UK Education Secretary Michael Gove is being urged to publish guidance for schools to explicitly protect children from being told false claims about abortion.
Groups including the British Humanist Association, the National Union of Teachers and some Christian churches, have become concerned after it emerged anti-abortion groups such as the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have allegedly been using school talks on topics like medical ethics to push the idea that abortion may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer and may cause other deleterious health effects, despite facts to the contrary.
To be clear, it is not the anti-abortion ideology of these groups that we are challenging. What prompts this letter are issues of fact: many of the claims these groups make are simply false. For example, there is no evidence that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer or infertility; no evidence that hormonal contraception can cause an abortion; no evidence for a medical condition called ‘post abortion trauma’, or indeed that abortion causes more distress for women than carrying an unintended pregnancy to term.
SPUC and others have been repeatedly making these claims for a number of years. We believe it is time for the government to intervene. The Secretary of State for Education has the power to issue guidance on sex and relationships education to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate teaching materials and all state-funded schools must have regard to this guidance. This must surely include preventing materials that present false claims. We believe you should exercise your power accordingly and issue guidance to prevent lessons which can cause harm to young people – such harm would be caused if they are deterred from using contraception because they have been misinformed about its efficacy, or because they believe they will be infertile following abortion.
We therefore hope that you will make clear in future guidance on related matters that materials used in lessons which cover abortion and contraception must be based on fact insofar as they relate to medical and health matters. No group should be permitted to make claims for which there is no evidence.
Said BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal in a separate statement, “It is well past time that evidence is a criterion when deciding which groups are invited into schools to give talks on abortion. A number of groups opposed to abortion are doing daily talks in schools on sexual health, and in doing so, these groups are not just expressing ideological opposition, but presenting claims that are simply not true. You would not want someone giving a talk in science that claims the earth is 6,000 years old, or in geography claiming that the earth is flat. So why should we be so accepting of people making false claims in sex education? We urge the government to take action to end this situation.”
SPUC has denied it has made any unfounded claims.
A Guardian report however quoted an SPUC representative as telling school kids aged 14-15 that abortion after rape could be a “second trauma” that should be avoided and that “For some people who’ve been raped and had the baby, even if they don’t keep it, something positive comes out of that whole rape experience,” and also saying that abortion could “leave those cells in the breasts in a kind of half-changed state and statistically, that increases her risk of developing breast cancer later on in life” before adding, ”I’m not saying this is something that’s going to happen to everybody.”
A number of studies including one recently conducted by Cancer Research UK and published in the Lancet have concluded that there is no causal link between abortion and increased breast cancer rates.
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