Tuesday 26 February 2013

Teenage pregnancy rates have dropped – someone tell the Daily Mail!

The Office for National Statistics has released the latest conception statistics for England and Wales today. Just in case you don't read about it on the front page of a newspaper, or see a lengthy news item, here is one of the key findings:

The under 18 conception rate for 2011 is the lowest since 1969.


The estimated number of conceptions to women aged under 18 also fell to 31,051 in 2011 compared with 34,633 in 2010, a decrease of 10%.

And in fact;

This is the lowest estimated under 18 conception rate since comparable conception statistics were first produced in 1969.

Hear that everyone? The rate of teenage pregnancy has gone down. It’s at its lowest since the statistics were first collected in 1969 (the year of the moon landing!) In these 2011 statistics we see the legacy of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, the efforts of education, sexual health and youth work professionals across the country tirelessly working to help young men and women prevent unwanted pregnancies, whilst supporting those who do become pregnant (purposefully or not).

Reflecting back on the successes of the strategy in 2010 the Department of Health stated that the international evidence-base shows two measures which have the strongest impact on reducing teenage pregnancy rates:

Comprehensive information, advice and support – from parents, schools and other professionals – combined with accessible, young people-friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
However, despite this knowledge about what works best, we continue to see a lack of commitment to the implementation of statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), and a worrying trend of cuts to contraception and sexual health services. At EFC we have noted an increasing backlash against the provision of inclusive, evidence-based sex education, some of which is recorded in our recent report into education about abortion.

We were therefore glad to see a recent cross-party inquiry back the findings and successes of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and make demands for compulsory SRE in the battle against unwanted teenage pregnancies. We just hope that any future policies manage to promote evidence-based information on contraception and pregnancy prevention without shaming young mothers or stigmatising the choice of abortion. There are tried and tested measures we can put in place to help reduce the number of young women becoming pregnant when they do not want to be, however, there will always be some young people who do become pregnant. Let's not treat them like a pesky statistic. They deserve respect, accurate and impartial information and time and space to make a decision about the pregnancy that is right for them.


Monday 4 February 2013

EFC report into abortion education in UK schools launched today

Our report ‘Abortion Education in the UK: Failing our young people?’ released today reveals the extent of poor-quality education on the topic of abortion.

Some teachers and external speakers delivering lessons on abortion have been found to be using materials which are inaccurate, biased, and often stigmatise abortion as a pregnancy option. For example, the three main anti-abortion groups regularly invited into schools to speak to thousands of young people have all claimed that abortion is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer (despite cancer organisations and respected medical bodies dismissing this link). Young people responding to our survey of abortion education reported lessons which were distressing and left them feeling upset and confused. Many felt that abortion was stigmatised, despite the fact that we know a third of women will make this choice in their lifetime. One young person told us that her R.E lesson ‘seemed designed to put students off abortion or make those who had already had an abortion feel guilty or like murderers.’  We know, from speaking to those in abortion care services, that the stigma and guilt attached to abortion in these early educational encounters can stay with women for the rest of their lives.

And it’s not just abortion which is misrepresented and stigmatised by these groups. We found materials from anti-abortion groups (and teachers’ own presentations) which gave incorrect information about contraception. One organisation Lovewise, which claims to speak in hundreds of schools every year, refuses to teach about contraception for those who are unmarried, labelling it ‘sinful’. Student materials from the Right to Life Trust claim that ‘the contraceptive pill can be said to keep the female body in a permanently morbid, unnatural state.’ Again, our concern is that young people are not getting accurate medical information and may be dissuaded from using contraception when they are sexually active.

As well as spreading misinformation and stigma around contraception and abortion many of these groups also hold views which are contrary to schools’ equality and diversity duties. SPUC, for example, is currently hosting a virulent campaign against same-sex marriage and the director of the charity states that ‘the fundamental argument against gay marriage is that homosexuality is disordered’. Similarly, Lovewise promises to promote heterosexual marriage as ‘the only context in which honouring, fulfilling, secure and healthy sexual activity may take place’ declaring that ‘all other contexts, including homosexual activity are damaging to mind, body and spirit’.

We think it’s time schools started paying closer attention to the groups they are inviting in to speak to young people about abortion and ensure that their teaching on this sensitive and relevant subject is impartial, factual and non-judgmental.

To read the full report/executive summary click here.

The EFC education toolkit is available for further information on best practice in this area.