Teen mothers are pro-life heroines

Taken from this week’s Catholic Universe – 14 July 2013

t1larg.teen.mom

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is currently under pressure from MPs such as Diane Abbot and Caroline Lucas to introduce compulsory Sex and Relationship education into the curriculum reforms that are currently being formulated. One of the factors behind such calls is the claim that compulsory sex education would have an impact upon Britain’s level of teenage pregnancy which is amongst the highest in Western Europe.

There is no evidence to suggest that policy interventions, including compulsory sex education are having any effect whatsoever upon the rate of teenage pregnancy. In 1999, Tony Blair pumped £280 million into the creation of the Teenage Pregnancy Unit which aimed to reduce the number of teen pregnancies by an eventual 50%, five years later, instead of the hoped-for reduction, there was instead a rise of 0.6%, leading the then Chancellor, Ed Balls, to pledge an additional £20 million to the project.

Professor David Paton, chair of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University pointed out in August 2012 that researchers have been unable to find a correlation between Local Authorities judged to have best Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) policies and those with the biggest decreases in the teen pregnancy rate, which has remained static, give or take the odd blip, over the past forty years, which has only decreased by a small amount over the past few years. Whilst the decrease is welcome, it should be noted that there has been an explosion in the teen STD rate over the same period, indicating that while fewer teens may be falling pregnant, many more of them are contracting diseases which could lead to future infertility. This is due to the large uptake of long-acting-reversible contraceptives such as the hormonal implant which will protect against pregnancy but not against diseases. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that despite being armed with the knowledge on how to protect themselves against pregnancy, teenagers are still indulging in as much if not more risky sex, as ever before.

What is required is behaviour change, which conventional wisdom tries to advocate is neither achievable nor necessarily desirable, but countries which boast the lowest rates of teen pregnancies are those whose teenagers become sexually active at a much later age and have fewer partners.

Teenage pregnancy is for the most part undesirable because in the majority of cases it is unplanned, leads to abortion and presents significant barriers to human flourishing, in a society that is neither mentally, socially or economically equipped to deal with young unmarried mothers. Nonetheless we have to ask ourselves tough questions as Catholics as to whether or not we need to re-think some of our attitudes and stop demonising young pregnant teenagers as a measure of all that’s wrong with the world, if we want to re-build a culture of life.

What the teenage pregnancy statistics demonstrate is that young people are being duped into believing that there is such a concept of safe sex devoid of all consequences. According to statistics the contraceptive pill is the method of choice for teenage girls, which has a typical use failure rate of around 9%, a rate that is often higher in inexperienced or unreliable users who are not aware of the contraindications or the importance of taking it at precisely the same time every day. There is a staggering 18-21% failure rate per year when condoms are used as the main method to avoid pregnancy according to the  CDC – the American public health agency.

We therefore have to accept that a certain proportion of teenage girls will always fall pregnant in a society that promotes teenage sex as inevitable and morally neutral and whilst not encouraging teen pregnancy as being a status to which one should aspire, we should do whatever is in our power to nurture, support and protect those young girls who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, while at the same time, working to change behavioural assumptions and expectations.

Obsessing over teen pregnancy statistics or the stigma of teen pregnancy does nothing to stem the tide of young girls knocking on the doors of the abortion clinic. To decide to continue with an unplanned pregnancy without a partner or spouse, without a reliable stable income and before one has finished one’s education is not reckless or irresponsible, but a brave act of heroism, of putting another’s life before yours in a culture that advocates abortion as being the only moral and acceptable solution for young girls. Being pregnant can be a terrifying and scary experience even when it is planned and is even more so for the fifteen or sixteen year old as she watches her life and her body spiral out of control.

Campaigns that aim to shame or stereotype young mothers such as the revolting ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ fronted by assorted teen American celebrities should have no place in any Christian institution or organisation. A child born to a young teenage mother is nothing more than a visible proof of a past sexual sin – something of which many of us are guilty of, only perhaps we have not been caught. I have been privileged to get to know many teen mums in the course of my life, all of whom have been an inspiration, not only in terms of how they have parented their child, the strong bond of mutual love has been a joy to witness, but who also went on to later success in terms of career and family lives. We should be supporting, thanking and asking what we can do to help these young women fulfill their potential as mothers, instead of pursing lips and writing them off.

Lest we forget, the mother of the greatest King of us all, was herself according to tradition, a young teenaged unmarried woman.

Ages of motherhood – missing the point

If Diane Abbot is correct in her observations that there is a crisis of masculinity in the UK, and indeed the western world, nothing exemplifies this better than two very different campaigns, both predominantly aimed at women and motherhood.

The first is an American campaign called ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ which aims to stigmatise teenage mothers. The campaign is, as Prymface notes, virulently anti-mother, with posters such as these.

Motherhood sucks right?
Motherhood sucks right?
Changing the world, one glossy lipsticked pout glance and smouldering at a time. Motherhood is so unsexy....
Changing the world, one glossy lipsticked pout and smouldering glance at a time. Motherhood is so unsexy….

The inference is clear, motherhood is unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, no great achievement and only a valid choice later on in life when you may have fulfilled greater, more important goals. Motherhood is, according to the geniuses behind this campaign, a chore, only something to be embraced when you are otherwise tired of life in the fast lane and possess plenty of cash to lavish upon one’s beloved offspring. What does ‘changing the world’ consist of when you are a teenager, in any event? Going out, getting hopelessly drunk, having numerous sexual relationships and emerging battle-scarred, world weary and wiser? Going to University? Why can’t you go to University and be a mother at the same time? Why does motherhood ‘suck’.

Whilst the adverts seek to speak to those teenagers on their level, they are offensive in as much as they seek to appeal to the basest instincts of materialism, consumerism and selfishness.

Yes it is actually. Nothing for the baby to get entangled in and no risks of strangulation or suffocation. Plain, simple and safe. Perfect.

Admittedly splashing out on consumer goods for your precious little bundle is fun and pleasurable pursuit when pregnant, the idea that the baby needs luxury or designer goods is one dreamt up and promoted by the retail industry. Whilst the latest designer pram or gadget might be fun, the baby knows absolutely no different – so long as they are safe, dry, warm, fed and held, they couldn’t care less whether or not they have co-ordinating crib sheets in a shade of pink or blue, and as a point of safety, the cot in the photo above looks ideal. Drapes, fripperies, pillows, quilts or even soft toys are superfluous in a cot with a newborn baby and all pose potential hazards. Expectant parents who go out and flash the cash do it predominantly for their own pleasure, whilst persuading themselves it’s an altruistic gesture and measure of love.

The message is clear. If you are a teenage mother then you are a failure, you have let yourself and your baby down and should be utterly ashamed of yourself. No-one should be encouraging teenagers to become mothers, but in a society which has failed our young people in terms of the mixed messages that it imparts, seeking to punish and marginalise teenagers who have been sold the lie that sex can be safe and that all choices are equally valid, for not aborting their unborn baby or for getting pregnant in the first instance, is not the answer.

Moreover adverts such as these are a total gift to the abortion industry. This, they say, is the real attitude towards teenage mothers and why abortion is necessary. Teenagers will have to face so much stigma for becoming pregnant in the first instance or not giving their babies up for adoption, that abortion has to be the kinder option. The posters reinforce the notion that unless a pregnancy is planned with ruthless efficiency to occur at a time when a woman is financially and emotionally ‘ready’, she is not capable of being a good mother and doing what is best for her child.

The really insidious agenda here is one which seeks to promote and assert children as having consumer needs which blend into ‘rights’. According to this logic, unless a child can be given a very specific, middle-class start in life, then he or she is going to endure a life of poverty, deprivation and misery and it would be better and kinder if they were not born in the first place, forgetting that the right to life is the most basic of all human rights and supercedes every other consideration. A right to life, is not the same as the right to a comfortable Guardian-reading, middle-class life and should not be confused as such. Furthermore such patronising attitudes display total contempt and arrogance towards those of a different social strata, forgetting that concepts such as joy, happiness, contentment, fulfillment and spirituality transcend man-made social constructs.

The second campaign is one fronted by the TV presenter and journalist Kate Garraway, called Get Britain Fertile which aims to improve chances of conception for couples and stop women from ‘sleepwalking into infertility’ as  according to a YouGov survey, 70% of women believe that women having a baby in their forties is too old.

garraway_2565993b

Let’s not fool ourselves here, this campaign is not one of altruism, it’s sponsored and promoted by First Response, a company who manufactures ovulation and pregnancy testing kits and therefore has much to gain by increasing women’s awareness of their fertility.

Like the No to Teen Pregnancy campaign, Get Britain Fertile is based on a sensible premise. Just as it isn’t advisable for most teenagers to become pregnant, we should also not be encouraging women to wait until their are in their late thirties or early forties, before they think about becoming mothers. In the same way that teenage mothers can be a massive drain upon the country’s resources, older mothers can also cost significantly more, not least in terms of cost to the NHS.

Of course cost shouldn’t really be a consideration when we are talking about the welfare of individuals but we also know that becoming a mother at a significantly younger or older age is likely to put additional burden on the individuals involved. In the case of teen mothers these burdens will as likely be financial, in the case of older mothers, the burden will be physical, but both will have psychological knock-on effects. Both ages of motherhood can be ethically problematic, an older mother being more likely to resort to IVF and encountering more health issues,  a teenage mother being more likely to be without a partner and/or stability.

Being a younger mother or an older mother has its advantages and disadvantages and one shouldn’t cast generalisations about either group of women. I know plenty of inspirational women who fall into both categories. Friends of mine got pregnant at seventeen, had their children and have wonderful lives and careers with almost grown up children of their own at a stage when I am still knee-deep in feeding and nappies. Other friends have conceived their first child in their forties and have a wealth of wisdom, experience, not to mention enough money to be able to become full-time mothers. Some older mothers I know are total control freaks, used to being in charge of every element of their lives and unable to cope with the sheer unpredictability of an infant, some younger ones have a tendency to irresponsible or feckless behaviour. Mothers aren’t a species apart from the human race, age does not confer or remove an ability to parent, it simply presents a different set of barriers.

But both campaigns are equally frustrating, in that by and large they hone in upon the woman, her needs, wants, desires and physical abilities. In focusing upon age, both campaigns miss the point. The most important thing about having children, is neither age, nor even family income, but family stability. Of far more significance to the overall wellbeing of a child is not the age of their mother, but that they have a mother and a father. The greatest barrier that women face in being mothers, is a lack of support from their children’s fathers. Being a single mother (or father for that matter) is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What mothers need is for the fathers of their children to support and encourage them in their attempts to fulfill their potential as great mothers. What fathers and men need, is for women to support and encourage them in their attempts to be good fathers. Not having a biological parent with an equally vested interest in doing the best thing for the child, to emotionally and financially support mother and child is the biggest obstacle that exists to motherhood – age is utterly immaterial.

A poster campaign isn’t going to change hearts and minds, most younger or older mothers find themselves victims of circumstances, but policy-makers wishing to prevent teen pregnancies and single mothers, need to axe the various government quangos that validate feckless sexual behaviour and disincentivise marriage, misinforming young people that sex can be ‘safe’ and consequence-free.

Equally vital is informing men about the duty and respect that they owe to women, the inherent dignity of motherhood and the importance for children that they are supported by two loving mutually supportive parents. If men are suffering from a crisis of masculinity, it is precisely because sex has been decoupled from procreation and issues related to romantic relationships, parenting and childbearing have been advocated as being solely in the realm of women’s rights. Men have been left out of the equation and seem to be relegated to the role of mere sperm donors.

If it is in the interests of society that women begin to start their families earlier then men need to buy into this concept and learn about their responsibilities towards women as  potential and actual mothers of children, as opposed to co-workers, rivals for promotion or recreational sexual partners or objects.

Speaking as one who has had children in her twenties, thirties and will in all probability have another child in her forties, I would state that as long as one is biologically capable of naturally bearing children, one’s ability to mother should not be judged in terms of age. Women of all ages and in all situations are capable of being good mothers. It’s the lack of a father, not the digit on a birth certificate, that needs the most compensating for.

It’s not the age of mothers we should be concerned about, but the role of fathers. Get the importance of families, commitment and stability straightened out in the minds of politicians, alongside the vital and crucial work of motherhood, the average age of the first-time mother will plummet as will the teenage pregnancy rate.

Protecting children?

Allison Pearson’s column in yesterday’s Telegraph gives pause for thought if one has children who are attending a mixed-sex school. In the absence of many single-sex state schools, not many people are able to afford private single-sex schools or to be able to give up an income to home school. As Pearson says, if this happens in an upper-class boarding school, it’s going to be happening in schools up and down the country.

It is scandalous that one the one hand parents are being asked to take responsibility for their children’s internet, politicians seem to be finally waking up to the fact that we live in an over-sexualised society and yet on the other parents are actively excluded from information pertaining to their children’s sexual health decisions.

Is it really such a consistent idea to be encouraging teenagers to be experimenting with sex so long as it is with each other and ‘consensual’ whilst at the same time acknowledging that children are exposed to unprecedented amounts of sexual pressure, regardless of their gender. How is encouraging children that it’s perfectly acceptable to sexually experiment with each other without their parents’ knowledge or consent going to do anything to address sexual exploitation? We are already seeing plenty of cases whereby young teens are abusing even younger children – telling children that perhaps they should try oral sex or mutual masturbation instead of full penetration is hardly conducive to a society that wants to protect its youngsters.

And before anyone moots yet more education is needed, take a look at this:

Teen STD diagnoses The figures are from the Health Protection Agency and are an amalgamation of the under 15 and 15-19 age brackets. Diagnoses of gonorrhoea have decreased which is a good thing, seeing as there is a worrying outbreak of an antibiotic resistant strain, which seems to be on the increase in the US, but the rest of the figures don’t look so great. I haven’t included cases of syphilis in teens because the numbers are too small to register on the scale, but it should be noted that between the years 2002 and 2011, diagnoses of this disease in teenagers increased by 96%. That our young people should be battling this potentially fatal and wholly avoidable chronic condition is absolutely horrifying.

When it comes to teenage pregnancy rates, the numbers state that the under-18 conception rate is at its lowest since 1969. This is obviously very good news, but it is not indicative that the teenage pregnancy strategy was in any way successful, in terms of teenagers’ sexual health, indicated by the chart above. When talking about the teenage pregnancy figures, we need to remember that the under 18 conception rate is for the age ranges 15-17. As Professor David Paton points out, the under 16 teenage pregnancy stats have seen little change between 1969 and 2012, fluctuating between 7 and 10 girls per 1,000 every year. In any event, even with the drop, the UK teen pregnancy figures are still amongst the highest in Western Europe, before we all start congratulating ourselves.

What is evidently happening is that more or at least the same amount of teenagers as previously are having sex, most of them are using long-acting reversible contraceptives or hormonal contraceptives like the pill and thus leaving themselves open to disease. The Health and Social care Information centre reports that the 16-19 year old age group had the highest number of attendances at contraceptive clinics of the entire female population and that oral contraception was the primary method of contraception for 45% of women who attended.

Clearly something is going awry with sex education in this country and it doesn’t take much to figure out what. More on this anon.

Culture of Confidentiality

multi-tasking

Clare Perry, the rising star in the Conservative Party and David Cameron’s new advisor on childhood has said some eminently sensible and refreshing things today which will no doubt cause Louise Mensch to turn a shade of green.

Mrs Perry, a mother of three, points out that it should not be assumed that children have an automatic right to privacy and that society as a whole has been complicit in a culture which allows children to make unsupervised and inappropriate contact with strangers any time of the day or night.

She argues, in the same way that I did post publication of the Bailey Report, that parents need to take ownership and responsibility for their children’s internet access on their laptops and mobile phones. If you don’t want your children to have unsupervised access to the net, either don’t buy them a device, or if you must, install various filtering software and blocks. If your child is up on the internet until the early hours of the morning, then the solution is simple – switch the darn router off. He who pays the piper, calls the tune!

I grew up in the eighties and nineties where having access to one’s own private telephone line was an unimaginable luxury, although admittedly in my day, mobile phones were simply beyond the means of most individuals, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of sheer size, with the look, feel and weight of a house brick. Like most households of that time, our telephone was situated in a very public place, on the hall table and consisted of an unwieldy non portable handset, with a dial – push buttons were the last word in decadence. As a result all incoming telephone calls were received in a public place, every word could be overheard and any talk about one’s love-life either with friends or heaven forbid the young man himself had to be couched in code, making the whole thing far more exciting that I’m sure it would otherwise have been.

Ever mindful of the bill and the fact that my father ran a business from home, calls had to be kept quite short and it would not have occurred to me to pick up the phone and make a call without first asking permission. As teenagers, if we did answer the phone and the call was indeed for us, we would have to inform our parents as to the identity of the caller. My father is something of an eccentric and used to delight in causing maximum mortification by deliberately winding up callers for myself and my sister. My best friend Anna, was regularly treated to a medley of hits from the King and I, female friends would be sung to and any male callers could be guaranteed either to have my father’s version of Stanley Unwin’s language, or worse still, not be allowed to speak to us until they had made the request or spoken an entire sentence in Latin!

It’s difficult to know whether or not the internet could have got us into trouble as children, my parents were sensible types but equally I can see how difficult it is for parents these days, many of whom might not be as conversant in the new technology as their kids, but Mrs Perry is right to state that parents have a responsibility to regulate their children’s internet access. Given that it is practically impossible to escape the internet in one form or another and that it will be an integral part of children’s lives, it does seem fitting that the IT curriculum should incorporate lessons on basic safety and service providers and the industry as a whole should agree a new code of conduct, along similar lines to the rules of broadcasting.

It goes without saying that children and adolescents do need to be afforded some level of trust and privacy and we need to be realistic that at some point they probably will use the internet to get up to some naughtiness or other (just as children used to look up all the rude words in the dictionary), but limiting the scope for mischief, whilst helping them learn responsible behaviour, can be no bad thing and neither should it be left entirely in the hands of schools or regulators. Parents do have the primary responsibility.

But has anyone spotted the huge inconsistency yet? Clare Perry has correctly pointed out how internet technology can be used to degrade , objectify and sexualise young girls who are often at the receiving end of sexual bullying, citing the terrible case of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, the 13 year old girl who fell to her death from the top of a tower block whilst begging her boyfriend to delete a sex tape he’d made on her phone.

‘We’ve given our children all these opportunities to communicate in private, but we’ve lost the confidence to actually get involved in that.

You have to ask yourself whether or not confidential sex advice, access to contraception and abortions provided to teens without the parents’ knowledge or consent has enabled and encouraged that attitude. Whether the deliberate exclusion of parents from knowledge pertaining to their children’s development and welfare and usurping of parental role in the provision of sex education has produced a generation of impotent parents who lack the skills and confidence to intervene?

‘We have to feel more empowered to ask. Make sure your kids allow you to be friends with them on Facebook, ask them whether what they are doing is appropriate.

But whatever you do, don’t ask them whether or not they are taking large doses of synthetic hormones designed to subdue their developing fertility, don’t ask them whether or not they are having sex and whatever you do don’t try to prevent them from doing so. What your child is being taught about sex , whether or not they are engaging in sex or risky sexual behaviour, whether or not they might be aborting their unborn baby is none of your concern as a parent.

Whilst schools continue to provide under 16s with contraceptive advice, products and abortions without the knowledge or consent of their parents, frankly fussing about whether or not they have unfettered access to Facebook or the internet is like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. How can parents be expected to protect their children when they are excluded from the most crucial and key decisions involving their personal health?

Make no mistake, the internet and mass media can have a deleterious effect on children’s development and expose them to sexual predators and unrealistic visions of sex, sexuality and body image. But just as harmful can be the physical effects of early sexual activity which stems from premature exposure to the internet and sexualisation. Isn’t it time for a double-stranded approach?

The bottom line

A follower on Twitter linked me to some graphic material, produced by the Terence Higgins Trust, which SPUC are claiming is indicative of the type of the material that will be taught in schools if gay marriage is enacted into law.

The booklet is entitled ‘The Bottom Line’ and is a comprehensive guide to ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ homosexual sex. Another friend on Facebook has expressed some legitimate concerns – the booklet, he says, is designed for distribution in GUM clinics and doctors surgeries and is deliberately couched in gay urban parlance, the Terence Higgins Trust are attempting to reach the gay community in order to educate and reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.

Whilst as Catholics we would advocate a more holistic solution involving both body and soul, though I’m uncomfortable with the contents of the brochure simply due to the ick factor (yes I’ve read my Freud, spare me the inevitable comments about repression or heaven forbid ‘homophobia’, I just find graphic depictions of sex as about erotic as a tub of blue play-dough), the Terence Higgins Trust should not be condemned for attempting to improve the health of the gay community.

I’m also not about to, for want of a better phrase, explore the concept of sodomy, other than to note that it’s entirely contrary to Catholic teaching, regardless of the mix of genders who may be engaging in it and it isn’t inciting homophobia to state that it carries greater health risks than heterosexual or ‘vanilla’ sex. According to the latest report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) released in November 2012, the highest rates of HIV were reported amongst men who have sex with men (MSM),  where the diagnosis is 47 per 1,000,  with new diagnoses amongst this community  being at an all time high. That sodomy is inherently a risky business is evidenced by the need for educational material such as that produced by the Terence Higgins Trust. Like most things in life, sodomy, particularly between males, is a calculated risk – despite various precautions one can take in order to mitigate the risk.

As an aside, it’s fascinating to note how the government is attempting to interfere and regulate in other matters of personal health such as putting swingeing great increases on the cost of tobacco, introducing a minimum price for alcohol and mooting a fat tax, but in terms of sexual behaviour, which one could argue has enormous consequences for public health, prefers a laissez faire attitude. Perhaps David Cameron’s push for gay marriage is a disguised attempt at encouraging homosexual monogamy?

SPUC’s point about this booklet, is to be fair, a valid one, but I think some caution is required before using it as an example of the type of material that may be used in schools. They may not be too far off the mark, a quick look at the Bish Training website will give an indication as to the type of material that is thought appropriate and the horrors of the Living and Growing video, which was shown to children as young as 8, will still be fresh in parents’ minds.  The problem is that those who are ideologically wedded to the idea of sexual enculturation as at early an age as possible, will seize on any attempt to portray their opponents as liars. As it isn’t entirely clear whether or not this booklet would be aimed at teens, it not being specifically produced for use in schools, then accusations of deliberate and false scaremongering will fly, along with the usual flim-flam  about inciting hatred.

But SPUC are correct to point out that the teaching of gay sex in schools will be a logical and necessary consequence of gay marriage, simply teaching about hetrosexual practices will be deemed discriminatory. And I’d be willing to bet my bottom (ha excuse the pun) dollar, that most parents, aside from the achingly hip metro-liberal chatterers desperate to wave their progressive rainbow crendentials, would be terribly uncomfortable with that.

Do we really want our primary school children and young vulnerable adolescents given explicit instructions into the mechanics of anal sex, or the sexual practices of anyone, beyond basic reproductive biology? Anyone with same-sex attraction surely figures it out for themselves an at appropriate age without being given the pointers in school, as does anyone with any sexual urges.

I hate writing posts like these with my ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’  sucking a lemon face on, because actually sex is a glorious and joyful thing, which is earth-shatteringly powerful. We shouldn’t underestimate its power, nor seek to neutralise or clinicalise it in soggy grotty latex filled self-satisfying encounters or feats of performance, which are about as stimulating as watching Midsommer Murders with a cup of hot cocoa in a cardi.

Which is one of the tragedies of the ideology of sex education in schools. A fulfilling and joyful sex life should not have to include a mandatory regular health check, nor intricate discussions of the workings of the back passage that would make Kenneth Williams blush. And the sooner people cotton on that the way sex is taught in schools, that anything goes, nothing matters so long as it’s consensual, is an ideology and a damaging one at that, the better.

No laughing matter
No laughing matter

One in three

On the subject of imports from the abortion industry, I see the US has now picked up the rhetoric of the soft marketing messages used by the UK abortion clinics and sex education providers. The Guttmacher Institute, funded by Planned Parenthood , the US’s largest abortion provider, has launched a new 1 in 3 campaign, stating that 1 in 3 women will obtain an abortion before the age of 45. Sound familiar?

As the Right to Know campaign pointed out last year, this ‘statistic’ is trotted out time and time again, in order to validate abortion as an option. The best-selling academic and author, Dr Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State university, describes ‘social proof’ as being one of the six key principles of persuasion. People are more willing to take a certain or recommended course of action if they see evidence of others doing it, particularly if they perceive those others as being similar to themselves. So it’s highly likely that a woman considering abortion could well be persuaded by the ‘evidence’ of other women. Social proof is most influential if someone is undecided as to a particular behaviour, they look to what other people are doing and observe that as correct. A technique which is doubly effective if they identify with the other subjects in some way.

So it’s highly likely that a young person who is yet undecided as to the issue of abortion, will encounter this message on an Education for Choice website and be convinced – if one in three women are having an abortion, then it must be not only necessary, but also perfectly acceptable, surely? The same goes for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy in an ambiguous situation who is unsure of what to do. The fact that 1 in 3 women allegedly have an abortion is only there to influence her decision. Surely what other people do should be of no relevance, in terms of her own personal situation? If pro-choice is all about doing what is right for that individual woman in her particular circumstances, what does it matter what other people have done?

There is no reason to include that statistic other than to attempt to influence opinion. Still it’s very sneaky indeed. Simcha Fischer from the National Catholic Register gives some insight as to who these one in three women are.

Robyn Reed is one of the one in three. When she tried to escape from the abortion clinic where her family had dragged her, the abortionist tore off her clothes, hit her, tied her to a bed, aborted her child, and drugged her so heavily that she was unconscious for twelve hours. Reed was fifteen years old at the time. She is one of the one in three women in America who obtains an abortion.

This mother is one of the one in three. When doctors told her she would die if she didn’t abort, she refused and refused, but finally agreed to be induced early, on the condition that they would try to save her baby’s life. She delivered a son, and no one made any effort to help him. He died in her arms. Later, she discovered that he was healthy, and that she had never been at risk. She is one of the three women in America who obtains an abortion.

Here are notarized affidavits from women who were pressured into having abortions. Each of these women is one of the one in three women in America who obtains an abortion.

Here are hundreds of pages of written testimony from women who were forced or coerced into abortions. Each of these women is one of the one in three women in America who obtains an abortion.

Here and here and here are hundreds of accounts written by women who had an abortion and regret it. Over and over again, they use the phrase, “I felt like I didn’t have a choice.” Each one of these women is one of the one in three women in America who obtains an abortion. They are part of the one in three.

These are the women the Guttmacher Institute is counting when they used numbers to make the claim that women want and need abortion.

This is what the “1 in 3” Campaign seeks to normalize: pain, regret, coercion, violence, despair. It is a campaign to make women understand that abortion is normal, abortion is their fate — that they have no choice.

Personally I’d like to see the stats behind one in three. Is it really one in every three women who have had an abortion before the age of 45? How has this figure been worked out? The ONS doesn’t routinely give out statistics regarding first time and repeat abortions unless one submits a Freedom of Information request, so how can we vouch for the veracity of the figure. Is this just the number of abortions averaged out between the number of childbearing women in the UK. According to this American campaign 22% of pregnancies end in abortion, but 1 in 3 women will have one. It seems that they have done a straight averaging job here, which means women who have had repeat abortions will skew the statistics, as will women who have never fallen pregnant. I’d love to see the raw data.

Even if the figure is true, what does that say about our society? One in three women are in such desperate and dire circumstances that they have no other choice than to abort their unborn baby? Or is it that contraception fails one in three women? Whatever the answer, it’s certainly not something that anyone should be treating with a healthy dose of pragmatism, unless of course we really do live in the culture of death.

Silly things

Owen Jones, the socialist wunderkind and current darling of the Labour party, came under criticism yesterday when a vitriolic email chock full of threats and expletives that he had written at the tender age of 16, came to light. Whilst not sharing his zeal for socialist ideology, I have to confess some sympathy for him, though his email was absolutely shocking in content, not the sort of thing that one would expect from an intelligent, sensitive, politically aware teenager, one has to take his age into account. He was an immature perhaps somewhat naive teen, firing off an angry email in the days of the dot com bubble, the internet was only just becoming on-stream into people’s homes and he lacked the nouse to realise that this might come back to haunt him one day.

We could draw all sorts of conclusions about how this gives an insight into his character, the teenager is the adult in formation, how this is characteristic of those on the left who resort to ad hominem and abuse when they run out of argument, this email could add further ammunition against a personality and cause that is already disliked, or we could exercise some intellectual honesty and admit it as being the product of an immature teenager who has yet to get his passions or his writing under control. Though we can suck our teeth in horror, I can’t get too uptight about it, because to do so would be totally hypocritical knowing what I was like as a 16 year old. Without putting too fine a point on it, I wasn’t the most upstanding example of virtuous youth, I was busy developing my taste for tobacco for example, a habit that I have long since eschewed and I would be horrified if my children followed my pitiful teen example. There can be few people who didn’t do at least one silly and ill-thought through thing as a teenager, whatever that might be and though one cannot condone immature or adolescent mishaps, it seems wholly unfair to hold it against the fully-grown and more emotionally mature adult. All of us make mistakes, the trick is to learn from them and hopefully prevent and guide others from doing the same.

What this does highlight however, is the notion of teen maturity and how this varies wildly between individuals. Plenty of teenagers are fine upstanding examples of youth, others have some way to go. Owen’s mistake is indicative of the tendency of youth to live in the short-term with little thought to how their actions may affect them in the future. Owen himself admits, that the year 2000 was a particularly difficult and tumultuous one for him. Teens are a potent heady mix of burgeoning sexual hormones who in many cases lack the emotional maturity to deal with challenging situations.

This is why the sexual age of consent is set at 16, recognising that this is the minimum average age at which a person can be said to be able to consent to sexual intercourse and its implications. Most sensible people would recognise that children under this age lack the necessary maturity and responsibility to be able to handle a sexual relationship. There is currently something of a problem in the UK, with over a third of teenage girls reporting that they have experienced sexual violence. A government campaign is underway in order to educate teenagers that sexual violence is unacceptable. Speaking in March, Nick Clegg, the deputy PM said

When you’ve got a situation where a third of teenage girls say they have been subject to sexual coercion and abuse, when lots of teenagers say in surveys that they think it’s OK for a boy to expect to have sex with a girl they spend time with, something’s going wrong and we need to challenge it

The current liberal narrative assumes that teenagers have all the emotional intelligence, experience and reasoning faculties of adults, hence they must be treated as such. Whilst this is true to a certain extent, as Owen Jones’ email and as the levels of teen sexual violence suggest, teens are not yet fully formed adults and must therefore be given a level of protection and their minor misdemeanours not held against them.

The law in England states that a 16 year old can have sex but lacks the maturity to enter into a lifelong commitment such as marriage, without the consent of their parents. A 16 year old is furthermore unable to obtain a credit card or enter into any serious long-term financial commitments. The law exists for their own protection.

What I can’t understand in the light of this, is why it is thought acceptable for an adult, with no intimate personal relationship to a child, to teach that child all about the various methods of contraception, in order to protect themselves and no thought is given to the fact that teenagers can be and often are irresponsible. Why do teachers think that if they teach teenagers all about how to have “responsible sex” that teens are therefore going to go out and behave in a responsible fashion? In an ideal world this might be the case, but the reality is very different. The normalisation of sexual relationships between teens that goes on in the classroom, unwittingly gives consent to those who wish to coerce unwilling partners into sex and puts further pressure on teens to comply with what seems normal. Many teens are desperate to appear adult and grown-up beyond their years and hence sex is seen as reinforcing their maturity, particularly when Miss thinks it’s OK so long as you use a condom and don’t get pregnant.

How many teens are effectively able to use contraception? How many teens might forget to use a condom or may misuse one in the heat of the moment? That’s not to say that teenagers are stupid or ignorant, far from it, but statistically they are far less risk averse than the average adult. How many teenage girls have thought through the long-term consequences of taking hormonal contraception, whether or not they will be suited to it and the wisdom of bombarding one’s burgeoning reproductive system with a cocktail of synthetic hormones designed to simulate pregnancy at the onset of puberty?

Though this year’s figures show a slight reduction in teen pregnancies, there has been an explosion in the rate of teen STDS. More teenagers are having sex, slightly fewer are getting pregnant, but many many more are requiring treatment for diseases that could leave them scarred or infertile.

So if we can, as we should, excuse Owen Jones, a youthful indiscretion, recognising his immaturity, why are we therefore unable to recognise the vulnerability and instability of teenagers? Why is the teaching of abstinence as the ideal, deemed such a taboo amongst our chattering liberal classes? Why if we recognise that teenagers are not responsible adults, are they able to be given hormonal treatment, encouraged to engage in behaviour that could have lifelong repercussions and given access to abortion without parental consent? Why are 16 year olds not allowed to marry without parental consent, but able to take medication which could have serious and damaging side-effects? Why are those under the age of consent able and encouraged to abort an unwanted pregnancy without parental input? Why are parents not deemed capable and positively prevented from protecting their children from doing silly things.

Why does society allow a total stranger to give out a contraceptive pill to a 13 year old and encourage her to engage in illegal behaviour that could endanger her and impact her for the rest of her life? Are synthetic hormones, STDs and abortions less risky for the health of a pubescent child than a cigarette? That is what the law would suggest.

As Owen Jones acknowledges, teenagers do silly things for which they cannot be held responsible later in life. Such is the nature of adolescence. That does not mean that the silly things should be given licence and encouraged, even if they can be forgiven.

What’s the plan, Stan?

So, I said I’d do one final post, before a break of a few weeks, and here it is. As will become obvious I do want comments to continue to pour in as I think that this could actually prove very constructive.

Let’s be honest. There is no coherent pro-life movement in the UK. I have spent hours pouring over pro-choice literature, academic studies, political analysis, I follow them like a hawk on social media and I have to concede they are expert operators with cogent strategies, smooth PR machines who are able to drive headlines and influence public opinion. I know one or two people who have attended their meetings incognito. I’ve thought about doing the same, with the addition of a black wig and my glasses. What I have been told is that the pro-choice lobby are friendly, very well-organised and above all democratic, transparent and accountable.

What do we have to counter that? A disparate bunch of well-meaning squabblers, and I admit in some respects I may not have helped, but it pains me beyond belief to see the mess our side are in; whilst we squabble, bicker and fight, countless die.

I know all the arguments about Catholic teaching, about Christian teaching and so on and so forth, there is a time and a place to evangelise and I don’t simply mean in Church, but trying to base legislation upon Biblical, Scriptural or Magisterial Authority has not worked since before the Enlightenment. I think we have to draw an important distinction between Christian evangelisation and attempting to achieve our goals. Of course the two are inexorably linked and should complement and support each other, but campaigning for the dignity of the unborn and sick and elderly does not necessitate or require theology or biblical exegesis. We can draw on that to other Christians or in the course of general apologetics, but appealing to God, whilst trying to convince an atheist as to the horror of abortion, or why it is not right to put to death terminally ill or elderly people, is simply not going to wash.

It seems to me we have two options:

Option one

We all agree that I am a cheeky bumptious upstart who has no business sticking her opinionated nose into pro-life politics. If I want to do something I can rattle some collecting tins in Church, attend coffee mornings, bake cakes for pro-life charity sales, maybe do a bit of typing for the Pro-Life times or some such, but generally get back to my life of witness by continuing to have as many babies as I can until my uterus falls out.

In the meantime, the internecine squabbling continues, positions are more firmly entrenched than ever before, pro-life groups carry on doing what they’ve always done, groups are as polarised as ever before, John Smeaton retires in ten years time and passes on the family firm to his son, whilst LIFE carry on doing what they do. Both groups do some things well, but no real progress is made, things just tick on as before, it’s all about the damage limitation.

In the meantime, Dorries pushes for the 20 week reduction and fails miserably, much to the cheers of her detractors. Bouyed up by Nadine’s failure, the pro-choice lobby, decide to push on with their agenda, the requirement for the second doctor’s signature is removed, pro-life groups are no longer allowed to present in schools and are barred from carrying out any pregnancy counselling. Marie Stopes and BPAS build more and more clinics, abortion numbers go up, more sex education is thought to be the solution, more condoms and morning after pills are given out and so the cycle continues. Who knows, they may challenge for an overturning of the abortion pill to be administered in a clinic and will probably start hawking mobile abortion services, or even dial-an-abortion whereby a woman can have her consultation over the phone and the pill delivered by courier.

In short, doom and death.

Option 2

How about a meeting? (I won’t come, I promise, I’ll be too busy skulking or giving birth or something, besides I don’t want to be lynched by anyone). I know this seems incredible, I know we aren’t going to get x, y and z to actually sit down together in a room and begin to talk, dear me no, that could never happen could it, because of things that happened 20 years ago.

How about a team of professional mediators and ALL the major pro-life players and when I say ALL, I mean ALL? Not just representatives from SPUC, LIFE, Right-to-Life, but everyone, from people like Peter Saunders, to John Smeaton, Jack Scarisbrick, to Phyllis Bowman, Josephine Quintavelle, Ed Rennie, heck even Lord Alton, EVERYONE, lets get them all together to sit down, agree common goals and talk, to see where we can all go from here.

What I would love to see is a consolidation of all groups, – one huge group with different arms and focuses, say a euthanasia arm, an education arm, an outreach arm, a political arm, a research arm and so on and so forth. Consolidation has to be the name of the game in this day and age. It’s a clunky analogy but look at the airline industry. All the little airlines could not survive single handedly, routes were being duplicated, losses were being made and so we’ve seen some mergers in order to ensure survival. I know that the pro-life movement is not a business, but surely if we had one movement, one that was democratic, transparent and accountable, then certainly Catholics would know to whom to donate in good faith, as would Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, people of all faiths and none. We seem to have so much duplication and wastage and yet no coherent strategy.

I know there are so many thorny issues to be thought through, I know there are many competing egos, but surely with professional mediators and then with the help of management consultants (sorry, but they would need to be a prerequisite) we could take stock of the resources and expertise available, consolidate and move forward? I know there are issues such as LIFE only do non-directive counselling and really Catholics must tell people the truth that abortion is the killing of a baby and morally wrong, but surely there has to be areas of consensus and commonality?

I really don’t think we can carry on as we are, it’s 2012, it’s time to finally sort this mess out, and getting everyone together in a room seems a good place to start. If the Irish peace process can manage to get Gerry Adams and David Trimble around the table, then there’s hope for all of us.

Which brings me to something that I’ve always wanted to do. One of those poll jobbies. Over to you. What do you think? Maybe the first thing we can organise is that long overdue rally?

Think I’ll pass on the stuffing

You have to hand it to BPAS. My abhorrence at their latest campaign, cheekily entitled “Santa Comes” is intermingled with jaw-dropping admiration for a very slick PR job, very well done.

It seems that BPAS are so concerned by the seasonal spike in unplanned pregnancies, that they are providing a new service which enables women to obtain stockpiles of the morning-after pill in advance of the Christmas festivities, in case of an unforeseen instance of unprotected sex.

Given BPAS’ concern for the needs of women and the awareness that perhaps more women than usual might need to obtain access to emergency contraception, one might think that a charity who claim to have the best interests of women at heart, would open emergency clinics over Christmas. As a charity who are mindful of their costs, after all opening on Boxing Day would entail double-time payments and the cancelling of annual paid leave, the handing out the pill in advance is obviously an infinitely more cost-effective and practical notion.

As BPAS admit, it is more than likely that underage teenage girls will be able to access advance supplies of the morning-after pill, but well teens will be teens won’t they? It’s probably very unlikely that any girls will be coerced into ringing up or that anyone sexually exploiting teen girls will misuse the service isn’t it? No teen will contemplate passing it onto a friend or selling it will they?Parents have absolutely no right to know whether or not their children might be contemplating engaging in un-protected sex, let alone whether or not they are taking huge doses of a synthetic hormone. Parents don’t really have any need to know what might be going on, enough information is given so that the responsible young teen engaging in unplanned sex will know that if she is sick within two hours she might need another dose and that if she has a persistent pain in her lower abdomen, she will need to consult a doctor as Levonelle (the morning after pill) does nothing to prevent ectopic pregnancy.

It’s not at all irresponsible to suggest that unsafe or unforseen sexual encounters are all part of the Christmas tradition and that people will be unable to resist the lure of a quick tumble with a relative stranger after one avocat too many. Forgetting to use a condom goes hand in hand with a drunken rendition of Fairy Tale of New York does it not?

Still let’s not be too condemnatory, BPAS do chuck in some free condoms just to prick the conscience and to provide justification for their handing out of emergency contraception, which when it was introduced was intended only ever to be administered on prescription in exceptional circumstances.

Considering the evidence that the morning after pill does not have an impact upon unplanned pregnancy rates, in the words of Dr Caroline Scherf, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health with the Cardiff and Vale University Health board

the pill as emergency contraception is preferable as opposed to nothing after unprotected sex, but there is still a very high chance that they will end up pregnant

it is surely ungracious and cynical to suggest that this is merely a ploy to surreptitiously increase their customer base?

This scheme does not discourage irresponsible sex, it positively sanctions it. According to the doublethink of BPAS, planning for irresponsible sex is the height of responsibility.

Of course, compassionate souls that they are, BPAS wouldn’t dream of encouraging yet more sexual encounters that might lead to more demand for abortions now would they? After all, there is no possibility that more drunken or spontaneous sex, safe in the knowledge that there’s always a back-up, will lead to more unplanned pregnancies or STIs now is there?

And who will be the first port of call when the emergency contraception or even the free condom fails? BPAS, those caring people who gave me the free contraception in the first place. Stunning piece of marketing and indeed PR. Even if it transpires that there are no spikes in STIs or unplanned pregnancies over the Christmas period, (I hope someone monitors this)even if our young responsible girl (the advert is clearly aimed at a certain demographic) resists the lure of a quick pash on the tinsel bedecked photocopier, or her contraception works, well she’s still got the pill for another time. Together with a heightened brand awareness of BPAS. You have to hand it to them, this campaign gets their name all over the media, in the same way as Benetton’s Pope stunt; it wins the praise of pro-choicers and professional copulationists sex education advocates whereas anyone with half an ounce of sense will shake their head in despair. The scheme vastly increases awareness of BPAS in the teenage market with carefully targeted, fun and festive advertisements featuring in teen magazines and young adult glossies.

Santa’s coming, how witty, how risqué, what a clever and sophisticated double-entendre. I can think of a much more responsible slogan in a similar vein.

“Say no to the stuffing”.