Yvonne Roberts says that more not less sex
education is vital to reduce the abortion rate among teenagers.
The number of under-age girls having abortions
has risen by more than a fifth in the last 10 years. Statistics for
2000 show that 4,382 girls under the age of 16 had abortions, an
increase of 200 on the year before. The figure for 1992 was
It is, of course, tragic that teenagers have
to take the decision to have a termination in preference to
effective contraception or delaying sexual activity until they are
more mature (the average age for a first sexual experience is 17, a
perhaps surprising statistic for those on the right convinced that
armageddon has arrived).
It is, however, a bizarre leap of logic to
argue, as Nottingham University academic David Paton has done, that
“more family planning clinics, far from having the effect of
reducing conception rates, have actually led to an increase. The
availability of the morning-after pill seems to be encouraging
The figures on abortion were compiled and
released last week by Conservative MP Andrew Turner allegedly to
strengthen the case of those who argue that the government’s policy
of halving pregnancy rates among those under 18 by 2010 by
increasing family planning advice is having the opposite
Premature motherhood, as anyone working in the
field of social policy can affirm, is much more likely among the
poor and those with few educational qualifications. Three factors
encourage girls to think twice about unprotected sex: aspiration,
self-confidence and sound information. All three of these, of
course, can still be undone by an abundance of alcohol.
It has long been the profoundly misguided
belief of those on the right that information is a bad thing when
in comes to the young. My daughter, aged seven, recently came back
from school after a lesson in human growth and very kindly offered
to tell me all about the clitoris.
More not less sex education is vital – but so
too, perhaps, is a more diversified and customised approach when it
comes to injecting a sense of self-worth in young girls and boys.
One of the more shocking pieces of research to come out of the
1990s was a long-term study that revealed how many young girls had
had their first experience of sex either against their will or in
circumstances with which they felt deeply uncomfortable. A right to
refuse also requires reinforcing.
The rise in abortion figures is both sad and
encouraging. It means that a young person who may not have thought
twice about having unprotected sex has faced up to the consequences
of teenage pregnancy and said no. Belatedly perhaps, but it is