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Nadine Dorries MP wants to stop women having sex

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Summary and comment on story from Liberal Conspiracy, via The F Word, May 4, 2011.

British Conservative MP Nadine Dorries today put forward a motion in Parliament proposing the introduction of abstinence-only sex education for teenage girls.

It was passed with 67 for and 61 against, meaning that it will receive a second reading in January.

The motion is short, and reads as follows in its entirety:

‘Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.’

Ms Dorries is known for her previous and ongoing attempts to restrict access to abortion in Britain.

Along with Labour MP Frank Field, Ms Dorries is currently attempting to muster support for an amendment to the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill which would promote counselling from an ‘independent’ provider to women seeking an abortion (see earlier WVoN story).

The emphasis on the provider’s ‘independence’ has troubled feminists.

Ms Dorries states that ‘independence’ should mean the counselling body does not also provide abortions, suggesting that they have a financial motivation for persuading women to end their pregnancy.

This definition of ‘independence’ would exclude respected organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) from couselling women.

The similarity between Ms Dorries’ amendments and trends in a number of US states towards abstinence-only education and anti-abortion legislation appears to not be accidental. She has stated her admiration for right-wing American politicians like Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin in the New Statesman and on her blog.

WVoN comment: Giving abstinence-only sex education to girls would unfairly shift all responsibility for preventing pregnancy and STD transmission onto their shoulders.

Ms Dorries’ proposal also revives assumptions about male and female ‘nature’ that should have been left behind long ago. Girls are presumed to be a more receptive audience for abstinence-only sex education because of the ‘natural’ female lack of interest in sexual expression, while men could not hope to understand the idea of abstinence, being, as they of course are, sex-crazed monsters, entirely at the mercy of their pathological desire.

Although Ms Dorries’ amendment doesn’t propose the wholesale replacement of today’s sex education with an abstinence-only programme, it singles out abstinence for special promotion, and this is a problematic approach when, as Sunny Hundal notes, abstinence-only education can lead to harmful ignorance and misinformation.

Before we start the picket outside Parliament, it is worth remembering the complexity and long-windedness of the British Parliamentary system and on this occasion, being thankful for it.

Ms Dorries proposed her motion using a procedure called a Ten Minute Rule Bill. Such Bills rarely pass into law because of limited Commons time. However, they do provide a useful barometer of parliamentary opinion on a given subject.

The most concerning aspect of this vote is therefore perhaps not the Bill itself, but what the support it found indicates about dominant Government attitudes towards women’s ability to make our own life decisions.

That many members of this Government would be in favour of an amendment for abstinence-only education proposed by Nadine Dorries will not come as a surprise to many, given the voting habits of prominent Conservatives when it comes to Ms Dorries’ other favourite topic, abortion.

The pro-choice majority in Britain must organise and remain watchful, to make sure that access to abortion and accurate information about sex are two things the Government can’t tamper with while activists’ attention is focused on its broader programme of spending cuts.

  1. Completely agree about the worrying level of support for this. The problem about rising inequality between the richest and the poorest is that it shows itself partly through a massive backlash against progressive social movements.

    Wealth inequality means inequality for all.

    “Before we start the picket outside Parliament, it is worth remembering the complexity and long-windedness of the British Parliamentary system and on this occasion, being thankful for it.”

    Hell yeah to that. Is anyone keeping an eye on the Localism Bill Committee stages at the moment – yeah, OK, probably just me then, I have a problem with insomnia. It’s worth keeping track of the reason why our political process works so slowly sometimes, the objections and proposed amendments to this Bill make fascinating reading. Privatisation by the back door, anyone?

    Nice article Hannah 🙂

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment.

      I very much agree with your point about inequality and progressive movements. Women have a lot to be concerned about in the government’s ‘reforms’, especially given the hostility towards women that has been stirred up by the media’s presentation of the economic crisis as having solely affected men. The government has been playing to their core conservative vote recently (Willetts on feminism, Cameron on immigration); Dorries has clearly sensed the mood and realised that it’s a good time to come creeping out of the backbench woodwork.

      I have been watching the Localism Bill on and off, perhaps not so closely as you! The doublespeak name is horrifying.

      I’ve found our snail’s pace system frustrating in the past, but in this case I think I’ve realised how it can work to our advantage. It seemed worth pointing out some political nuts and bolts here, since a lot of the talk on twitter was much more panicked than it needed to be. It’s not ideal that her Bill got this much support, but it’s not law yet, and I don’t really think it ever will be.

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