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BHA: Leading national organisations unite to ask Gove to prevent anti-abortion groups making false claims in schools

Leading sexual health groups, unions and religion and belief organisations have together written to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, to ask that he issues guidance to prevent groups making false claims about abortion and contraception in schools. The letter particularly focuses on the behaviour of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Lovewise and Life, and was coordinated by Education For Choice (EFC) and the British Humanist Association (BHA). EFC and the BHA recently uncovered falsehoods spread by SPUC in schools through secret recordings, and are aware of similar inaccurate claims made by the other two groups.

In addition to the BHA and EFC, the letter is signed by Brook, FPA, Platform 51, Abortion Rights, the Women’s Health and Equality Consortium, Rape Crisis England and Wales, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the National Union of Students, the National Union of Teachers, the Trades Union Congress and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. The letter reads:

We are writing to express our concern about the false claims being made by groups invited to give lessons in schools on abortion and contraception, and to urge you to take action to prevent these claims being repeated. In particular, we are referring to the work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Lovewise and Life.

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.

Education For Choice’s Lisa Hallgarten commented, ‘Schools which invite these kinds of speakers in are letting their pupils down badly. It is poor educational practice to invite guests in to deliberately misinform young people; and it is poor pastoral care to deliberately promote fear and stigma about a common and safe medical procedure. It is time for Gove, School Governors and Head Teachers to take action to stop this happening.’

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘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.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059, or Lisa Hallgarten, Education For Choice lisa.hallgarten@brook.org.uk or on 0207 284 6040.

Read the previous BHA and EFC press release, Secret recordings reveal anti-abortion group spreading falsehoods in schools, 23 March 2012: http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/1009

Read the reports from Milton Keynes, Wakefield, Bournemouth and Cambridge, the leaflet given out by SPUC to parents, and Education for Choice’s analysis of the claims presented: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/spuc-school-talks-supporting-materials.pdf

Read more about the British Humanist Association’s work on Sex and Relationships Education: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/sex-and-relationships-education

Read EFC’s blog posts relating to anti-choice groups in schools: http://educationforchoice.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/safe-at-school-abortion-education.html

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Education For Choice is now a project within Brook, the young people’s sexual health charity. It is committed to ensuring young people receive evidence-based information and impartial support on pregnancy and abortion.

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