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JMJulia Manning is Chief Executive of 2020Health.

On the eve of the most famous unplanned pregnancy of all time (unplanned by
the parents, at any rate), 2020health has supported the Cross-Party Inquiry
into Unplanned Pregnancy. Unintentional conception still happens – to knowledgeable
doctors, to articulate teenagers, to wives of Prime Ministers – not the usual
stereotypes.

Newsnight’s Allegra
Stratton
yesterday covered the nub of the problem – and it is most
definitely a problem – which is why, in a country where contraception is free
and the pressures on the NHS unsustainable, the number of abortions is still
rising. We felt this review was an eminently sensible way to look at just what
more can be done.

There were many striking findings that I hope will influence policy makers,
two in particular I want to mention here. The first was just how much young
people, especially teenage girls, want relationship education. Not sex
education. Relationship education. In a society where teenage sexual activity
is considered normal, where adults no longer protect children from pornography,
where not enough parents give their teens emotional support, where airbrushed
images leave children desperately insecure that they are not ‘normal’, young
people – especially girls – are feeling confused, defenceless, anxious and
exploited.


Schools are currently free to do what they like when it comes to teaching on
Sex and Relationship Education (SRE). The functional sex component is covered
in biology, which is already part of the National Curriculum, and this is also
the obvious place to talk about infection transmission, contraception and
pregnancy. However we would like to see relationship education become statutory
as well. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for parents – in an ideal world
they should always be the primary source of guidance; but this isn’t an ideal
world and relationship education will help equip the next generation of
parents.

Our Inquiry heard some powerful testimony from a group of girls, formerly
the subject of an interview
by Eleanor Mills
in the Sunday Times. The girls revealed their sense of
pain and betrayal: “There was nothing about relationships, or intimacy, or
trust, or love, or saying girls should wait and they didn’t have to do it, or
encouraging them not to”; “There’s nothing about being committed, being
comfortable, being safe, having cuddles. Nobody encourages you to wait until
you feel ready,” (quotes from Eleanor’s article, not our Inquiry, but the same
sentiments were repeated there). It’s clear to us that if we want to see a
reduction in what is often sexual exploitation leading to unplanned pregnancy,
then we need to be arming teenage girls for battle against peer and societal pressures,
and teaching both sexes about the warped world of porn, the deplorability of
domestic violence and the beauty of love. The government is finally
taking steps
to make it harder to access porn online, although it will need
to go further in time.

Incredibly, our second finding was that a third of women lived in areas
where access to contraception is restricted. Limits on what’s available on the
NHS and inconvenient opening hours for working women meant that availability of
contraception was not nearly as universal as we had thought. Bearing in mind
the small cost of prevention, especially with long-acting reversible methods,
compared with the price of termination this is a false economy and an
inexcusable inequality that needs to be urgently addressed by the new National
Commissioning Board.

Other issues include the number of pregnancies conceived under the influence
of alcohol, the missed opportunity of contraceptive advice after birth, and the
systematic ignoring by public agencies of under-age sex and investigation into
consent. We do not deny that there is evidence of cavalier attitudes to sex and
abortion amongst some women, but in a country where a woman can have as many
abortions on demand as she likes, should we be surprised?

This is not a Party political issue. This is
about giving our teenagers the support they are asking for and giving women the
chance to control their fertility. We hope all Parties will respond positively
to our report.

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