Monday, July 02, 2007

FPA Strikes Back!

It's the very least they could do having given space to Karl Du Fresne's nasty and dishonest attack on FPA, but on Thursday the Dom published the Family Planning Association's reply to Karl Du Fresne.

Some of the good bits:

The Family Planning Association's constant and publicly-stated position is that we encourage young people to delay becoming sexually active until they are emotionally, intellectually and physically ready. That said, we are pragmatic enough to understand that young people will, as they always have, engage in sexual activity and it is the responsibility of parents, schools, Government and organisations such as FPA to provide quality information and services.

The statistics quoted by du Fresne do not reflect those collected by Statistics New Zealand which show that the number of teenage births peaked in the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, 70 out of every 1000 teenagers had a child in any year. By the mid-1980s the figure had fallen to 30 per 1000. Subsequently, it varied between 30 and 35 per 1000 until 1997. The most recent figures, those for 2006, put the teenage pregnancy rate at some 28.5 births for every 1000 teenage girls aged 15 to 19.

That said, we share du Fresne's concerns about New Zealand's teenage pregnancy rate and its implications for the long-term well-being of the child and its young parents.

Abortion statistics have also remained relatively constant, with those for girls aged between 11 and 14 moving between 0.4 per cent and 0.6% between 1991 and 2006. For girls aged between 15 and 19, abortion rates have moved between 19.7% and 22.2% over the same period. In both 2004 and 2005, abortion rates decreased for all women aged 15 years and over, while in 2006 there was a rise of 2.3% over the previous year.

Caution should also be exercised when viewing the statistics on sexually-transmitted infection rates. Infection statistics are rising but this should be balanced against increased numbers of people presenting to sexual health clinics, family planning clinics and student youth health clinics for testing, and against better reporting and recording systems.

Du Fresne suggests that young New Zealanders are "drenched with information about sex and have never had easier access to contraception". The facts, however, do not reflect this view. The cross-party New Zealand Parliamentarians Group on Population Development reported in April this year that despite the Government's sexual and reproductive health strategy and the health and physical education curriculum, sexuality education is inconsistent and young people are facing barriers in accessing sexual health services.

The Family Planning Association believes that parents should be the primary educators of their children around sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, not all parents feel comfortable discussing sex with their children or the conversation just never happens.

Sexual and reproductive health has officially been part of the school curriculum in New Zealand only since 2001. FPA welcomed this development but remains concerned that there is no national standard for this education.

Access to contraception is another part of this equation. For many young people, accessing contraception can be difficult, particularly in rural and provincial New Zealand where anonymity is an issue and service providers are limited. Contraceptive use is a complex behaviour requiring considerable skill in negotiation and repeated motivation to use a method of contraception, so information alone is not sufficient.

Du Fresne's column ended with a personal attack on former FPA executive director Gill Greer. This is the most striking difference between our organisational position and that taken by du Fresne.

Our staff work in a non- judgmental way to offer all New Zealanders the information, the clinical services and support they need at a time when they need it most.

Strangely enough, David Farrar, who linked so swiftly to Du Fresne's original column hasn't got round to linking to the reply. I wonder why?

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