At the heart of the prochoice movement is the principle of treating people who need abortions with respect, acknowledging that they know their own minds, and are the best judges of what is right for them. In order to make decisions about reproduction, it’s important that people have accurate and factual information – which is why crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) are so insidious.
A crisis pregnancy centre is a place purporting to offer unbiased counselling and information to anyone facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. But all too often, CPCs are venues used by anti-abortion groups to try and ‘persuade’ clients out of opting for an abortion, by giving out misinformation about the supposed ‘risks’ of abortion, and/or by using manipulation during supposedly ‘non-directional’ counselling sessions.
It’s hard to write about crisis pregnancy centres in some ways, because it’s hard to believe that the UK – with its prochoice majority (outside Northern Ireland, at least), its lack of overt religiosity in public discourse, its ‘live and let live’ attitudes to personal decisions – has a thriving network of CPCs. But they’re distributing misinformation in UK towns and cities every day, and far too many people aren’t aware of their existence, let alone their activities. The public might have an idea of what CPCs get up to in the US, which has over 4,000 of them, but many people simply have no idea that they’re a huge issue on this side of the Atlantic, too
Last year, Education For Choice published a report on CPCs, with around a third of the UK’s 140 or so centres visited by mystery shoppers. You already probably have an idea what the volunteer shoppers were told, but here it is again: abortion will give you breast cancer (nope), make you infertile (nuh-uh), and make you depressed (er, no) – Abortion Rights’ page here debunks all of these hoary and insidious myths. Overall, the report found that “[the] majority of centres mystery shopped were found to be giving misleading information on the mental and physical health outcomes of abortion, and/or using inappropriate language and emotional manipulation when it came to discussing pregnancy options”.
In the wake of EFC’s report, self-described “pro life” charity Care Confidential cut its ties with its network of CPCs. Then, earlier this year, Care Confidential closed down entirely – we’ll have to wait until its accounts are put up on the Charity Commission’s site to get a fuller picture of the reasons behind its closure.
Good news, right? Well, in some ways, obviously yes – but in others, not so much. Have all of Care Confidential’s former CPCs closed, or have they stayed open, just with local management rather than a parent body which was, at least, accredited by the BACP? It’s very telling that Care Confidential’s old site now redirects to a directory of crisis pregnancy centres, so all the places which previously linked to CC – including NHS Choices – now link to this directory, meaning people looking for help, advice and counselling around having an abortion could end up being manipulated and unnecessarily distressed by a CPC counsellor who is ideologically opposed to abortion in any/all circumstances. For a directory of CPCs run by prochoice volunteers, click here. And if you know of a CPC in your local area that’s not listed, please tell EFC and Abortion Rights about it – you could even mystery shop it if you want. The more information we have on CPCs, the better. With some CPCs receiving generous donations from anti-abortion activists, we really can’t afford to be complacent.
Joanna Tacon, AR Executive Committee Member