Comprehensive relationships and sex education must include abortion

Posted 24 Jun 2021

Date: 24 Jun 2021

Author: Dr Asha Kasliwal President of FSRH

Young people have the right to access comprehensive relationships and sex education. Compulsory relationships and sex education is a step in the right direction, but teachers need the right resources to teach about topics such as abortion.

Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) and Miss Ranee Thakar, Senior Vice President for Global Health at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) share their thoughts on the importance of informed discussions on abortion care in schools.

In recent years, relationships and sex education (RSE) has been made compulsory in England and all schools are expected to be delivering the full curriculum by summer term 2021. As President of FSRH and Senior Vice President for Global Health at RCOG, we believe that young people have the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and feel empowered to access sexual and reproductive healthcare services in a confidential manner. For them to make informed decisions, they need to receive comprehensive, accurate and high quality RSE.

One in five conceptions lead to a person having an abortion in England and Wales. Despite it being a common procedure, myths, misinformation and stigma around abortion can leave people misinformed. High quality RSE should include teaching young women that there are choices in relation to pregnancy, including abortion, and lessons should be based on medically and legally accurate information.

Supporting teachers

Further to the publication of statutory RSE guidance for England in 2019, the Department of Education made more flexible the requirement to start its implementation due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers may understandably have chosen to focus on core subjects, resulting in the neglect of non-academic areas such as RSE.

With schools now implementing the guidance, it is important to ensure any information shared regarding pregnancy options – including abortion – is accurate and impartial. However, evidence indicates that many schools delivering past lessons on abortion have used materials which are inaccurate and often stigmatise abortion. This is made worse by a lack of confidence to teach such issues – a survey of over 2,000 teachers conducted in 2020 by the National Education Union and NSPCC into school readiness for compulsory RSE lessons found that 47% of teachers expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to deliver RSE education.

As we emerge from COVID-19 and the world continues to re-open, it is vital that teachers are equipped with evidence-based resources to ensure that they can provide high-quality RSE beyond the pandemic.

Including abortion in RSE

FSRH has worked with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to develop an abortion care factsheet for secondary schools. It is endorsed by Public Health England and supported by the PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum. It has just been updated, explaining the latest laws and regulations around abortion, incorporating up-to-date government statistics on abortion and addressing common myths. We want to ensure that professionals involved in educating young people have an accurate, unbiased source of information about abortion in the UK.

Comprehensive RSE cannot shy away from addressing abortion as an integral part of sexual and reproductive healthcare. If young people are to make informed decisions about their relationships and future conceptions, they need to learn about all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, including abortion.