Two abortions at 19: time for sex education reforms?

With two abortions before she turned 19, Holly, from Lincolnshire, is one of the many cases of teenagers falling short with birth control, something which has provoked sex education reforms in England.


England has the highest rate of teenage mothers in Western Europe with 40,000 teenage pregnancies a year. But why?

In an effort to establish why so many teenagers are falling pregnant and often turning to abortions, The Linc spoke to Holly, now 19, about her experience. Holly had her first abortion at the age of 17, and then another one at 18.

She was adamant and she did not want to go through with the pregnancies. “I was too young to have children and the pregnancies weren’t planned, so abortion was the only option,” she said.

Holly explained that on both occasions she was taking the contraceptive pill, but forgot to take the tablets, which are supposed to be taken daily, for one or two days. She then took several in one day, thinking that it would not make a difference.

Holly felt that having a baby would have a negative effect on her life and hinder her chances of pursuing a career: “I had just started work at a doctor’s surgery and could not have continued that and would have just become another burden on society.”

In both instances she was in a relationship, and both fathers had the same opinions as her about having a child. Holly dealt with the situation immediately and doesn’t regret her decision. “I don’t see a problem with abortion at such an early stage in the pregnancy and I think it would have been more cruel to bring a baby into a world where it is not wanted,” said Holly.

Despite the stress of the initial shock of being pregnant, Holly didn’t find the experience too traumatic. “My mum was clearly mad at first but in the end my family was helpful and the hospital where really good, [as] they had obviously seen it all before,” she explained.

Holly claims to take contraception more seriously now, but does see herself having children one day: “Kids would be nice. Maybe when I’m 30, with a house, a stable job, a relationship, and possibly married first.” Interestingly, her mother explained how she had her first child at 24 when she was already married, in a steady job as a nurse and paying her mortgage.

Using Holly as an example it does appear that teenagers know the theories behind relationships and what is a good environment for a child, but are not being educated properly about contraception.

There seem to be shortfalls when someone is taking contraception but does not know how to do so correctly. Laura Hill is a student who fell pregnant during her degree, kept her baby and has no regrets, but did feel let down.

“You are told to use a condom but when you’ve been in a relationship for a while, you experiment with other options and it is not always clear what else is available,” said Laura.

Worryingly, Holly also mentioned how she is aware that three of her friends have also had abortions. This corresponds with new government figures revealing that teenage pregnancy rates have risen for the first time since 2002. It risen to 41.9 conceptions per 1,000 in 15 to 17-year-olds from 40.9 last year.

One of the consequences is a sharp rise in the number of abortions in England, which has risen by almost a quarter in the last two years.

In light of this, it was announced last week that sex education is to be made compulsory to all pupils at the age of 15 by 2011. Previously parents could opt their children out of lessons about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases until they were 19.

After a two year review and consultation by the government, sex education will be placed on the national curriculum for the first time, which means that teenagers will be taught about sex education in more depth.

Ed Balls, government’s schools secretary, has promised a drastic overhaul of the system. “With fathers as young as 13 in a country that has had contraception since the 1960s the figures are unacceptable and children under 16 should not be getting pregnant,” Balls says.

Currently children are required to be taught only about the biological facts of reproduction, and usually in science lessons. The new laws that will be imposed in 2011 will force schools to teach about relationships in more depth, such as the importance of marriage, civil partnerships, and the values of stable relationships in family life as well as how to have sex.

Faith groups have spoken out against the move, claiming that children should be educated in accordance with their parents’ beliefs.  However, Balls says that the law needs to change with society.

“Teenagers are experiencing relationships before they are 16, and with new influences such as underage drinking, they are doing things they don’t really want to do. We need to teach them about values and mutual respect,” Balls says.

He then went on to explain how we should learn from other countries, such as Holland, which have one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe. “They teach about love and the values of relationships and there is a public disapproval about the matter,” Balls says.

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