Teenagers should be taught abortion rights in school to counter inaccurate information from home, say teachers

‘We are educators first and foremost and we need to make sure students have got accurate information so they can make an informed choice’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent, Liverpool
Wednesday 11 April 2018 16:27 BST
Ealing council has become the first in the UK to ban protests outside a local abortion clinic

Teenagers should be taught about abortion rights in schools to counteract “inaccurate” information being given by parents and anti-choice groups, teachers have suggested.

Traumatised girls who fall pregnant need schools to be safe spaces where they feel supported, teachers told the conference of the ATL section of the National Education Union (NEU).

During a heated debate in Liverpool, Jennifer Marchant, from Derby and Derbyshire, said many students still did not have the information they needed to make their own decisions about abortions.

She said: “Many students come from backgrounds where either it is not discussed at home or it’s just discussed incorrectly, whether through a lack of parental knowledge or whether through a cultural bias.

“We are educators first and foremost and we need to make sure students have got the best, accurate information possible so they can make their choice.”

The motion – passed by delegates at the conference in Liverpool today – said women and girls still face threats of violence, inaccurate and misleading information, and unequal access to abortion services.

Michelle Mcwaters, from Somerset, said it was “traumatic” for girls as young as 13 who fall pregnant.

“It’s really important that we support women and girls to come to terms with what has happened,” she said.

“They need the support and they need to feel safe. That they have somewhere to go to, that they are not breaking the law, or that they are not going to get attacked for having made a certain choice.

They need to feel supported. It is a trauma to have to go through an abortion for many, many girls.”

The union will now lobby government to ensure that reproductive rights and women’s health are taught as an “essential element” of the secondary school curriculum by trained teachers.

But not all delegates of the union were in favour of the motion. Trevor Cope, a teacher from Devon, said he could not support the motion as he did not want to express his own opinions in the classroom.

He told the conference: “I need to stay neutral. I need to teach the facts. I do not need a policy dictating what my opinions are.”

Vincent Conyngham, from North Yorkshire and York, added: “This motion is an alignment with a particular liberal ideology that states that abortion should be available on demand, no questions asked.”

Some delegates attempted to shut down the debate around whether the union should adopt a “pro-choice position” on abortion rights for people in all regions of the UK – but they were thwarted.

Helen Porter, from Berkshire, urged: “Just pause and consider the agony and mental torment so many desperate women and girls who would do anything whatever the cost and risk – and sometimes yes that means risking their lives – to end an unwanted pregnancy.

“It is about pro-choice. We are not asking anyone to promote abortion in their schools or colleges.”

Concluding the debate, Ms Porter added: “Not all students benefit from experiencing and developing a balanced and considered debate about abortion.

“What they do need is teachers in their schools and colleges who can give them the facts about what is legal and what is available in this country.”

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