'˜Pupils should be given abortion information', teachers' hear

Pupils should be given information about abortion in the classroom because many do not discuss it at home, teachers have heard.

Youngsters need teachers who can “give them the facts” about what is legal and what is available, the National Education Union’s (ATL section) annual conference in Liverpool was told.

It was also suggested that finding themselves pregnant was a “trauma” for teenage girls and they need to feel supported.

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In a passionate debate, delegates discussed a resolution which said that women and girls “still face unacceptable delays, threats of violence and intimidation, inaccurate and misleading information and unequal access to abortion services.”

It was also suggested that finding themselves pregnant was a trauma for teenage girls and they need to feel supported. Picture: John Devlin

Jennifer Marchant, from the union’s Derby and Derbyshire branch, told the conference she wants all students to have access to information.

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“This is about pro-choice - not about pro-life, not about pro-abortion. This is about giving students information so they can make their decisions,” she said.

“And many people here know that. They know the information that is out there. But many students do not.

It was also suggested that finding themselves pregnant was a trauma for teenage girls and they need to feel supported. Picture: John Devlin

“Many students come from backgrounds where either it is not discussed at home or discussed incorrectly when many students are at home whether through a lack of parental knowledge or whether through a cultural bias.”

Ms Marchant added: “We are educators first and foremost and we need to make sure students have got the best, accurate information possible so they can make their choice.”

She said it was not the role of teachers to “impart our own opinions” but to provide information.

Helen Porter from Berkshire said the motion was “not asking anyone to promote abortion in their schools or colleges.”

“Not all students benefit from experiencing and developing a balanced and considered debate about abortion,” she said.

“What they do need is teachers in their schools and colleges who can give them the facts about what is legal and what is available in this country.”

Trevor Cope, from Devon, said he could not support parts of the motion - including a call to “adopt a pro-choice position on abortion rights” - because he believed that teachers should not have opinions in the classroom.

“I would not have a problem with teaching that abortion is allowed or permitted in this country, but not in that one,” he said.

“That, colleagues, is a fact. What I do have a problem with is an open and declared position on the subject.”

He said: “I need to stay neutral. I need to teach the facts. I do not need a policy dictating what my opinions are.”

Mr Cope said he was in favour of trained teachers and good resources to give facts to students.

But Michelle Mcwaters from Somerset said she is a “woman first, teacher second” in the classroom.

“When I am relating to the children, or the kids that I teach, they would see me hopefully as me, not just as this sort of cold teacher who isn’t human,” she said.

She told delegates: “I know for women that having an abortion, they do not take it lightly.

“When girls as young as 13, 14 get pregnant, for them it is a trauma.”

Ms Mcwaters said it was hard enough for a woman in her 40s to go through an abortion, questioning whether a young teenager, who may have made mistakes or been irresponsible should be “thrown under a bus” or supported “to make the right choice for themselves”.

“For me, it’s really important that we support women and girls to come to terms with what has happened,” she said.

“Obviously, we need to look at the choices we have made but they need the support and they need to feel safe, that they have somewhere to go to, that they are not breaking the law, or that they are not going to get attacked for having made a certain choice.

“They need to feel supported. It is a trauma to have to go through an abortion for many, many girls, but the fact is that it is available, and it should be made available, if they choose it.”

Speaking against the motion, Vincent Conyngham, from the North Yorkshire and York branch, said: “Let’s be clear here, this motion is an alignment with a particular liberal ideology that states that abortion should be available on demand, no questions asked.”

The resolution was passed by the conference.