Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Dorries’ abstinence-based sex ed bill wins Commons vote

Image{mosimage}Yesterday Britain moved a step closer to embracing a US-style culture of virginity pledges and faith-based legislation as MPs voted in favour of a 10 Minute Rule motion from Nadine Dorries, proposing girls-only abstinence-based sex education for 13 to 16 year olds. The bill will now receive a second reading in January next year.

While it is unlikely to become law without government support, the proposal is attracting considerable media attention, and its premise needs to be challenged by abortion rights supporters in the strongest possible terms. 

Not only does it reinforce negative gender stereotypes and advocates an approach to sex education which has consistently been proved ineffective in delaying sexual activity among young people, the tenor of the remarks which have been made both in Parliament and in the media display yet another attempt by Ms Dorries to adopt the language of female empowerment to advance an agenda which is anything but ‘pro-woman’.

With references to the prevalence of pornography, the availability of padded bras for seven year olds in Primark and the ‘paedophile pound’, Dorries conflates arguments about the sexualisation of childhood and the objectification of women with a moralising, shame-based approach to all female sexuality. 

Her comments divide girls into those who are potential victims of predatory males and those – the teenage mothers, the abortion seekers – who are beyond redemption. 

It should come as no surprise that many of those voting in favour of yesterday’s motion come from the ranks of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. A move to abstinence teaching will find huge support from the religious lobbying groups with whom Ms Dorries works so closely. Their shared approach to all society’s sexual ills – early sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, paedophilia – is to find the girl and tell her to say ‘No’.

As we are all too aware, Nadine Dorries is among the most ardent of anti-choice activists in Parliament. With Frank Field she has recently tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care bill proposing pre-abortion counselling requirements which could see anti-choice Pregnancy Crisis Centres being commissioned to provide ‘advice’ to women seeking abortions, and she was of course, central to the 2008 campaign to reduce the abortion time limit.

We need to challenge the notion that telling women and girls how to behave is in any way empowering. Attempting to restrict or stigmatise either sexual activity or access to abortion can never be in women’s best interests. We need to ensure that this message reaches MPs between now and January 2012, so when the bill is next heard in Parliament the views of the pro-choice majority are heard.