abortion.”

“The study said that abortion was linked with a 34% greater chance of anxiety disorders, and 37% higher possibility of depression, a more than double risk of alcohol abuse – 110% – a three times greater risk of cannabis use – at 220% – and 155% greater risk of trying to commit suicide.”

Since its publication the study has been attacked by a number of prominent scientists. Responses to the article in the British Journal of Psychiatry draw attention to the flawed methodology and apparent bias of the authors:

“Priscilla Coleman presents her conclusions as "an unbiased, quantitative analysis of the best available evidence" concerning the adverse mental health consequences of abortion. Huge numbers of papers by respectable researchers that have not found negative mental health consequences are ignored without comment. Not surprisingly, over 50% of the "acceptable" studies she uses as her "evidence" are those done by her and her colleagues Cougle and Reardon. The work of this group has been soundly critiqued not just by us but by many others as being logically inconsistent and substantially inflated by faulty methodologies. As noted by the Royal Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists , the authors consistently fail to differentiate between an association and a causal relationship and repeatedly fail to control for pre-existing mental health problems...The "unbiased nature" of most of the studies Coleman has used in her analysis and the Declaration of Interest stated as being "none" must be taken with a large grain of salt. Reardon, the leader of this group, has clearly expressed his new rhetorical strategy as "we can convince many of those who do not see abortion to be a "serious moral evil" that they should support anti-abortion policies that protect women and reduce abortion rates" . He has stated that "I do argue that because abortion is evil, we can expect, and can even know, that it will harm those who participate in it. Nothing good comes from evil."

Reputable research from around the world disputes a causal relationship between abortion and significant mental health problems. 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 more on this see the RCOG’s ‘The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion’.

For further critique of Coleman's work see The Ministry of Truth blog.