I was shocked by the news that Health Minister Anne Milton has chosen to invite the anti-abortion group Life on to the government’s new sexual health forum. Meanwhile, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a respected organisation with years of valuable experience in this field, has not been given a place. Life, a Christian organisation dedicated to campaigning for a ban on abortions, has criticised groups such as Brook, also on the forum, for distributing information on contraception to teenagers and advocates an abstinence-based approach to sexual education.
The Government justifies the inclusion of Life by maintaining there should be a variety of views present at the discussion. However, given that the committee is committed to improving sexual health, I am unsure of how informed Life’s contribution can be since they actually provide no sexual health services.
Aside from the fact that I profoundly disagree with the aims and values of Life, what is even more astonishing is that our supposedly ‘pragmatic’ government has chosen to seek the advice of such a group despite all the evidence that shows their policies (abstinence based education) actually have a detrimental effect on the sexual health of society.
Indeed, countries which adopt abstinence based approaches have higher rates of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. For example, the rate for chlamydia in the United States, where abstinence education is sometimes the only method provided and use of contraception is often shunned as encouraging promiscuity, was 367.5 out of 100,000 in 2007 (up to 409.2 in 2009). This is compared to 174 in theNetherlands where the government combines easy access to contraception with a comprehensive, honest and liberal sex education curriculum. The 2007 rates for theUK lay somewhere in between at 204.7 for men and 198.1 for women but are rapidly increasing.
Presuming that the leadership of the Tory party are not totally unaware of the relationship between public sexual health policy and the effects on the ground, I can only presume that they are putting minority interests and religious sentiment above the health and wellbeing of our young people. Endangering the health and maybe even lives of our younger generation in this way cannot be tolerated.
The decision to remove the BPAS and include Life on the sexual health forum highlights a real split in the Conservative Party. It is beginning to look like the overtly right-wing factions, represented in this case by Nadine Dorries and her ilk, are gaining ground. Despite its polished, politically correct veneer, there are still many elements in the Tory Party who remain entrenched in the intolerant patriarchal conservatism of yesteryear. Any person who is proud of the secular, tolerant and multicultural Britain we inhabit today has cause to fear for exactly what kind of “big society” many of the Tories have in mind, and just how far the leadership is prepared to go to appease them.