Don’t believe the rubbish in ‘Alive!’ writes Donal O’Keeffe. Those most opposed to abortion have always been fanatically opposed to sex education too.
I was in the Catholic Church in Fermoy the other week for a funeral and down by the back door – I suppose for fear that my blood pressure might be dipping dangerously close to normal – I picked up a copy of 'Alive!'
If you don’t know it, ‘Alive!’ is a free-sheet – not, I am saddened to say, dedicated to cannibalism in the Andes – given away in Catholic churches up and down the land. In terms of its politics, it’s essentially the ‘An Phoblacht’ of the Continuity Catholic Church. It reads like the house paper for all of those who dream of an Irish Trump and an Irexit and the halcyon days when Archbishop McQuaid was telling Dev how to run the country.
I tend to look at ‘Alive!’ despite my own better instincts, but sometimes it’s instructive to see the mindset of people who just can’t stop thinking about sex.
Sure enough, though, if I wanted to be angered, I didn’t need to look beyond the front page. It features a grand big colour photo of members of a group called ‘the LoveBoth Project’. (For a second there I thought it said ‘LoveBooth’ and I got very confused as to why such a thing might be on offer in the house of God.)
I recognise in the photograph local woman Emma Sisk, also two members of the Ionan Conroy family and Catriona Curran of Mothers and Fathers Matter, the reactionary outfit that failed so miserably and comprehensively in its scaremongering, dog-whistling efforts to persuade us all that the Marriage Equality Referendum was about anything except love.
The photo of the anti-choice poster girls is not what angers me. Beside the photo is a blurb saying 'Fewer teens pregnant as sex-ed is cut'.
A statement like that really should come with a trigger warning for people like me, who can remember the swamp-fever days of the early 1980s, when the same people who were marching against abortion with their placards of foetuses were also roaring against contraception and sex education.
In essence, the people who were most against abortion were also in favour of the most likely reasons that abortion might be needed. But then, you’d hardly expect sense out of people who just can’t stop thinking about sex. And now – all these years on – those noisy, fanatical, religiously-motivated voices are roaring still.
Looking to page 5 of ‘Alive!’, I am told that “an important new study in the UK has found that a cut in government funding for sex education and for the supply of contraception has led to a huge fall in teenage girls becoming pregnant”.
The study, ‘Alive!’ tells us, was conducted by David Paton of Nottingham University Business School and Liam Wright of Sheffield University, and published in the Journal of Health Economics. The authors, ‘Alive!’ tells us, “warned that ‘spending on projects relating to teenage pregnancy may be counterproductive’, leading to more teenage girls falling (sic) pregnant.”
The anonymous author of the ‘Alive!’ piece quotes the Catholic Herald as saying that the researchers found that “under-age pregnancy rates fell most sharply in those areas where budgets were most aggressively cut as part of post-crash austerity measures”.
The article paints Paton and Wright as “surprised by their discoveries” and presents them as “finally (having) to accept that the conventional wisdom advocating explicit sex education was actually leading to increasing pregnancy rates”.
At this point, the best thing I could do here is refer you to Olivia Blair’s marvellous debunking of that study. In it, she establishes not only that the study’s findings are spurious and its methodology suspect, but also that it was commissioned by someone with an anti-abortion background.
Professor Paton denied to Blair that he had an agenda, but he did admit that he has a "background in the Pro-Life (anti-abortion) movement". He has spoken at several events for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) – a prominent anti-abortion group.
Paton also maintains that he is not against sex education in schools, but he has previously spoken about what he believes to be the ineffectiveness of sex and relationship education (SRE) on several occasions.
Kaye Wellings, Professor of Sexual and Reproductive Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Blair that Paton and Wright’s study is ‘flawed’ and that there are many reasons that teen pregnancies have fallen, not least the cumulative effects of years of sex education.
"If you put two sets of figures together and draw conclusions, you need to think about a lot of alternate reasons for the two things coming together," Wellings says.
In a statement, the sexual health charity FPA, said: "The idea that increased access to contraception and good quality relationships and sex education leads to a rise in unwanted pregnancies is a persistent – but inaccurate – myth."
So, does not educating kids about sex, actually reduce the number of teen pregnancies? That’s surely like claiming that cutting driving lessons actually reduces car crashes. That’s the sort of patently ridiculous claim to which we sardonically respond over on Twitter, “Huge if true”.
Because it’s not true. Of course it’s not true. It’s complete and utter rubbish, and it’s the sort of codology promoted aggressively by the same religious maniacs who foisted the Eighth Amendment on us in the first place.
It’s founded on an absolute resistance to the notion that women own their own bodies and on the downright stupid idea that teenagers should only be taught abstinence, because educating them about sex only encourages them to have sex (as if they would need any encouragement…)
This sort of thinking was parodied beautifully in the pilot episode of ‘The West Wing’, where the morose communications director Toby Ziegler, has to listen as a pious televangelist drones on about the evils of sex education. “Show the average American teenage male a condom and his mind will turn to thoughts of lust,” intones the God-botherer.
Toby, who’s had enough of this nonsense, snaps back: “Show the average American teenage male a lug wrench and his mind will turn to thoughts of lust.”
The timing of this problematic study associating less sex education with fewer unwanted pregnancies couldn’t be worse. President Trump wants to withdraw funding from teen pregnancy prevention programmes, favouring an abstinence-only approach to sex education in schools instead. Of course, his administration is also, famously and illogically given the defunding of pregnancy prevention programmes, anti-abortion.
Seriously, you should read Blair’s article. She absolutely demolishes Paton and Wright’s study. She also makes the important point that we need more sex education and not less.
“Sex and relationship education is vital for normalising the conversation around sex,” says Blair, “making it easier for teens to reach out for help and advice, giving them the confidence to only have sex when they want to have it and enlightening people about consent.”
As to the people who read Alive!, you really would wonder why – if they’re that against abortion – the people who can’t stop thinking about sex are so opposed to sex education too.