"Society may 'tut tut' about them, but their actions are part of an evolutionary process that goes back nearly two million years; while their behaviour may not fit with western society's expectations, it is perhaps useful to consider it in a wider context." - DR LAWRENCE SHAW
Story in full A LEADING doctor sparked controversy last night after claiming teenage girls who get pregnant "behind the bike sheds" are only obeying nature's law and should not be condemned out of hand.
Dr Laurence Shaw, deputy medical director of the Bridge Centre fertility clinic in London, said females had been programmed by two million years of evolution to have babies in their late teens and early twenties, when fertility is at its peak.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (Eshre), he said nature intended women to become mothers when young, and for their fertility to decline while they raised their children.
But last night family groups and politicians in Scotland, which has western Europe's highest rate of teenage pregnancy, condemned his view.
Figures published last month revealed that abortions among under-16s have reached record levels, with 341 terminations in Scotland last year.
Speaking to delegates in Prague, Dr Shaw said: "Before we condemn our teenagers for having sex behind the bike sheds and becoming pregnant, we should remember that this is a natural response by these girls to their rising fertility levels.
"Society may 'tut tut' about them, but their actions are part of an evolutionary process that goes back nearly two million years; while their behaviour may not fit with western society's expectations, it is perhaps useful to consider it in a wider context."
Shona Robison, the SNP's health spokeswoman, whose constituency in Dundee has rates of teenage pregnancy far exceeding the national average, called the remarks "flippant".
"Maybe he should reflect on the effects of teenage pregnancy," she said. "In representing Dundee, I am well aware of the problems teenage pregnancy can cause girls. For many it leads to a life of poverty and a loss of opportunity. I doubt these are the things he would want for his own daughters."
Teresa Smith, chair of the Scottish Christian People's Alliance, said the comments were "completely outrageous".
"Many things are an occurrence within nature but it does not mean they are the right thing to do," she said. "Girls of that age are not mature enough to bring up a baby. If they choose to have an abortion, there are long-term effects.
"Teenagers having sexual activity risk catching chlamydia and causing fertility problems. We should be promoting abstinence, not telling young people this is natural."
Tim Street, the chief executive, of the Family Planning Association Scotland, said the comments highlighted the need to educate teenagers about the dangers of sex.
"We have to actually explain to young people that we want them to wait until they are older before they start having sex and eventually kids.
"If, as he says, this is a natural, biological reaction to being who you are, we also have to explain that good policies on this are about delaying sexual intercourse until later on."
In his talk Dr Shaw also said it was wrong to be prejudiced against older women who sought fertility treatment.
"Before we criticise 62-year-old women who want to have babies, we should remember that it was not so long ago that women would only have had about 20 or 30 years to care for their offspring and help with the next generation," he said.