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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


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

NeoFaust Wed 12-Feb-14 12:44:22

That's disgusting. I hope the NHS investigates and then rejects any CPCs that display such outrageous behaviour

ExcuseTypos Wed 12-Feb-14 13:17:29

I heard the secret recordings on Womens Hour this morning. I could not believe my ears. Truly shockingangry

The NHS should stop investigate this.

JulesJules Wed 12-Feb-14 13:26:46

This is appalling.

They should not be promoted by the NHS as "a recognised counselling provider"

BIWI Wed 12-Feb-14 13:27:25

I'm angry 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.

Shallishanti Wed 12-Feb-14 13:30:04

And schools should not allow these people in either

BoreOfWhabylon Wed 12-Feb-14 13:50:09

I was appalled to hear this on Woman's Hour this morning


I had no idea this was going on. Scary.

Pregnantberry Wed 12-Feb-14 14:07:28

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.

Greenrememberedhills Wed 12-Feb-14 14:18:32

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.

Elderberri Wed 12-Feb-14 14:40:23

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.

StillSeekingSpike Wed 12-Feb-14 14:47:26

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.

TheSumofUs Wed 12-Feb-14 14:52:18

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

Pregnantberry Wed 12-Feb-14 14:58:03

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.

arabellarubberplant Wed 12-Feb-14 15:30:42

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.

kentishgirl Wed 12-Feb-14 15:32:13

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.

motherinferior Wed 12-Feb-14 16:43:47

I know loads of women who've had abortions and never regretted it once.

StealthPolarBear Wed 12-Feb-14 17:09:09

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

JakeBullet Wed 12-Feb-14 18:23:50

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 Mum is pro choice too but she still feels a sense of sadness. This is not mental illness 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 shock

YoniMatopoeia Wed 12-Feb-14 18:30:40

Why the hell is the Big Lottery fund giving grants to this organisation if they are not giving unbiased independent councelling?

Quangle Wed 12-Feb-14 19:28:51

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.

joanofarchitrave Wed 12-Feb-14 19:42:40

I don't think Life does give away its agenda in its name.

legoplayingmumsunite Wed 12-Feb-14 19:57:00

Up to a third of women who have a child suffer mental health problems: 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.

BIWI Wed 12-Feb-14 20:13:04

Really, joan? Why would you say that?

Pregnantberry Wed 12-Feb-14 20:14:58

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.

Blondieminx Wed 12-Feb-14 20:20:28

First Bounty, now this shock

The commoditisation and manipulation of vulnerable women is shocking.

The NHS should only signpost to truly independent advice centres IMHO.

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