THAT Conference believes that access to safe, free, legal abortion is crucial to women’s and girls’ educational, economic, and social equality. Barriers to abortion services are barriers to women’s and girls’ rights. Fifty years on from the 1967 Abortion Act, women and girls still face unacceptable delays, threats of violence and intimidation, inaccurate and misleading information and unequal access to abortion services.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive Committee to put forward to the Joint Executive Council that the Joint Executive Council:
(i) adopt a pro-choice position on abortion rights that is inclusive of all people who need to access abortion services (trans men; non-binary and gender non-conforming people) in all regions of the UK
(ii) lobby Government to ensure that reproductive rights and women’s health are taught as an essential element of the RSE and PSHE curriculum to ALL secondary and post-16 students regardless of their gender, delivered by trained teachers and supported by local sexual health services
(iii) signpost age-appropriate and good-quality teaching resources and training opportunities to members
(iv) oppose attempts by anti-choice groups to present inaccurate and misleading information in schools and colleges
(v) support the work of the campaigning group Abortion Rights.
I will be enquiring of the leadership of the trade union how this motion came to be considered suitable business. I suspect that in the past it would have been ruled as unsuitable business for conference on two grounds: (1) adopting a position for or against legalised abortion lies outside the objects of the union; and (2) the allegations of threats of violence and intimidation, and of the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information by pro-life groups are in every likelihood factually incorrect, and can be seen as such without the need to probe at all deeply. In the present day climate, though, I wonder whether the relevant rules/procedures committee even gave it a second thought (happy to be corrected on that...). Oddly enough, a motion of like intent put to the NUT Section conference does not appear to have made it to their final conference agenda (compare the final agenda to the conference motions on this page).
I haven't attended annual conference for a number of years now, so was not present to see how much debate this motion generated.
Somewhat mischievously, I am as I write pondering the possible outcome if Marie Stopes and BPAS had to provide their abortion services without receiving funding to do so ... ie make provision for genuinely free abortions, as advocated by the first line of the above motion.
It is sub-sections (ii) and (iv) that are particularly sinister, and, as worded, somewhat dishonest. In effect, they argue that only supporters of legalised abortion (decode "trained teachers and local sexual health services") should be allowed to teach on the subject of abortion in schools, and that those who are pro-life (decode "anti-choice") should be barred from speaking to pupils in schools. This is a somewhat totalitarian position for a supposed member led, democratic trade union to have adopted.
I wonder, too, at the possible implications of identifying barriers to abortion as barriers specifically to girls rights ... A February 2018 Joint Serious Case Review (read around page 90 ff, and note reference to earlier serious case reviews that raise the same question) with regard to child sexual exploitation clearly raises issues around the climate of confidentiality when young girls seek sexual health services, including the morning after pill and abortion, and are not recognised as possibly being subject to sexual exploitation. The readiness of access to such services appears, albeit inadvertently, to mask possible exploitation.
If you are also a member of the National Education Union, particularly the ATL Section, you might like to join me in letting our union leadership know that they do not adopt this policy in our name.