Thursday, 9 February 2012

Sex in Southampton: Sex & The City it ain't

It is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent providing certain criteria are met, according to the principles set out in the House of Lords case Gillick vs. Wisbech Area Health Authority. An entertaining aside: the term 'Gillick competent' is used to describe a person under the age of 16 who is deemed to understand the risks and benefits of medical treatment, and make decisions independently of their parent or guardian. It is named after Victoria Gillick, who unsuccessfully campaigned for minors not to be able to make these decisions (but only where contraception is concerned, because OMG TEEN SEX). I don't think that's exactly how she wanted her name to go down in history.

Once again: It is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent providing certain criteria are met. Those conditions are as follows:
  • the young person will understand the professional's advice;
  • the young person cannot be persuaded to inform their parents;
  • the young person is likely to begin, or to continue having, sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;
  • unless the young person receives contraceptive treatment, their physical or mental health, or both, are likely to suffer;
  • the young person's best interests require them to receive contraceptive advice or treatment with or without parental consent.
So: if one is capable of reasoning as an adult, one should be allowed to make decisions about one's own body without having to get a parent's permission.

In all the brouhaha about GIRLS getting CONTRACEPTION at SCHOOL - a complete and utter non-story, whipped up by our old friend Nadine Dorries in her never-ending mud-slinging campaign against anyone having any sex ever - the fact that it is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent seems to have been forgotten. We've fought this fight before, and we won.

I went to school in Southampton, where The Outrage is centred, and which boasts one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country (go team!). Three girls in my year dropped out before taking their GCSEs because they got pregnant. By the time I joined Facebook in 2008 - a year after I finished uni - I discovered that I was one of three girls in my year who had yet to give birth. The number of girls who'd gone on to sixth form was average; the number who went on to uni was low, and the number who graduated was lower still, as motherhood overtook academia or career progression. (Sex education at that school was pretty woeful, by the way - I'm really not joking when I say that everything I know about contraception was gleaned from reading Sugar magazine religiously from an early age.)

Which is not to say that theeir lives have been blighted by their children - they all seem thrilled about their families, and it's none of my fucking business to judge their choices - but having kids before you finish your education does limit your options in life, at least for a time. And the ratio of 'happy accidents' to planned pregnancies among my contemporaries is... high. How many of my classmates could have got degrees, cemented themselves in a profession, improved their financial situation, had this service been available back in 1998? If they could have obtained advice and help and free condoms and contraceptive implants/injections on school grounds, with a cast-iron guarantee that your parents would not find out?

And the confidentiality issue is absolutely vital. While Dorries et al wail about the supposed "violation of parents’ right to protect and nurture their children", they're deliberately ignoring the fact that, if these girls aren't certain that their medical information won't be divulged to their parents, they won't go to the clinic in the first place. (Think about it: if you don't tell your parents, they might find out that you're having sex. If the clinic notifies them that you're asking about contraception, they'll definitely know you're having sex.) The great lie is that if we can dissuade people from accessing contraception, we'll dissuade them from having sex. This myth has been comprehensively exploded time and again, but it bears repeating: with contraception, they'll have sex; without contraception, they'll have sex anyway. The second way is just more dangerous.

And like thirteen squillion people before me have pointed out, it's the attacks on easily accessible contraception that demonstrate anti-choice campaigners' true agenda: if you really think abortion is that bad, the best way to get rid of it is more contraception, not less. Viewed as a whole, Dorries' agenda is plain anti-sex: she seems to want The Consequences to be as big and as bad and as shameful as possible, in the desperate hope that people will just. stop. fucking.

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