FAC goes to school (to run pro-choice workshops)

A couple of weeks ago, my multi-talented colleague and I went to a local school to run pro-choice workshops for their Year 10s (14-15 year olds).

The school had approached us last year as they were organising a medical ethics day, in which the students would be discussing abortion (among other issues).  The teacher we were in contact with told us he’d had no trouble finding a group to do the anti-abortion (‘pro-life’) side of the ‘debate’, but it was pretty impossible to find groups willing to talk about pro-choice issues.  One local youth charity had branded it ‘too political’ for them to be able to get involved (and in the current funding climate you can see why they want to be careful).  The school had arranged for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) to go in and present their views, so we felt it was really important for us to go in as well, and make sure the students could hear some woman-centred, pro-choice, non-religious views.

In the States, SPUC are involved in quite militant anti-abortion activism, while here in the UK they take a slightly different tack.  We asked SPUC for a copy of their talk in advance but they said they wouldn’t give it to us because they were worried it would be leaked to the media (this is the same talk they are giving to thousands of school children every year!).  While we didn’t have any recent information on the talks they give in schools, in the presentations they were giving a few years ago they were giving medical misinformation, such as saying there was a link between abortion and infertility, and between abortion and breast cancer (both of which the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say are unproven).

Luckily for us, the wonderful two-woman charity Education for Choice shared their workshop resources with us.  They do pro-choice workshops in London schools but they are too small to travel to schools outside London.  With their help we put together a workshop which included ‘why is abortion a feminist issue?’, a true or false quiz, including a discussion of how to tell whether your evidence is really evidence, and a brilliant exercise in empathy where students in pairs pretended they were in a pregnancy testing clinic.  We had also brought resources to distribute to students including frequently asked questions on abortion, and a useful information list with phone numbers and websites such as Scarleteen that we thought the students might be interested in.

The workshops went really well and the students seemed to particularly enjoy the pregnancy testing exercise – in pairs they came up with a back story as to why they thought they might be pregnant, whether they wanted to have a baby or not, and what they would do if they were pregnant.  Then we gave them their ‘pregnancy tests’ in which half of the students were pregnant and half weren’t, and discussed their responses.  It was a particularly nice way of getting the boys involved – with a pair of boys, one of them had to pretend they were a woman, and might be pregnant.  I felt this allowed them to imagine what it might be like to be a woman in this situation.  One pair of boys decided they were a gay couple, and one of them was a trans man – they were thrilled to find out that they were pregnant.

Overall the response from the students was lively and engaged and hopefully they all felt they learned something as well as thinking about the issues.  We emphasised of course that pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion, and I felt it was particularly important to respect the decision of each ‘couple’ as to whether they wanted to go ahead with their ‘pregnancy’ or not. As Education for Choice argue, this is not an issue that lends itself well to a ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ stance.  Pro-choice is about choice – so of course this is something that individuals have to think about for themselves, but presenting it as ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ seems to encourage people to impose their ideas of right and wrong on others, and increase the burden of guilt on those women who do have abortions.

We hope to do more pro-choice workshops in Cambridgeshire schools, now that we have our workshop all prepared and tested, so if anyone knows of any schools that would like us to do these workshops please put them in touch.

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