Yvonne Roberts says trials of the “abortion pill” must
lead to an honest debate about teenage pregnancy.
“Abortion Pill for Teenagers” read a front-page headline in the
Daily Mail last week, as if Armageddon is nigh. The truth is that a
small-scale pilot project, supervised by doctors, will make medical
terminations available in family planning clinics by the
administration of two doses of separate drugs, during the first
nine weeks of pregnancy.
Although the technique has been available for a number of years,
many women are not aware that it exists as an option. Pro-life
spokespersons are quoted as saying that abortion figures (one in
three women is likely to have a termination) are bound to rise. One
sincerely hopes so – if this means fewer unwanted children and
lives locked into poverty.
However, what also matters, if the pilot project becomes public
policy, is that thought is given as to how its benefits can be
extended to that most vulnerable group, the teenager with poor life
The social exclusion unit’s ‘Teenage Pregnancy’, published in
1999, refers to the “mixed messages” given to young people. They
live in a culture that is full of explicit messages yet silence and
embarrassment often marks adult reaction to personal discussions
That is even more the case on the issue of abortion. Research by
Louie Burghes and Mark Brown conducted in the 1990s on single
mothers indicated how abortion is difficult because it requires a
decision. Pretending the pregnancy isn’t happening is easier,
particularly when there is a fear of how parents will react.
Projects exist that send teenage mothers into schools to warn of
the difficulties of premature motherhood. What is also required is
a bold move to tackle the stigma attached to having a termination.
Why not recruit and dispatch young women who have opted for a
termination and who have the bravery to talk about it? Acting as
advocates, they could advise that intercourse is delayed for as
long as possible, contraception used, but also that abortion is
seriously considered in the event of pregnancy.
Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in
Europe. The result, often, is that children are reared with too
little material and emotional support.
Openness about abortion, including its difficulties, has been a
long time coming. Perhaps the young will drag this particular
skeleton out of our national cupboard and show the courage that
many of we older women have lacked.