The Irish Times published an article last month about their undercover investigation of a pregnancy counselling service in Dublin, which claims to provide impartial counselling and information to pregnant women who are conflicted about the decisions they must make. In such a scenario, these women are often extremely vulnerable and in need of proper care and guidance to help them make a well-informed decision about what to do. Now imagine if you are in that situation and are told that having an abortion will lead to not only breast cancer (an unfortunately common, but scientifically incorrect myth) but will also increase the likelihood of you becoming a child abuser if/when you do decide to have children, also not true. Being fed such information, when already in a vulnerable state, leads to more confusion for the woman and ultimately may result in a decision being made out of fear rather than it being a free choice. The reporter for the undercover investigation went under the pretence of being someone who had made up their mind and needed advice on accessing abortion, yet the clinic still showed her pictures of aborted foetuses in an attempt to influence her decision, against non-directive counselling best practice guidelines.
Unfortunately, what has been described by the Irish Minister for Health as ‘very alarming and very worrying’ is not an isolated incident – these independent counselling services exist in all parts of the UK and Ireland, with this specific service alone having clinics in 5 other major cities – Cork, Galway, Sligo, London and Bristol – and all share the same goal of misinforming pregnant women towards staying pregnant. A study by Education for Choice in 2014 investigated the counselling procedure in the 135 unregulated ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’ in the UK, revealing the worrying statistic that ’38 out of the 135 CPCs gave some sort of misinformation about physical health and abortion’ about the advice and guidance given to women seeking abortions. As expected, the age-old myth that abortion leads to breast cancer was used in an attempt to misguide these women (a link that has been proven to not exist yet still continues to be used by anti-choice protesters) but also many centres claimed that abortion causes infertility with some stating a risk of 25%. A shocking 53 centres put forward the concept of ‘Post-Abortion Syndrome’ – an entirely fabricated illness likened to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and used by these centres as a way of further manipulating advice-seeking women.
False medical information is only the start, with many of these clinics offering ‘advice’ with an underlying religious or moral influence that contained judgements about women considering or having an abortion. It doesn’t help that one of the leading anti-abortion campaigns, LIFE, also goes to great lengths to influence the public in claiming that abortion is something that ‘no woman ever wants’. Some go as far as to offer ultrasound scans and admit to this being a tool to help deter women from deciding to proceed with an abortion – The Central London Women’s Centre clearly states that the reason they offer ultrasounds is due to the fact that ‘One Pregnancy Centre in the USA reported that 90% of their clients kept their babies after seeing them on ultrasound… showing them their own baby is an even more profound experience’. Of course, ultrasounds are often carried out at abortion clinics but they are done by a registered health practitioner and in a discreet way that makes no attempt to influence the mindset of the pregnant woman – they are used only to confirm the dates of the pregnancy and help determine what treatments are available.
Something clearly needs to happen about the prevalence of these clinics – accessing non-judgemental, free, and most importantly correct information is key to the experience of women seeking an abortion or seeking advice to help her make a well-informed decision. If these clinics are allowed to continue misguiding and manipulating women without regulation, it is a real worry about what steps women will take when confronted with important life decisions. Seeing as these clinics are not in anyway associated with or funded by the NHS, it seems fitting that actual pregnancy counselling services that are NHS approved such as BPAS are the ones being promoted by GPs and hospitals, not these CPCs. That way, women can be confident in the fact they are receiving impartial and correct information and advice when making their decision about their own body.
Not only are we at Abortion Rights passionate about safe and legal abortions across the UK, we are also dedicated to spreading the true facts about abortion so that women can make educated decisions themselves, rather than be pressured into a situation out of fear or shame, and we stand in solidarity with the Irish women who travel here every day for their abortions. The sad reality is that some of these organisations, such as Alma Pregnancy Advisory Service, Alternatives in Watford, and the Central London Women’s Centre actually target schools/young people and offer speeches/workshops in an attempt to spread their incorrect and harmful information. We are calling for a ban on schools hosting organisations that do not give out accurate information, in order to prevent their attempts to subtly manipulate young people. Help us spread the word about these clinics that are psychologically harassing vulnerable women by writing to your MP, and help us put an end to their lying.
For more information and to join the campaign visit the Abortion Rights website: www.abortionrights.org.uk