Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) covers sex and relationships education, drugs and alcohol education, emotional health and well-being, diet, and healthy lifestyle education. In response to the Children and Social Work Act in 2017, which aimed to introduce same-sex relationships and abortion into the education syllabus in the UK, the education department received 11,186 responses, 64 per cent of which were in opposition to this proposed content. Naturally, these responses came from certain religious groups who do not want these topics to be explained. The lack of education on abortion has been detrimental to thousands of women globally.
Religious Studies remains an integral part of the school syllabus across the UK; this is rarely challenged or opposed. Religious studies should not necessarily be rejected from the school syllabus; every child should be presented with the opportunity to explore their religious horizons, but when religion prevents women from thinking they should have access to a safe and legal procedure, such as abortion, then its place in the UK education syllabus should be challenged. Since abortion is a legal right owed to women according to the Abortion Act of 1967, not only should the country be obliged to make abortion education a mandatory part of the school syllabus, but the general consensus of the UK population should be pro-choice. Obviously, this is not the case, which means there is much work to be done.
Abortion not only remains a taboo subject but is also greatly trivialized. In my experience, I have heard passing comments such as “It’s so easy to get an abortion these days.” The trivialization of abortion is feeding into harmful misconceptions, such as equating it with contraception. Feminism has rightfully highlighted inequalities in the criminalization of abortion and in doing so, the ‘woman’s choice’ slogan has thrived. This, however, has been dangerous for associating ‘choice’ with ‘emancipation,’ suggesting that abortion can be accessed at will. It gives off the impression that women flourish under this ‘feminist freedom,’ when the reality is in fact much different. Many anti-choice movements manipulate feminist agenda to portray pro-choice campaigns as glorifying abortion, instead of emphasising the freedom of choice for women with unwanted pregnancies, and their right to a safe, legal termination. This is a fundamental reason why education on abortion is so vital.
So, of course, the reality is far more complex than an on-demand liberty. Abortion is permitted in the UK on certain grounds which restrict a pregnant person’s freedom to choose. These grounds include abortion in the case of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman and at the discretion of two doctors. Effectively, abortion is still confined to limited conditions and circumstances.
Providing neutral and impartial information about the abortion process to students as an essential element of the secondary school curriculum would not only counteract inaccurate information spread off and online, but also tackle the lack of parental guidance for young people, often motivated by circumstances such as cultural bias. In these circumstances, contraception and safe sex are also not talked about topics, and this renders women and girls extremely vulnerable to self-induced termination of pregnancies, which is detrimental to their mental and physical health.
Education on abortion must be given sensitively and inclusively to all genders. Providing young people with the knowledge they need to potentially make this choice in the future not only allows them to be more equipped but may also indirectly prevent women and girls from facing threats of violence from anti-choice groups around abortion clinics. Open and accessible education has the potential to tackle anti-choice propaganda and stop misinformation and misconceptions from playing into anti-choice hands.
Because whilst anti-choice movements like to peddle with the details of abortions, they never so much as sniff at the horrific details of self-induced abortions which happen 25 million times per year. Women with no recourse to proper family planning and healthcare are often compelled to take on the task alone. Nor do anti-choice ever respect that these details are in fact testament to the bravery and strength of women who choose to have an abortion for the sake of the unborn foetus or their own wellbeing. Advocating for impartial, inclusive education on abortion whilst also equipping people with the resources and information to face difficult decisions is vital in providing more safety for women.