Tuesday 31 July 2012

“My R.E. teacher taught about the 'evils' of aborting a fetus”

As part of our education advocacy project we recently launched an online survey asking young people to tell us about their experiences of abortion education at school. We received hundreds of responses – so thank you to all those who completed the survey or passed it on. Although a minority reported positive experiences, having attended lessons which they felt were ‘neutral’ and gave them good information, our concerns about misinformation and bias in this area were confirmed by a greater part of the responses received.

Firstly, just under 30% of those aged 20 and under said that they’d learnt nothing about abortion at school. Many of those who had not learnt about abortion felt that this was a wasted opportunity:

It was certainly referenced, but I'm not sure it was properly 'taught'. As it was merely a glancing reference normally, it didn't have much impact. Looking back, however, I'm disappointed by how glaring this absence was, especially as I went to an all-girls' school which didn't exactly have the lowest teen pregnancy rate. 19, London

It was a lost opportunity for myths and stigma to be challenged.
18, Leicester

Of those who did receive abortion education, the majority had learnt about the topic as part of Religious Education (R.E). Although sometimes this meant a useful exploration of religious perspectives on abortion, a number of respondents reported negative experiences. Some were concerned that they had missed out on important factual and practical information about contraception, abortion access and local sexual health services:

I think there was too much scaremongering involved and not enough science. I think it should have been taught during a biology lesson rather than religious ed. 19, North Yorkshire

(It made me feel) uncomfortable, as if I wouldn't be able to make the decision I would want (they leant towards adoption/keeping at a young age) I also felt it was inappropriate in a town with a high teenage pregnancy rate, instead of leaning towards how to protect yourself. Choosing an organisation who would have given advice on safe sex and impartial options (maybe NHS/Connexions services) would have been better. 19, Hampshire

I came away thinking that if the condom/pill failed then it was a divine sign of things which are meant to be.
19, Kent

Others were subjected to highly judgemental and biased accounts of abortion, based on the teacher/speaker’s own beliefs:

My R.E. teacher taught about the 'evils' of aborting a foetus that had mental or physical impairments. The women who came in showed us pictures and videos of late stage abortions...All the experiences seemed designed to put students off abortion or make those who had already had an abortion feel guilty or like murderers. It was never presented as a choice that women sometimes choose, or something that happens every day. 20, Surrey

(I was taught that abortion) was immoral, murder etc, every child has the right to life sort of thing and that the mother would go straight to hell for it...we had no facts or balanced arguments. 17, Newcastle

They said god said it was wrong and that it murdered babies and psychologically damaged women. 20, Northern Ireland

Perhaps most worryingly, some respondents reported having been ‘humiliated’ or ‘singled out’ for their own personal views or experiences of abortion:

They said (abortion) was wrong, and that it was much better to bring the pregnancy to term...No details were ever given of the procedure and the child was always spoken of being murdered and murder was wrong. My personal views, I was told they were wrong because I agree with abortion but everyone who agreed with the teacher was not humiliated in front of the class... (I felt) humiliated and that my life and opinions were not wanted and that I wasn't regarded with respect because I allow everyone to have a choice. 16, County Antrim

He (RE teacher) gave us a very basic explanation then called on a girl who had had an abortion and asked for her opinion on the matter. No one else was encouraged to discuss what they thought and I left the lesson feeling as though abortion was something to be ashamed of...(I felt) very under- informed and angry on behalf of my friend who was singled out. 14, Wales

Thankfully, not all respondents had had such a negative experience. Some praised the abortion education they had received and felt that it had been a worthwhile learning experience:

Lesson was from a priest, but from an honest, unbiased perspective. 18, Oxfordshire

I actually felt well-informed. My teacher was not judgmental or nasty, thinking back I'm pretty sure she was pro-choice, but she gave both sides of the argument and allowed us to form our own decisions. 20, Northampton

Unfortunately the majority of responses were from those who received no education about abortion, or had had inaccurate, misleading or distressing lessons at school. There was also a general sense that with the majority of these lessons taking place in R.E, students were at risk of missing important factual information about the realities of abortion.

To read more about why we think it’s important to teach about abortion and our best practice guidelines for doing so have a look at the EFC Abortion Education Toolkit. And please contact efc@brook.org.uk if you have further information on the way abortion is taught in your area.

Friday 27 July 2012

Volunteer opportunity for 16-25 year olds

Are you 16-25? Looking for a fun way to volunteer this summer? Interested in sexual and reproductive health? Well then, come on down, because we’ve got an opportunity just for you!

We’d like to start an EFC Tumblr page where young people create the content. This will mean re-blogging interesting posts you see on other sexual health sites but also writing short blogs, taking pictures or even creating videos for others to view and share.

There are two ways to get involved:
•    If you’re in London and can spare some time between now and September you can apply to be a core volunteer. This means we’ll give you some training on sexual and reproductive health issues as well as social media. You will be one of the key volunteers involved in setting up the Tumblr and deciding what we post on it.

•    If you’re outside of London or don’t have much time to spare you can be an online volunteer. This means we’ll ask you to email us with interesting things you’ve seen online, and you’ll be encouraged to create your own blogs on topics which interest you relating to sexual health, gender and sexuality and reproductive rights. This is a chance to be really creative, and we’ll send you suggestions and guidelines on what we’re after.

All volunteers will be given the resources and support and they need to take part. Core volunteers will have travel and food expenses covered. We can also award Amazon vouchers to those who remain involved with the project.

If you’re interested in getting involved please email efc@brook.org.uk for an application form and let us know if you'd like to be a core or online volunteer.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Lovewise in schools

Today, The Huffington Post’s lead article concerns the group Lovewise, a Christian organisation which delivers presentations on puberty, sex, relationships and abortion to young people in schools, colleges and churches. We are quoted in the article expressing concern that a group which gives misinformation on contraception and abortion, and presents information which may stigmatise same-sex relationships and single parent families, is invited into schools to speak to young people.

Lovewise, alongside other groups promoting an abstinence-only, anti-abortion position formed the new, Michael Gove approved, ‘SRE Council’ last year. We noted then our concerns about the misinformation which was being given on Lovewise’s website in their sample slides. Since then we have gathered more information on the group and found that they speak at a number of schools across the country – the names of the schools visited are publicly available via their annual accounts.

To be clear. Our concern is not that Lovewise are presenting a Christian perspective on abortion. Nor that they oppose legal abortion. We have written before about the difference between facts and values. What we object to is the use of misleading, biased and at times, outright false information, which is unsupported by scientific evidence. For example, slides from Lovewise’s abortion presentation (saved from the site on 13th July but mysteriously now no longer viewable) claim that abortion leads to infertility, doubles the risk of breast cancer and increases the risk of committing suicide seven-fold. These claims simply do not reflect scientific consensus on abortion.

Besides the disregard for truly evidence-based information, there is also the effect such presentations might have on children’s wellbeing. How will a young woman who has experienced pregnancy feel when she is told ‘there are always bad consequences’ to abortion? How might a group which claims ‘homosexual activity is damaging to the mind, body and spirit’ affect the feelings of a young person who is LGBT? And how might young people’s access to safe, confidential sexual health advice be affected by listening to an organisation which teaches that contraception is ‘something that is wrong and threatens health?’

Lovewise are by no means the only group to be proffering such myths but we are glad to see that the public’s attention is being drawn to the regular practice of abortion misinformation being spread in schools. Now, let’s see if we can continue to push for evidence-based, impartial materials to be used in every school teaching about an issue as important as abortion.

Sample slides from Lovewise's 'Abortion Version 2' presentation.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Life-saving vaccine denied to girls

When the UK Government first decided to provide the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to all girls it was met with opposition from those who claimed that it would 'fuel promiscuity'. Of course this is nonsense and everyone who works in sexual health with young people said so at the time. 

Either the vaccinations would be given with no explanation to the girls of the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection in which case most girls would make no connection – either positive or negative – between the vaccine and sexual activity OR – obviously the option we favoured – the vaccination programme would be used as an opportunity to do some sexual health promotion. This work would:
  • celebrate the fact that this vaccine could prevent the majority of deaths from cervical cancer 
  • encourage girls to have regular pap or 'smear' tests once they are old enough 
  • talk about minimising risk factors for other cancers and the importance of regular breast checks for adult women and testicular checks for men
  • outline the risks for men of contracting HPV 
  • emphasise that the vaccination does not give them protection against any of the other panoply of STIs or, of course, against pregnancy. 
I haven’t found much information about what education or information is being provided alongside the vaccination, but this study suggests that offering and giving the vaccine has NOT changed young women’s sexual behaviour, turned them into wild nymphomaniacs; or caused them to throw their condoms on the bonfire and caution to the wind.

Today this article reports on schools that are not providing the vaccination because ‘their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage’. So, first the vaccination was rejected because it would promote unsafe sexual behaviour and now it is rejected because pupils in some schools don’t need it as they will definitely not have sex outside of marriage.

Even if it was true that girls who commit to chastity in their early teens don’t ever end up having pre-marital or extra-marital sex (clue: it isn’t), it doesn’t take account of the fact that an abstinent girl can be raped, can be coerced into sex, or can marry a man who has previously had sex and is infected with HPV. 

Approximately 1,000 women in the UK die each year from cervical cancer. Clearly the schools that are rejecting the vaccination think that this is a risk worth taking....

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Fertility factsheet

These leaflets are designed for Education For Choice by the brilliant BISH. They include detailed explanations of female fertility and the menstrual cycle and the important information that even though you don't get pregnant every time, you still need to use contraception every time.

8 pp, 10x10cm, full colour (£15 for 50 leaflets inc p+p)

Please email your order or request for further information to efc[at]brook.org.uk.

More information about EFC resources about pregnancy decision-making and abortion for young people, parents and teachers.

More information about BISH resources about contraception, STIs, relationships, porn and loads more, for parents and teachers and BISH for young people.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Voice For Choice response to CQC abortion clinic inspections

CQC inspection of abortion clinics 

Voice For Choice is not surprised to hear the CQC’s investigation found the vast majority of abortion services were found to be completely compliant with law and regulations. Of the cases that were found to be in breach of regulations most of these cases were of errors on forms or incomplete form filling. There is no suggestion that there has been any shortfall in the care of women in these services.

The unprecedented investigation seems to be part of a general attempt to discredit abortion services by some elements of the media and some politicians. Over recent weeks these people have been quick, pre-emptively, to claim that the CQC investigations showed that women were being let down. The results of the investigation show no such thing.  In its statement on the inspections the CQC says ‘CQC did not find any evidence that any women had poor outcomes of care at any of these locations.’

In fact doctors who are doing everything possible to improve services for women – and have been incredibly successful in helping increase the proportion of abortions happening earlier in pregnancy, in line with recommendations from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Department of Health – have been subject to threats of legal action and suspension.

The CQC is right to provide clarification for doctors on what is and is not good practice. However, we deplore the effect this highly politicised and publicised investigation has had on those providing abortion. It has created a climate of fear amongst doctors and made some reorganise their services in ways that are actually creating delays for women and additional costs to the NHS.

One in three women in the UK will access abortion in their lifetime. A relatively small number of doctors provide this service. They absolutely must be supported to do their job which is a vital element of health service provision.

For more information on abortion law. Introductions to a seminar Myths and Misconceptions about UK AbortionLaw & summary of seminar

Please contact the Voice for Choice Spokesperson:
Lisa Hallgarten - lhallgarten[at]rhmjournal.org.uk

Voice for Choice is a coalition of organisations committed to defending and extending women's choice on abortion. Members include: Abortion Rights, Antenatal Results and Choices, bpas, Brook, Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, Education For Choice, Pro-choice Forum, Reproductive Health Matters.

Monday 9 July 2012

Using images of abortion in educational settings

Today Comment is Free posted a blog by a woman who shared images of her abortion procedure as an attempt to ‘counter the perverse use of dead foetus images used by the anti-abortion movement’. This led to a Twitter discussion about said images – where do they come from? And is it appropriate to use images of abortion, either to further the pro-choice cause or to argue against legal abortion?

Involved as we are, in abortion education, EFC regularly comes across anti-abortion groups which use images of aborted fetuses as a device to support their viewpoint. In 2008 we had the pleasure of sitting through a SPUC presentation containing graphic images, which despite the helpful warning (below) led to a number of teachers in the room turning their backs on the presenter and young people leaving the room in tears. Although SPUC may not be using these images in their school presentations anymore they continue to host them in the ‘education’ section of their website (does not link directly to pictures).
Slide from a SPUC school presentation
Abort67, another UK group which opposes abortion in all circumstances puts graphic images at the centre of its ‘education’ work. They argue that these images ‘awaken people’s consciences in order for them to know that abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby’. Abort67 display large billboards of such images outside clinics which perform abortions, an action which has drawn criticism from locals, including students attending a college close to the Brighton clinic. (We tend not to link to the Abort67 website as it launches straight on to a video of an abortion procedure).

Through our education and advocacy work we’re aware of anti-abortion pictures and videos being used in schools and colleges across the country. Believe it or not, there are still schools in the UK which show the heavily discredited ‘Silent Scream’ film from 1984. Outside of the classroom, young people who search for ‘abortion’ on the internet will be faced with a plethora of confusing information and graphic images from anti-choice websites.

The groups which use graphic images of abortion claim that they are a way in which to inform women of the ‘reality’ of the procedure, while many of those who identify as pro-choice may echo the anonymous CiF blogger’s comment that these images are ‘propaganda...being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame and isolation’.

Certainly, we have concerns and questions about the use of images which purport to represent the ‘reality’ of abortion:
•    Are these images reliable? We’ve heard reports of ‘abortion’ images being computer generated or ‘mislabelled’ (for example a picture of a still-born baby being presented as an aborted fetus). This article (which contains said images as reference and may be triggering for some) gives more information. Certainly, showing children an abortion performed by hysterectomy as SPUC have done is not representing the ‘reality’ of abortion – this is an extremely rare method of abortion, so rare that it does not even appear in UK statistics and is used only in emergency situations.
•    Are these images useful for a young person’s education? Do they tell us anything about the morality of abortion? The factors which might influence a woman’s decision? The medical or legal facts relating to abortion?
•    Are these images likely to stigmatise the option of abortion? How will they affect the well-being of the young people who may have had, or go on to have abortions (a third of women in this country)?  In her research into repeat abortion amongst young people in London Lesley Hoggart found that the stigma surrounding abortion was a direct contributing factor to young women’s access to professional support with contraception and pregnancy.

We believe that young people have a right to accurate information about pregnancy and abortion. And that they are entitled to learn about sexual and reproductive health in a safe environment which does not stigmatise abortion or seek to deliberately upset or distress them in the interests of a moral agenda. Unfortunately, graphic images of abortion are sometimes used in educational contexts with just this aim.

Guardian coverage of anti-abortion groups in schools.

Thursday 5 July 2012