Monday 19 December 2011

Myth-Busting Monday: ‘Abortion causes mental health problems’

In light of the recent Systematic Review of Induced Abortion and Women’s Mental Health it’s time to put to rest any myths about abortion increasing risk of mental health problems.

The comprehensive review stated that:
•    The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth
• An unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems.
• The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion.
• The factors associated with increased rates of mental health problems for women in the general population following birth and following abortion were similar.
• There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion, such as pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative attitudes towards abortions in general and towards a woman’s personal experience of the abortion.

The recommendation is that ‘future practice and research should focus on the mental health needs associated with an unwanted pregnancy, rather than on the resolution of the pregnancy’. So let’s make sure that rather than invent or inflate risks to mental health we focus on trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies and ensuring women have the support they need during the decision-making process when they are pregnant. Jennie Bristow has a thoughtful piece on this in the Huffington Post.

Monday 12 December 2011

Myth Busting Monday – The morning after pill is a ‘DIY abortion’

Every Monday EFC busts myths and take names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

In yesterday's Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens frothed;

'There is no better symbol of the squalid New Britain than the choice of Christmas to make the ‘morning-after pill’ easier to get. Now this do-it-yourself abortion for people who are not just feckless but incompetent too is to be given out by post, in advance (surely it should be renamed the ‘night-before’ pill, in that case?). Under-age girls will easily be able to get it. Like all such measures, it will be followed by more under-age sex and more abortions. And nobody will make the connection.'

We are getting sick and tired of national newspapers (and in this case, well known journalists!) touting the myth that taking emergency hormonal contraception (aka the morning after pill) is an abortion. We’ve posted about this myth in the past but it just doesn’t seem to go away. In fact, the Telegraph are guilty of posting similar just last week.

For some, there is a belief that pregnancy begins at fertilisation, when the sperm meets the egg. So yes, those people may well consider the taking of contraception which can act to prevent implantation of the fertilised egg as ending a pregnancy, akin to an abortion. However, what is rarely made clear in such missives against accessible contraception is that this is a belief. Legally and medically, pregnancy begins following implantation of the fertilised egg meaning that abortion and contraception are different things.

From the British Medical Association’s ‘Abortion Time Limits’ paper:

What is abortion?
The term 'abortion' is used throughout this paper to refer to the induced termination of an established pregnancy (i.e. after implantation). It does not include the use of emergency hormonal contraception which the High Court has confirmed is not an abortifacient. All current methods of emergency contraception work prior to implantation and therefore are not abortifacients.’

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Teaching about marriage

Current Sex and Relationships Guidance asks schools to teach about the nature and importance of marriage and of stable relationships for family life and bringing up children. This wording recognises a range of different family structures and acknowledges that a child brought up in a variety of contexts can be fine if some basic pre-conditions are met.

It now transpires that conditions for funding for Free Schools and Academies obliges them to teach about the superiority of marriage and its importance in bringing up children, but apparently not other kinds of relationships or families. This new SRE formulation seems to have dropped the term ‘stable relationships’.

Why does that matter?
 I think we can all think of examples of children being brought up by single or non-married parents who are happy and healthy and some who are damaged and vulnerable. We all know marriages that are destructive and that provide a bewildering and distressing context for family life as well as those that are safe and lovely. However, I will leave it for others to discuss the pros and cons of marriage itself and whether it is the societal panacea it is believed to be by some.

As an educator I am most concerned about classroom practice 
When you work in a classroom you become very sensitive to the variety of backgrounds and experiences that make up the student group. You think carefully about the words you use and how they will impact on the feelings and future choices of the young people who are sitting in front of you. If I was teaching about different kinds of relationships and different models of family life, I would be acutely aware of the fact that the young people in my class could be being brought up by married biological parents; could be adopted,  fostered or in care; could be being brought up by a single parent (single through choice, through abandonment, through bereavement); could have a gay parent or two gay parents; a trans-parent may have lost their parents; or may simply have two biological parents who co-habit, but never ‘tied the knot’. The last thing I would want to do is to stigmatise them, make them feel I am judging their family or pre-judging their future life based on their current family life. Unfortunately this is exactly what happens when people try to promote marriage above all other models of family life.

Telling these children that they are more likely to fail, because marriage is the only legitimate model for family life, that it confers some unique protection on children, and guarantees them an advantage in life, is hardly a good educational tactic is it? Whatever your moral or political beliefs about the benefits or otherwise of marriage over other kinds of relationships you have to think about whether stigmatising  a student’s life experience is going to reap educational or emotional benefits.

Most parents do their level best to create a family and home in which children feel safe and loved, are motivated and supported to do their best in life and are healthy. Parents hope their children will find a loving partner and create a loving home for their grandchildren too. Talking about how to achieve this: what makes a child feel safe and loved, how to manage the challenges of parenting, how to make decisions about when/if to become a parent, and how to get the support all parents need to make a good go of it, are all vital parts of Sex and Relationships Education. Most people would agree that children thrive with certainty, security, boundaries, and consistency. With this in mind, exploring the concept of ‘stable relationships’  seems a really sensible approach. Telling a large proportion of our children that their families are inferior, failing or illegitimate because their parents/ carers aren’t married -  or that they, as a result are disadvantaged and set up to fail -  is just plain wrong.