Wednesday 19 September 2012

Sarah Catt: when we've stopped pointing the finger let's ask ourselves how much we care

Sarah Catt faces an eight year jail sentence after taking abortion medication purchased over the internet to end her pregnancy at 39 weeks. I don’t know if she had any idea that she was putting her life and her liberty at risk when she did this. There is speculation as to both her motivation and her mental state, but the only fact of the matter is that for some reason the idea of giving birth to a living baby, which she almost certainly would have done within just a couple of weeks, was intolerable to her.

Speculation about whether she is a monster or just desperately ill and unhappy will, no doubt, be rife. Arguments will rage to and fro about whether she should have received such a long sentence. Others will ask whether the current time limit for abortion is right, whether there should be time limits at all or whether our focus should be on doing everything we can to make abortion as accessible as possible, as early as possible. Some people will say that this case demonstrates an argument for taking abortion out of the sphere of criminal law altogether, others that this proves we need legal limits on abortion provision because we simply cannot trust women not to go running around choosing late term abortions.

For me this case is so unusual that I’m not sure if it can helpfully inform debates about abortion law. They say that hard cases make bad law and this is probably a case in point.

If we can draw any lessons from this it might be about the support that we can provide to those women who consistently struggle to control their fertility, to choose and use an appropriate contraceptive method, and to manage relationships. There are many reasons why women who feel negative or at least ambivalent towards pregnancy still get pregnant repeatedly including complex personal circumstances. Easy as it is to blame individual women for making bad decisions (we rarely blame their partners) we also have to ask ourselves whether sometimes repeat unintended pregnancies do highlight a shortfall in services. Did Sarah ever seek or was she ever offered any support to think about her fertility, to clarify her own feelings about pregnancy and parenthood and to make informed choices about future relationships and contraceptive use?

Did she have the emotional and practical support she needed after she placed a child for adoption? Or did that process contribute to her belief that it was better to go through the potential pain and danger of labouring alone to have a stillbirth, than to give birth safely and retain the option of placing the baby for adoption? When she was turned down for abortion after 24 weeks did anyone offer her the opportunity to think about ‘what next?’ Did anyone offer to help her talk to her husband and think through the possible consequences (good and bad) of having this conversation in terms of her safety, their relationship and the future of their family?

When a healthy woman with a healthy pregnancy seeks abortion after the legal time limit, it is likely that her circumstances and her feelings about the pregnancy are pretty desperate. For good or ill, a woman in this situation cannot have an abortion after 23 weeks and 6 days. What do we offer these women to address the circumstances they find themselves in, in which continuing the pregnancy is intolerable? Are they made aware of the dangers both medical and legal of trying to induce an abortion themselves? Is there anything we can offer to make the next 16 weeks of pregnancy tolerable, safe and manageable for them...let alone the next 20 years of parenthood?

I don’t know what kind of support is available to the handful of desperate women who are turned away from abortion because they’re just too late. Later abortion is a divisive issue, but whatever anyone feels about it, we must all feel some duty of care towards women who want one, but can’t have one.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

"Shocked to the core": Parents' and Carers' Views on the Teaching of SRE in Catholic Schools

This guest blog has been sent to us by Georgie, one of our young volunteers, who is currently undertaking academic research into Catholic parents’ reactions to their children’s sex education.

The Catholic Church promotes sexual activity only within marriage, with the purpose of procreation. Therefore, Catholicism does not endorse lesbian, gay or bisexual sexual identities, abortion or the use of contraception. In principle it is at the discretion of a parent whether their child receives SRE at school due to their right to withdraw. So, do parent/carers want their children to be taught about SRE in school? If so, do they want it to be taught from the Catholic point of view or an unbiased perspective?

I decided to investigate this further for my Masters dissertation by conducting a small number of in depth interviews with the parents and carers of young people who attended Catholic schools. The SPUC  ‘Safe at School’ campaign which states; ‘parents are worried that contraception and abortion services are being promoted in secondary schools' was challenged by the findings from my research.

Overall, I found that these parents disagreed with the current teaching of SRE in Catholic schools and felt that all children have a right to unbiased and fact-based information in SRE. Unsurprisingly, the topic of abortion arose on a number of occasions during each interview. It seemed parents kept returning to this subject to explain or evidence their opinions/experiences.

One interviewee felt that only parents should teach certain topics within SRE because of an experience she had where her daughter was shown a ‘graphic’ anti-abortion video* at her Catholic secondary  school;

I just remember one of my daughters coming home and breaking their heart and saying…“I can’t believe what’s been shown to me”…they showed my daughters a video about abortion that shocked them to the core but I wasn’t aware they were going to do that. (Theresa )

A second parent agreed:

I think it should be everybody’s own choice, it is up to the individuals, not up to pro-life groups to say no… I think it’s unfair, obviously I know you send them to a religious school and that is part of the religion but I still think it’s your choice. Because you’re a Catholic you know it’ll be pro-life, you know abortion is wrong… but there are extenuating circumstances which they won’t even look at …one is rape and… you do have a choice, it is your body. (Linda)
Another parent agreed that SRE should provide impartial information and suggested a joint effort by all those involved in teaching SRE that would be beneficial for young people;

I believe that children are entitled to the full facts when it comes to sex education including contraception and abortion. If they are guided by their parents, parish and school in a caring way to lead their life according to a Christian ethos then these adults should have confidence that their wonderful children will be capable of making the right moral choices when the time comes. (Helen)

I found parents of children attending Catholic schools to be no different to other parents; they feel their children should be entitled to unbiased information and the ‘full facts' about abortion and sex and relationships in general. These parents' opinions echo those of young peoples'; reinforcing the demand for compulsory SRE in state schools, including Catholic schools. Consequently, teaching materials used in SRE would need to be the same in Catholic and non-faith schools. This would result in the graphic, biased and (often) misinformed materials currently being used in some Catholic schools being abandoned and no more young people being adversely "shocked to the core."
*I later found out that the film shown was 'The Silent Scream'.