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.
Education for Choice
Posted on: Wed 12-Feb-14 11:53:28
(48 comments )
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
That's disgusting. I hope the NHS investigates and then rejects any CPCs that display such outrageous behaviour
I heard the secret recordings on Womens Hour this morning. I could not believe my ears. Truly shocking
The NHS should stop investigate this.
This is appalling.
They should not be promoted by the NHS as "a recognised counselling provider"
I'm but, sadly, not surprised.
I've seen some awful posts from the anti-abortion crew on Mumsnet, so not really surprised that these tactics are being used.
They should not be allowed to make these links with the NHS or to pretend that they are objective.
And schools should not allow these people in either
I was appalled to hear this on Woman's Hour this morning
I had no idea this was going on. Scary.
I am sure this will be unpopular, but I had two problems with this article.
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. Making getting an abortion sound as easy as getting a tooth extracted which will never cause mental side effects is just as irresponsible as misleading women on pro-life grounds. It might be easy for some women, but not for all.
Secondly, I think I know the LIFE clinic in Oxford which it talks about, I used to see it advertised when I lived there, and it was made clear that it was for women who were unsure about going down the abortion route - LIFE, in general, does not hide that it is anti-abortion as an organization. LIFE provides support for women who do not agree with abortion but are having trouble with the pregnancy, it serves a purpose, there are women who need that service. Similarly, I am sceptical that the Reading councillor would have provided a religious opinion without being asked. That would have made an atheist run a mile. It seems misleading to me. If a woman is experiencing conflict on religious grounds, then talking about what the Christian line on abortion is seems entirely relevant - but we will never know because it is quoted with no context given.
The abortion service round here is appalling, in the sense that very young women are shifted fair distances to neighbouring towns because locals doctors wont sign, and the local BPAS cant get two signatories locally, even though they have an office.
Every person I know who has had an abortion has not got over it, even after having DC. I woman I know who is late 70's still can't get over it.
There is a place for telling the truth that abortion can lead to depression and long term guilt feelings.
I had an abortion- and I have 'got over it' in the sense it was the best decision at the time and continues to be. Having unwanted children, and no control over your own body, can also lead to depression and long term guilt.
In fact, I'd rather go through a 20 minute procedure than a lifetime of knowing I'd brought an unloved and unwanted child into the world.
The op point was not that there was no anguish or depression thru abortion - but that there is no evidence to say the mental after effects of abortion were greater or lessor than having that child - which I believe to be true
If you are considering abortion, the reason you are considering don't disappear on birth
But Spike, most people who regret their abortions regret it because they would have loved their child and part of them did want it even if it was unplanned.
I think that the reason Elderberri doesn't know anyone like yourself who doesn't regret their abortion might be because people who have had an abortion and put it behind them are less likely to want to talk to someone about it later in life. But still, her point remains that there are a lot of women who do regret it, and this article makes it sound like they are just a pro-life myth - they aren't.
Um, if you go to LIFE to work out whether you want an abortion, I'd say you had made your decision before walking through the door, really.
Are people really surprised that LIFE has a pro-life agenda?
And it's a surprise that they aren't reaching their target audience of people who want an abortion - presumably because they know that LIFE are going to try and talk them out of it? At least there are some sensible folk left.
It does seem slightly odd that these places are supposed to be a bastion of choice counselling. I'd put the problem squarely on the shoulders of the fools that decided to include them on that list though, not the actual counsellor a and organisations who have never hidden their pro-life agenda.
Sure, it's tacky to use underhand methods to try and convince women to carry unwanted babies to term, but they've always done it.
They aren't a myth, of course. Some women do suffer from mental health issues after abortion. On the other hand, some women who have babies suffer from post-natal depression, post-natal psychosis, and generally from the stresses caused by family life. So it's wrong of a clinic to only talk about the possible results of one side of the story - that's misleading women and pushing their own agenda.
I know loads of women who've had abortions and never regretted it once.
Thank you for a really interesting (and shocking) poat but please can you change the thread title? It reads either way and could potentially mislead a lot od women who do not want to click in
Horrendous, I hadn't heard of any of these clinics except LIFE ....which rather gives away it's agenda in the name.
Mental health? I would say that many women regret going through a termination.....even if the decision was the right one at the time. My Mum for example still expresses sadness about the baby she didn't have....despite her decision being made for all the right reasons at the time. I am pro choice....my Mum is pro choice too but she still feels a sense of sadness. This is not mental illness though....it is a feeling if sadness, regret, a wondering of what might have been. Normal feelings of grief in other words.
The answer to this is better after care and the recognition that for some women this might be needed long into the future. I don't think it is wrong to shy away from the fact that a termination is a big thing and for many women is a massive decision. Naturally women might have distressing feelings long into the future after the procedure.
The clinics could and should highlight this in the right way though....."some women will feel sadness well into the future and there are services which can support you if affected".
As for the sexual abuse claim....just
Why the hell is the Big Lottery fund giving grants to this organisation if they are not giving unbiased independent councelling?
And for every woman with mental health problems because she had an abortion there's another who has mental health problems because she didn't. Giving birth to and bringing up a child when you don't really want to is no walk in the park for mental health either.
I have had an abortion and never regretted it for one second. Nor have those of my friends who've been down the same route. Straw polls of our immediate circles are neither here nor there.
These clinics are very harmful.
I don't think Life does give away its agenda in its name.
Up to a third of women who have a child suffer mental health problems: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/10October/Pages/call-for-postnatal-depression-support.aspx It is not the good mental health option! I know of a couple of people who had such severe PND (postnatal psychosis) they had to have residential care. Obviously no-one would say 'don't have a child because you might have mental health problems' and yet the effect can be terrible, not just for the mother but also for the child. At least with any regret around an abortion it only affects the parent(s).
How anyone can support clinics that have suggested having an abortion can cause cancer or make you likely to abuse children amazes me. Focusing on whether or not people regret abortions is missing the point. These places are lying about serious health issues.
Really, joan? Why would you say that?
When you say some women get mental health problems because they have a baby and some get them because they have a termination - that is true, but if they make the wrong decision for themselves then they are most likely to get them. Lying to women and saying that an abortion will be easy (or having a child will be easy) will cause to this. I think there is more awareness of how stressful having a child can be - everyone has heard horror stories about giving birth, and has seen how demanding children can be just through being a part of society. However, not everyone is aware of how hard getting an abortion can be, because it's not something most people have to think about until they are put in that situation.
But anyway, the article doesn't argue that the stress of having a baby can cause the same level of mental health problems as a termination - it actually states that (quote) "abortion does not cause mental health problems". I read a story a while ago about a woman who committed suicide because she couldn't live with having had an abortion, I think they are picking and choosing their 'evidence' to suit them. Some of you had abortions and aren't bothered - that's great, good for you, but it doesn't make any difference to the women who do find it hard to live with.
As a disclaimer, I am not 'pro-life', I am just offended by the deceit behind this article which disregards the struggle of a lot of women.
I also see it as a little patronising. If a woman chooses to hear pro-life views on abortion by going to a pro-life clinic such as LIFE or having a religious discussion, then let her. It is important for some women to weigh up both sides of the debate to decide where she personally stands on the issue. Her mushy female brain won't necessarily start bubbling over and commit to the first opinion she hears on pro-life/pro-choice. Is it really such a problem that she is given the chance to see her ultrasound and weigh that into her decision? One could equally argue that abortion clinics being reluctant/refusing to show ultra sounds are pushing their own agenda.
Obviously, there are probably some clinics who may mislead vulnerable women and I am not condoning that - I just think that there is a lot wrong with this report.
First Bounty, now this
The commoditisation and manipulation of vulnerable women is shocking.
The NHS should only signpost to truly independent advice centres IMHO.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.....
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
nicetabard I am following you around the threads today, applauding
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...
Quangle I appear to be on form tonight
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.
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.
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.
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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