MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 12-Feb-14 11:53:28

Guest post: "Abortion can lead to sexual abuse": why pregnancy 'crisis' centres must stop misleading women

A report published by sexual health charity Brook today reveals that anti-abortion 'Crisis Pregnancy Centres' have been advising women that abortion can lead to a greater risk of breast cancer and mental illness. In a separate investigation by the Telegraph, a counsellor was filmed claiming that women who have abortions are more likely to go on to sexually abuse children.

In this guest post, Laura Hurley of Brook's Education For Choice project says that the organisations involved must stop misleading women - and that NHS must think again about promoting their services.

Do read the post and tell us what you think on the thread below.

Laura Hurley

Education for Choice

Posted on: Wed 12-Feb-14 11:53:28

(48 comments )

Lead photo

Clinics are telling women that abortion leads to cancer and mental illness

Yesterday, we published a report about the practice of ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’ (CPCs) in the UK. CPCs are pregnancy counselling centres which operate independently of the NHS. Before the recent flurry of press attention around these centres you might never have heard this term, but do a quick Google search and you’re likely to find information from reproductive rights groups in the U.S. outlining the tactics some CPCs use to ‘mislead and manipulate women’.

Set-up by anti-abortion groups with the intention of scaring women out of having abortions, these centres now have a reputation in the States for providing medical misinformation and directive 'counselling' to potentially vulnerable women.

Unfortunately our investigation into CPCs in the UK finds that some of the same tactics are being used over here. We identified 135 CPCs in the UK and recruited young women to volunteer as 'mystery shoppers' at just under a quarter of these centres. The majority (though certainly not all) of the centres visited were found to be providing 'counselling' that was misleading and/or biased and unprofessional.

For example, at a centre in Oxford run by the anti-abortion organisation LIFE, the counsellor claimed that "the increase in the possibility of breast cancer following termination of pregnancy" had been "reported with quite strong evidence". Cancer Research UK – the gold standard when it comes to evidence-based information on cancer – states that "pregnancies that end in miscarriage or abortion do not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer."

We need to make sure that women with unplanned 'crisis' pregnancies are given the support they need to make informed choices, not scare tactics and misinformation.


A number of counsellors working at centres run by Care Confidential, the largest provider of CPCs in the UK, focused on purported negative mental health outcomes of abortion. A counsellor at one of their centres claimed that abortion could lead to anger and depression, "and as an extreme we understand that termination has been linked to crime."

Many of Care Confidential’s counsellors also mentioned 'post-abortion trauma', an invented condition which is not recognised by any medical bodies. A systematic review of abortion and mental health outcomes found that "the rates of mental health problems were the same whether (women) had an abortion or gave birth.” In other words, the evidence strongly indicates that abortion does not cause mental health problems.

Other 'counsellors' exhibited extremely unprofessional and – in several instances – unethical practice by sharing their own experiences of abortion, their religious views or value judgements on abortion, parenting and adoption. For example, one Care Confidential counsellor in Reading told the mystery shopper: “I do believe that God gives the gift of a baby.”

The anti-abortion organisation LIFE, which runs 26 CPCs in the UK, claims to provide ‘non-directive counseling'. But its 2012 accounts tell a different story, acknowledging quite frankly that LIFE are not reaching their goal of 'saving lives' of the 'unborn', since it’s "not reaching many who are the prime 'target' of our service, namely, women in danger of going down the abortion road."

Another CPC, set up by an anti-abortion organisation named Foundation For Life offers women ultrasound scans. This centre, the Tyneside Pregnancy Advice Centre, is clear that its motivations for doing so are to persuade pregnant women not to choose abortion:

"Focus on the Family estimate that up to 75% of women who see a scan of their baby will decide to proceed with the pregnancy… We have heard of about 20 women who have decided to keep their baby after their visit to the centre – some have already given birth. How encouraging to think that these lives have been spared and mothers protected from the trauma of abortion."

We are extremely concerned that women with unplanned pregnancies, looking for support with decision-making, are ending up at centres which are employing such tactics. In 2013 LIFE received a grant of almost £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, in part towards this type of counselling work. Many of these organisations also provide school workshops on pregnancy and abortion and a young person who doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of nearby sexual health services – and how many young people do? - may well end up at such a centre after an internet search for advice. Care Confidential is signposted on the NHS Choices page on abortion, lending it credibility as a pregnancy counselling service, which unfortunately is not evidenced in some of its centres' services.

Our report calls for the organisations which promote and signpost to CPCs to fully assess the information they are giving, their affiliations and ethos. Any which are found not to be providing good quality, evidence-based information and impartial support should not be recommended or signposted to. We need to make sure that women with unplanned 'crisis' pregnancies are given the support they need to make informed choices, not scare tactics and misinformation.

By Laura Hurley

Twitter: @EdForChoice

Lego (x-post) I know it maybe seems nit-picky, because I don't agree with clinics saying the cancer or child abuse things either. But it is possible for an article to be right about some things, but very wrong on others, and I don't see the problem in pointing those things out.
It would have been possible to make the same point without the dodgy mental health misguidance.
And as I said before, there is far more awareness of the stress of raising children/PND - no one is denying that those things exist (not even LIFE) where as these people ARE denying that mental health problems after abortion exist. Which is very offensive.

OddFodd Wed 12-Feb-14 20:25:30

Pregnantberry - It's not anywhere near as black and white as you're making out. Firstly, pro-choice clinics are just that - pro-*choice*. They allow you to come to your own decision in my experience by providing proper (ie listening) counselling. A clinic which is anti-abortion is not providing proper counselling, it has an agenda.

OddFodd Wed 12-Feb-14 20:26:39

Oops pressed post too soon

Secondly, I had an abortion. It wasn't easy but it was the right decision for me at the time. I'm sad that I had to make that decision but I don't regret it

Odd but I think pro-choice clinics are a good thing as well. I was complaining that this article, in specific, is pushing an agenda. Where was I black and white? It's great that you don't regret your abortion, but it doesn't change the fact that some women do.

pomdereplay Wed 12-Feb-14 21:10:16

Over a year ago, our local Waitrose (Chichester) chose to support Care Confidential as one of their monthly charity causes. I complained to manager, pointed out their hideous agenda, and was completely -- and rather rudely brushed off. Glad to see a spotlight being put on this disturbing issue.

Namechanger012345 Wed 12-Feb-14 21:45:06

Good posts from pregnant berry.

It is awful if organisations are scare mongering and talking nonsense about risks of cancer etc which do not exist, and the talk about child abuse is so clearly offensive and outrageous. These centres have a responsibility to give correct information. I do think though that it is not a bad thing to talk more about possible emotional consequences of abortions.

I just want to share some of my experience, I had an abortion which I was very unsure about doing, it was a head v heart thing as I'm sure it is for many women. I went with abortion for 'head' reasons but emotionally I found it unbearable and I now clearly feel I should have had my baby.

I believe every one should be free to choose. However I find it quite shocking how people when defending pro choice can try to make out that abortion is a quick and simple procedure that won't affect you, and it feels dismissive (to me as someone who is hugely suffering with crippling regret that affects my life every day) to brush off any mention of abortion causing mental health problems. Of course it will not always lead to depression or any issues, but I know that it can do, especially if the woman is feeling emotionally unsure about going ahead. I strongly feel that this possible consequence of abortion should not be ignored and needs to be talked about.

I think people can be so quick to defend pro choice - and I do think it is good to defend choice - that they really play down abortion and make out you shouldn't be affected. I think it needs to be acknowledged that although abortion can be simple and emotionally painless, it absolutely can be something very traumatic, very sad and have lasting emotional effects. the people like me who are suffering can be made to feel ashamed for their grief, or feel like there is something stupid or wrong with them for hurting so much following this "simple" procedure.

In my experience I actually felt abortion was presented to me as the default and was pushed, as medical professionals seemed to assume that was what I should do or would obviously do, as I was a student. Organisations providing abortions, such as Marie stopes and bpas provide such basic counselling which is presented as a box to tick on the way to the inevitable abortion. I agree that it would be nice if counselling/advice was balanced but actually in my recent experience I would say the bias comes down much more heavily pro abortion than pro life.

As for the organisations in the OP I use a counselling service provided by care confidential. They make it very clear from the outset that they are a religious Christian based organization, it is on their website and at the first meeting they ask if you have any religious beliefs. I said I do not, and so religion was never brought into it. I used this counselling service following abortion rather than at the point of making the decision, and there is no sense of judgement from them that I have done something wrong. I feel that I have made a huge mistake but my counsellor through this organisation tries to help me accept it and not see it as a wrong, it is definitely a pro choice perspective.

I will listen to the women's hour discussion with interest

joanofarchitrave Wed 12-Feb-14 22:23:21

Biwi because Life could mean practically anything, including that their agenda was to help me think about my life.

Of course most people know where Life are coming from, but I don't think their name says it all. SPUC is much more direct.

Namechanger012345 Wed 12-Feb-14 22:36:51

Just listened to the women's hour piece and I do think care confidential came across a bit weak, knowing about poor standards in centres for years and not having properly taken action to improve centres or disaffiliate from dodgy ones. Also was surprised that they stated they are secular. I remember that when I first looked on their website last summer they definitely had a religious reference, which now seems to have been removed. However I really can only say good things about the care confidential centre I have been to (a north london one) which has been a great support to me.

Robbabank Wed 12-Feb-14 23:59:21

The title of this thread is hugely misleading! A quick glance would give readers the impression that the quote that "abortion leads to sexual abuse" is fact. This is a very poorly worded title.

Please change thread title!

BOFtastic Thu 13-Feb-14 00:09:42

This has been going on for years. I find it utterly abhorrent that these anti-choice groups take advantage of the low priority the government places on proper reproductive health advice, and put themselves forward as "counsellors", and even educators in our schools (how many of us had to sit through the Silent Scream propaganda video?). It's a disgrace.

NumptyNameChange Thu 13-Feb-14 09:31:41

oh my god - i just watched that video! unbelievable.

that is outrageous.

making out there is a causative correlation between abortion and sexual abuse on the basis that a tiny percentage of the tiny percentage of women who sexually abuse have also had an abortion? hmm i wonder if for one example of a billion possibilities it could be that women who have been incestuously sexually abused and have repeated that behaviour in their own family later on had an abortion because they were impregnated by that sexual abuse as a child? re: the causative and central factor was abuse NOT abortion?

i'm really shocked by this.

NumptyNameChange Thu 13-Feb-14 09:33:50

agreed BOF - maybe less people would experience nightmares after a termination if they hadn't been tortured with that propaganda as a teen?

i did have guilt and mental health problems after an abortion - it wasn't because 'abortion' causes that but because being raised by a mental narcissistic catholic mother had programmed me to feel like shit about anything and everything let alone an abortion.

NumptyNameChange Thu 13-Feb-14 09:48:13

oh and actually it probably wasn't aided by the fact that the GP i went to see to talk about my options with turned out to be a Catholic who decided to tell me his thoughts about abortion and refuse to advise me, of all the GPs in the world..... grin

UnityMot Thu 13-Feb-14 12:02:55

@Pregnantberry

Firstly, it condemns clinics for talking about the mental anguish some women go through after abortion. A LOT of women go through abortions and regret it, and I am not a mental health professional, but I'm sure the idea that abortions do not lead to mental health problems could be hotly debated rather than easily dismissed in the way this article does.

No.

What is being condemned here is the wholesale misrepresentation of the evidence relating to abortion and mental health, i.e. false claims that abortion places women at a much greater risk of developing subsequent mental problems that women who carry pregnancies to term. This is just not true; the largest and most comprehensive systematic review of the evidence relating to abortion and mental health, conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, found no significant difference between the prevalence of long-term mental health problem in women who had an abortion and that for women who had carried their pregnancy/pregnancies to term.

Yes, many women do experience feelings of regret after having and abortion, but also feelings of relief and whole range of other emotions besides. This is a perfectly normal short-term reaction to what many women find a difficult experience, and I don't just mean the abortion itself but everything else that goes with having an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

However, the proportion of women who experience significant levels of emotional distress, sufficient to place them at an increased risk of developing a long-term mental health problem, is actually very small and current best estimates suggest only around 2% of women express any long term regrets, i.e. that they fell they made the wrong decision in having an abortion, compared to around 90% of women who, long-term, express the view that they made the right choice in terminating their unwanted pregnancy.

There is a profound difference between ethical practice in abortion counselling, which entails giving women clear, factually accurate information on risk associated based on the best current clinical evidence and, incidentally, looking for indications in the client's behaviour, demeanour and medical history which might indicate a higher than normal risk necessitating a offer of referral on for further counselling or an increased need for post-abortion support and the kind of unethical conduct uncovered by Education for Choice in which false information is given by anti-abortion 'counsellors' in an effort to directly influence their decision and persuade them against having an abortion.

Counselling should be non-directive and provide an opportunity for women arrive at their own decision on what's best for them, free of any external influences or pressures; that is not what the CPC's highlighted in the report are providing and that is why they have no business providing these kinds of services.

BIWI Thu 13-Feb-14 13:31:39

Great post `unityMot

TeaAndHugs Thu 13-Feb-14 17:59:40

Is there any way to get these organisations shut down? I feel as though it shouldn't be legal to lie to people about medical procedures. Some of these women might die or be left disabled as a result of carrying a high risk pregnancy to term, mistakenly thinking that abortion is even more dangerous.

NiceTabard Thu 13-Feb-14 22:32:10

I find the idea that in our society, the risks v benefits of giving birth v abortion, or the options, are presented in the same way, laughable!

So.

You go into the doctor's surgery and say, hello doctor I'm pregnant, they say, I'll refer you on to the midwives etc. great.

They do NOT say (unless they have a very good reason) - have you considered an abortion? Are you sure you want to go through with this pregnancy? I have leaflets about the prevalence of mental health problems , during and after pregnancy. Post-partum psychosis is rare, but it happens. 1 in 10 get post-natal depression. Your career prospects and earning power will likely be affected. And I need to talk to you about what giving birth might do to your body. Have you thought this through? You might want to do that and come back next week, there's no rush making your mind up.

Go into the doctor and say, hello doctor I'm pregnant and I want an abortion. And you're immediately into, well there are things you need to go through to get that agreed. You will need to talk to someone about it. - And if they are one of these organisations you will get biased info about how abortion might harm you etc......

The very idea that there is a "pro-abortion" stance in our country is LUDICROUS. Giving birth is the default and no-one spells out alternatives or possible consequences.

Pff to the whole thing TBH.

Quangle Thu 13-Feb-14 22:33:32

nicetabard I am following you around the threads today, applauding grin

NiceTabard Thu 13-Feb-14 22:33:54

Oh and yes they should all be shut down. If that wasn't clear.

Shocking. Setting up in order to manipulate vulnerable women into doing things they don't want to, with their own bodies. There's a name for people like that...

NiceTabard Thu 13-Feb-14 22:34:37

Quangle grin I appear to be on form tonight grin

Namechanger012345 Thu 13-Feb-14 22:40:57

Nice tabard I assume that was in response to me and in many cases yes they very certainly do say have you considered an abortion!

As soon as I got my pregnancy confirmed (at a clinic as I was unable to get access to a GP surgery as at the time they were refusing to register me due to my address falling between catchment areas) I was immediately sent to speak to a counsellor who not only asked if I had considered abortion but assumed that was what i wanted until I said no, it's an option but certainly not what I "want" to do and has by no means been decided.

Perhaps this is not what happens if you walk into doctors/medical centres pregnant and middle aged, married etc but for me as a youngish student that is what happened.

Quangle Thu 13-Feb-14 22:49:34

I'm surprised that that happened to you namechanger but nicetabard is right with her observation overall. Those of us who do have terminations often have to fight for them. I had one for genetic abnormality reasons and my first doctor told me to go and get counselling and come back in three weeks (I absolutely didn't need or want counselling, was a 38 yo woman with a very clear sense of what I wanted to do and was already 15 weeks pg). I ended up having to go private and having to walk past some horrible protestors outside the abortion clinic. Most women who give birth don't have to go through all that crap. .

And how many cultural references have you ever seen to termination as an ok choice. Even that faux liberal film Juno flaked out and went for the adoption ending. Plus no one talks about it (apart from on here). Literally millions of ordinary British women have had abortions and no one speaks about it.

NiceTabard Thu 13-Feb-14 23:09:15

Namechanger it wasn't aimed at anyone!

I am sorry that you had random interventions based on how you were perceived by HCP. That is shitty.

The point I was trying to make was that to have an abortion by law women need to talk to more than one person to get them to agree, and have a talk about pros and cons and other options etc. All women, not just ones who HCPs decide need it.

Off the back of that, that is a good point. Are women who suffer peri-natal psychological problems separated out when they come with a subsequent pregnancy and warned about risks and given options and stuff? No, I don't think so, and certainly not as a matter of law.

In our society (as in most around the world I imagine) having the baby is the default and there are laws and protocols in place for people who want to veer away from that societal norm. In places where it isn't (eg programs to talk to young girls in areas with high levels of sexual coercion etc) there is a good reason for it. Or alternatively it never happens as abortion is not a legal option.

NumptyNameChange Fri 14-Feb-14 16:37:24

they are laughable. SO concerned about women's mental health and difficulties - do they then go work in pnd services? campaign to ensure pregnant women get good ante natal care and mental health treatment and support where needed? do they focus on campaigning for better support for new mums or breastfeeding mentors?

do they fuck. they focus on the miniscule number of women who suffer mental health issues after abortion. issues that may or may not be related to the abortion itself as they may be related to societal attitudes to abortion, may be related to the circumstances of the unwanted conception or BIG surprise here - may be related to the same issues that meant they chose an abortion (re: being skint, being in an abusive relationship, unsuitable housing, conception through rape, insert million other factors).

oh and they are SO pro life and pro babies that surely they spend their spare time campaigning for better benefits and societal support or child care or flexible working or ANYTHING practical at all for those women they're so keen to guilt out of having abortions? you would wouldn't you? and surely they must spend the rest of their spare time in anti war protests, denouncing the use of drones, weeping for the thousands of civilians being thrown in mass graves? no??

unless in fact you weren't pro LIFE at all and didn't actually give a flying fuck about living people at all.

they are fetus worshippers and anti choice. pro life is a total misnomer.

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