Schools within eight Scottish local authorities who invited an anti-abortion group to speak to pupils failed to provide an alternative, pro-choice voice.

Last year, The Herald revealed that the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children – a Catholic anti-abortion charity which has also opposes hospital buffer zones and equal marriage - had caried out dozens of school visits across several council areas.

Speakers covered topics including abortion, euthanasia, relationships and sexual health, with one school allowing a total of 33 sessions since 2017.

At the time, several councils responded that the SPUC are just one of a number of groups to visit pupils to discuss issues such as abortion. Glasgow City Council told the Herald that young people must be “given the opportunity to hear different perspectives from outside organisations”, while West Dunbartonshire Council claimed that their pupils are “given the opportunity to discuss different perspectives on a range of issues” thanks to “vital” visits from external groups.

However, further investigation has now thrown those claims into doubt and raised concerns that young people’s rights are being breached.

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The Herald asked the eight councils which reported SPUC school visits to confirm which pro-choice organisations had been invited to speak in the same schools. They were also asked to release the names of other organisations brought in to speak about the topics covered by the SPUC speakers.

In almost all cases, the councils confirmed that no such groups had visited the schools in question, meaning that pupils’ only external input on a number of sensitive issues came from the SPUC.

St John Ogilvie High School in South Lanarkshire was part of a Rape Crisis Scotland pilot project called ‘Equally Safe at Schools’, which was launched from the school, advised that the group deliver regular PSE lessons in assemblies. The school is also involved in Education Scotland’s ‘Improving Gender Balance’ programme, which aims to tackle stereotypes, unconscious bias and gender gaps in a range of school subjects.

Taylor High School in North Lanarkshire reported visits by the NHS regarding sexual health and Women’s Aid regarding relationships, but none by pro-choice groups.

None of the remaining schools were able to confirm that pro-choice groups had been invited to speak to pupils. Material released by one council also stated: “The Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) have recommended SPUC’s input when teaching relationships education (Called to Love) as their values and ethics sit comfortably within the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Read more: Anti-abortion group has carried out dozens of school visits

However, Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, told The Herald that lessons on “sensitive issues that relate to rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights” must be handled by “trained professionals in an age-appropriate, sensitive, and objective manner."

He said: “Local authorities and the Scottish Government, which has overall responsibility, must ensure that the content of sessions provided by external organisations are age-appropriate, rights-based and consistent with the principles and approach of the Curriculum for Excellence.

“If a session does not meet these criteria, it should not go ahead.”

He added that balancing a session or speaker with an alternative perspective at another time or later date is still “not sufficient to discharge the Government's or the local authority's duties and does not respect children's rights.”

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, also argues that “complex topics”, including abortion, “must be presented by professional teachers with appropriate resources and training or by healthcare professionals. Abortion is a matter of healthcare and women's reproductive rights.


“Humanist Society Scotland is alarmed to learn that almost none of the schools which allowed faith-based anti-abortion group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children to talk to their pupils were visited by pro-choice groups during the same period. We are often told that religious groups deserve a say on abortion in the interests of "balance." Clearly that has not happened here, to the detriment of young people's education and rights.

“We support teaching about faith-based worldviews in religious and philosophical education or similar parts of the curriculum. But the fact that SPUC was allowed to present its one sided campaign material as healthcare education is totally unacceptable.”

In response to The Herald, local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, highlighted that the religious education syllabus in denominational schools within their area is set by the local diocese or archdiocese, in this case the Archdiocese of Glasgow.

Spokespersons for Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Dundee City Council stated that schools enjoy a degree of autonomy, with the Glasgow statement explaining “headteachers will continue to make the decisions on what is delivered as part of the learning and teaching of their young people which includes visiting organisations to complement the curriculum.”

A spokesperson for West Dunbartonshire Council confirmed that SPUC last visited a local school in 2019 and there are no current bookings or future plans to work with the charity: “We are committed to ensuring our pupils leave school with the knowledge and understanding to make well-informed choices in life.

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“As such we provide various opportunities for them to consider different perspectives on a range of topics. This includes balanced exploration of both pro-life and pro-choice themes included as part of the curricular sexual health and relationships programme in secondary schools.

“In addition, our Pastoral Care staff are available to offer advice while supporting and encouraging pupils to make independent life choices.”

Highlighting the case of St John Ogilvie High a spokesperson for South Lanarkshire Council said: “Our original response was accurate. While there was a limited input from SPUC to three of our schools, the visit by another external organisation does show that our schools invite other groups to discuss a range of issues.

“It is also worth noting that topics such as abortion, sexual health, relationships, euthanasia, sexual identity are also considered as part of the curriculum within the context of denominational schools.”

Ann Davie, Depute Chief Executive of East Dunbartonshire Council, also told The Herald: “Young people in our schools are encouraged and supported to consider and discuss a range of real-world subjects and issues, as an extension of the curriculum. This can include visits by external organisations and consideration of relevant materials from a range of sources and viewpoints. Any discussion of sensitive and challenging life issues is conducted in a supportive environment, with pupils encouraged to seek additional help, support or information if they require it."

A spokesperson for the SPUC insisted that the organisation conducts visits “under the approval and supervision of the teachers who invite us into their classes” and that it “always complies with any requirements set out by schools in relation to our work with them.”

They added: “SPUC upholds freedom of speech and recognises the importance of a society where differing opinions can be explored and challenged. Pro-abortion activists appear committed to dismantling freedom of speech by continuously attempting to censor pro-life people and views. Pro-abortion efforts to censor conversation which does not comply with the abortion narrative sadly indicates the unwillingless of abortion activists to work alongside pro-life groups and people who believe that each human life has value.”