Defending Our Reproductive Rights

Abstinence and the wider debate…

Nadine Dorries is attempting to introduce girl-only, abstinence-based sex education within the current school sex education programme. However, many schools do not have a comprehensive sex education programme outside of the statutory requirements that relate mainly to biological function. So in many cases, her proposal would mean that girls would receive the abstinence message as their only sex education. That this approach has been shown to be ineffective, harmful and contrary to all evidence as to what works (in terms of promoting good sexual and reproductive health, reducing unwanted pregnancies, promoting healthy, respectful relationships and not essentialising male and female sexual behaviours), it is clear that the argument will not be won at the level of ‘facts’or based on the actual needs and experiences of girls and young women.

This case is occurring within the wider context of further efforts to roll back the clock on the gains fought for and won by women to have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. These include: recent attempts by Dorries to further reduce the abortion time-limit; a growing number of American style anti-choice ‘pickets’outside clinics; the opening up of pregnancy counselling services to anti-choice organisations; and the invitations to pro-abstinence and anti-choice organisations to become members of the Sex and Relationships Education Council (an advisory group to the Government).

That these attacks are happening at a time of public sector cuts and restructuring that increase the burden of both paid and unpaid work on women further compound the situation and affect women’s reproductive ‘choices’ – such changes will inevitably mean the ‘choice’ to have children (based upon those who feel inclined to have children, are able to afford childcare and the costs associated with raising children etc.) diversifies much more along class lines.

So how do we defend these rights whilst also maintaining a critical analysis, and further development, of ‘choice’ within the current crisis?