As someone who works for a pro-choice education project I've heard just about all the myths about abortion and contraception that are out there. Abortion is safe, legal and common - a third of women in the UK undergo the procedure in their lifetime. However, Google 'abortion' and you're hit with a tidal wave of gory fetus pictures, medical misinformation and biased pronouncements on the 'evils' of ending a pregnancy. Unfortunately, some of this is making its way into schools, under the guise of 'abortion education'.
This week, The Huffington Post reported on one particular group, Lovewise, whose materials give inaccurate and misleading information about contraception and abortion.
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. These slides mysteriously disappeared from the website when the HuffPo exposé went up.
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 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. Groups like Lovewise are entitled to hold a particular viewpoint, but not to use misinformation about a medical procedure to promote this viewpoint to children. 'Abortion is morally wrong' is a viewpoint; 'Abortion causes breast cancer' is simply untrue.
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.