The Corner

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Failed Sex-Ed Policies in the U.K.


The United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph has an article this morning documenting the high rate of repeat abortions among young girls in Great Britain. According to the article, 89 girls aged 17 or under who terminated a pregnancy last year had had at least two abortions previously. Furthermore, 2009 figures from the Department of Health indicate that for the first time, more than a third (34 percent) of abortions were performed on women who had already ended one or more pregnancies

While these statistics are tragic, the article unfortunately fails to link these outcomes to Britain’s permissive policies with regard to abortion, contraception, and sex education. For instance, England has no parental-consent requirement. In both 1982 and 2006 the courts ruled that minor girls can obtain abortions without their parental permission. These high rates of repeat abortions provide good evidence that effective parental-involvement laws might be able to prevent minors from obtaining multiple abortions by providing parents with an early indication of their child’s sexual activity.

Furthermore, these statistics provide plenty of evidence that the sex education policies put in place by Tony Blair’s administration have been a failure. Starting in 1999, the British government launched its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy program whose goal was to cut the number of teen pregnancies in half by promoting comprehensive sexual education and birth control. Since 1999, some £300 million ($454 million in U.S. dollars) was spent on this initiative

Unfortunately, the British teen-abortion rate, has climbed steadily since then. In fact, in 2009, the London Daily Mail reported that teen-pregnancy rates in England are now higher than they were in 1995 and pregnancies among girls under 16, below the age of sexual consent, are also at the highest level since 1998.

In the United States there is a seemingly endless parade of pro-choice commentators hectoring the pro-life movement for not being more supportive of contraception and comprehensive sex education. However, as Great Britain’s experience clearly indicates easier access to contraception does not appear to be an effective strategy for reducing the incidence of abortion among minors. All in all, pro lifers would do well to continue to promote policies that encourage sexual restraint and provide legal protection for unborn children.

Michael J. New is a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute and an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama.