Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire, has tabled a motion calling for the introduction of abstinence-based sex education for girls aged 13-16. The bill is a step towards reducing abortion rights for women, and must be rejected.

Despite the motion being, in the words of Labour MP Chris Bryant, ‘the daftest piece of legislation I have seen brought forward’, 67 MPs voted for the motion with 61 voting against. This means that the motion will get a second reading. Abstinence education teaches that sex should be abstained from until marriage. It does not include any consideration of any relationships other than heterosexual ones.

The intention that such abstinence classes will be delivered solely to girls exposes the sexual stereotypes underlying this bizarre idea. Girls are expected to simply ‘say no’ to boys who are apparently intent on having sex. There is no idea that such relationships may be discussed and negotiated between the couple involved. There is no acknowledgement that young women themselves may be sexual beings.

None of us would wish our children to be having sexual relationships before they are physically and emotionally ready and are able to give clear, informed consent. However, preparing young people for a healthy and informed sex life comes from open discussion and clear information, not from some reactionary idea of telling girls to simply refuse to have sex.

Whilst Britain has a relatively high rate of teenage pregnancies it is worth noting that rates of under 18-year-olds becoming pregnant fell by 13.3% since 1999. This is credited to the last government’s teenage pregnancy strategy which was launched in 1999 and included provision of counselling and information services. The rate of under 18 conception fell by 5.9% in one year between 2008-2009. The ONS shows British teenage pregnancy rates at the lowest level since the 1980s.

In contrast, the abstinence approach has been widespread in America, resulting in America having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the OECD. There are 9 million new STDs among teens and young adults in America every year and rates of gonorrhoea and chlamydia are high compared to Canada and Western Europe.

Approximately 23% of females and 28% of males received abstinence education without any information on birth control in 2006-8 compared to 8-9% in 1995. 36 American states require sex education to include abstinence whilst 27 require abstinence to be emphasised. However, a review of commonly used abstinence-only curricula found 11 had incorrect, misleading or distorted information (Committee on Government Reform 2004). This report also found that: a) curricula contained false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives; b) curricula gave false information about the risks from abortion; c) curricula blurred religion and science: one lesson claimed that a 43-day-old foetus was a thinking being; d) stereotypes about genders were taught as facts: one lesson taught that women need ‘financial security’ and men need ‘admiration’; and finally, e) scientific errors were being taught as fact. For instance, the idea that sweat and tears carry a risk of HIV infection.

It was found that teenagers who pledged abstinence and then had sex were less likely to use contraception. If teenagers do have sex, they are able to re-pledge abstinence as a ‘born again’ virgin. A dubious concept; a bit like those cheery fridge magnets that say tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.’

At the root of Nadine Dorries’ position is the desire to control young women’s sexual identity and independence. Her actions should be viewed within the context of an attempt to gradually reduce abortion rights. Dorries has also laid down a proposed amendment to Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill. This amendment would insist on independent advice for women seeking a termination. By independent advice she means bodies who do not provide abortions.

This would exclude most of the knowledgeable advice and counselling services, but would leave the path open to anti-abortion organisations such as Life and SPUC to become services women would have to see prior to a termination. Dorries also fails to mention that 20% of women currently seeking terminations at BPAS clinics choose not to proceed after talking to counsellors at their clinics.

If women are to achieve equality they must be able to control their relationships and their fertility. We want our daughters to enter into consenting relationships, where they look after their sexual health and only have children if and when they want them. We want women to be safe on the streets and not to have to depend on a man for financial support. We want women to be able to explore their sexuality however and with whomever they choose. The stereotyped and dangerous abstinence agenda being promoted by Dorries strikes at the heart of those freedoms.