Sometimes a story breaks in the UK that doesn’t get a fraction of the coverage it deserves. This, to me is one of those stories.
Whatever your view on abortion, there is no doubt that the vast majority of women who seek them are vulnerable, in need of unbiased medical advice and, often, emotional support. England, Wales and Scotland have a strong tradition of pro-choice support; abortion has been legal in these countries since the Abortion Act 1967 was passed. Abortion in England, Wales and Scotland is legal up until the 24th week of pregnancy, and in cases of substantial risk to the mother’s life or foetal abnormalities, there is no time limit. Whilst there will always be stories of women here who felt judged, or made to feel guilt by choosing to terminate their pregnancy, I maintain that it is a privilege to live in a country where women can take advantage of this support and of this choice.
The story that didn’t get told enough is as follows. A recent undercover Daily Telegraph investigation unearthed 38 abortion advice centres across the UK have deliberately misled vulnerable women considering a termination, by providing misleading information on mental and physical health outcomes of abortion.
In the most grotesque example, a counsellor at the Central London Women’s Clinic told and undercover reporter that after abortion, there is an increased propensity to sexually abuse children.
Here is a transcript of what the counsellor, Annabel, told the undercover reporter (taken from The Telegraph investigation):
“There’s also an increased statistical likelihood of child abuse,” she said as she scanned a paper that listed possible consequences.
She explained further: “So when you have a child, you have natural maternal instincts towards the child and there are also natural barriers that surround the child that you don’t cross.”
“I would be more likely to abuse the child?” asked the woman.
“There is a statistical increase. I mean, I’m not saying it’s many people, obviously it’s still a very low percentage, but it just seems like there’s a correlation between the two,” replied the counsellor.
“Oh right. What kind of child abuse, like sexual abuse?” the woman asked.
“Yeah… it’s not many people but it seems like there is a correlation,” Annabel said. “I think it’s just because it can really confuse relationships with children.”
This counsellor also divulged that women who had terminations were 25% less likely to be able to carry a future pregnancy to full term, an increased risk of breast cancer and the “possibility of sterility”. This is of course, far from medical fact or anywhere near aligned with advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians.
I still can’t read that transcript without wanting to drag this women (and the other counsellors like her) before the national media and compel them to explain themselves, force them to tell of the number of women they have deliberately misled, women who trusted them and came seeking help and an unbiased view and above all, the facts.
If you can face watching the video of the counsellor divulging this misinformation under the guise of truth, you can watch it here.
One big tranche of the problem is that these centres run with little to no accountability. Crisis Pregnancy Centres (CPCs) are a group of over 100 unregulated outlets across the UK that promote themselves as confidential advisory services for women trying to deal with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. CPCs purport to offer counselling on pregnancy choices, free pregnancy testing and other services.
Most British women have never heard of them, and confusingly these centres often look like the official organisations properly trained and regulated to give out advice about abortions – such as Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Some are run by umbrella organisations, such as CareConfidential, which has more than 100 centres across the UK, and LIFE – a ‘pro-life’ charity that provides support to “anyone facing a crisis pregnancy”. Some are run by religious bodies. Others claim to be completely independent.
They are privately run, operate independently of the NHS and are unregulated by any official body. As such, they are not legally obligated to give women medically accurate information. Were these Centres making clear that they are entirely independent of Government, that they are unregulated and often run by religious organisations, then whilst not acceptable, their practise could claim to be above board. However, they are doing no such thing. A number of CPCs have established links with the NHS (Care Confidential is actually signposted to by the NHS Choices website) and some claim to be receiving referrals from local GPs and hospitals. According to Brook , a national sexual health charity, at least four Care Confidential affiliated CPCs are located in GP practices or hospitals.
Take any given woman trying to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy. All will deal with it in their own way. None will deal with it lightly. Add someone who is posing as a trained advisor in an “advice centre” seemingly affiliated with the NHS, throw in emotional manipulation, deception and medical fallacy, and you have a story about which the UK should be ashamed, appalled and up in arms.
But we aren’t. There was so little coverage. Why? The Guardian and the Daily Mail ran stories on this in 2011 but they didn’t gain any traction. The Daily Telegraph is the only paper to have really covered the story through its 2014 investigation – therehasbeen limited other coverage from smaller news outlets. Where is the outrage? Why isn’t the media all over this injustice?
There was an astonishing lack of accountability called for in Parliament on this issue. The chair of the Health Select Committee has called on the Health Minister to act swiftly in investigating unregulated abortion counselling services in the UK. He told The Telegraph “most people in this country will regard it as unacceptable for pregnant women to seek advice from somewhere, which says it offers advice, and receive people’s prejudiced opinions instead”.
I’d say that’s understating it.
Is the lack of real, tangible interest because this is a women’s issue? Unlikely – social media crawls with issues pertinent to women. Is it because the subject matter isn’t incendiary enough? Unlikely, the pro choice debate still divides people.
Perhaps we aren’t as progressive in the pro-choice debate in the UK as we’d like to think. Whatever the reason, our lack of action is something to be ashamed about.