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].


  1. Are there not laws / rules about not offering false education?

  2. Excellent blog! I'm going to do another write up about SPUC relatively soon as they have some strange ideas I'd like to tackle (such as gay marriage would lead to a rise in abortion :O)
    Would you mind if I quoted some of this post also? I'll obviously give full credit and link back here too.

  3. Thanks Jen! Feel free to quote and link to this article - email if you'd like more information on our work in schools.