State support is vital to family life. Women, especially, know this. Without access to reliable, affordable childcare, women can’t work. Without access to contraception and abortion women, can’t plan to have the number of children they want, or when to have them. Without access to good schools, women can’t ensure that their children will get the education they need. We all need social resources to draw on, and the more impoverished, excluded and disadvantaged we are, the more support we may need. But our need for resources does not confer a right or an obligation to meddle in the personal decisions we choose to make for ourselves and our families.
Today, some politicians and policy makers seem to assume that people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can’t be trusted to do what is right. And so increasingly policies are introduced that ‘nudge’ people towards what appropriate professionals decide are the ‘right’ choices, and away from the ‘wrong’ ones. This causes problems: what seems to be a quick-fix policy to influence behaviour can turn into a short-cut to calamity for individuals.
British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) runs clinics and advisory centres that provide counselling and care for more than 60,000 women each trying to avoid or manage problem pregnancies. We see the impact of playing politics with people’s personal decision-making when it impacts on their sexual and reproductive health.
We see young women pregnant because their doctors, encouraged by targets intended to increase uptake of long-acting (super-effective) methods of contraception, have persuaded them to accept an implant which they didn’t really want and, having had it removed, are reluctant to go back for the (less effective, but good enough) pills they preferred.
We see new mothers pregnant because healthcare workers have exaggerated the contraceptive effects of breastfeeding in the drive to encourage women to resist formula feeding.
We see women pregnant unintentionally having become convinced they are infertile after being subjected to exaggerated accounts of the risks posed by common infections, such as chlamydia, by campaigns trying to scare them into ‘sexual responsibility’
We see the fallout of initiatives to deter heavy drinking in pregnancy that advise pregnant women to avoid alcohol altogether in the belief that women are unable to gauge their own alcohol consumption: women so terrified they have harmed their fetus they consider abortion.
We suffer interference from a few politicians convinced that women are incapable of making informed, personally-intelligent choices about whether to continue their pregnancy without the involvement of an ‘independent’ outsider to counsel them.
Women need evidence-based information on which to base their choices. Our message this year to politicians of all parties is this: tell people the naked truth and trust them to make decisions for themselves. When it comes to reproductive choices women are the ones best placed to make their own decisions, from what contraception she uses to prevent unwanted pregnancy to how she gives birth to a much wanted baby. Trusting women is the right choice for all of us.