Pro-Life 'Counselling' centres
By Ellie Lee
This week, both the Guardian and Independent newspapers have carried
articles about an investigation into Pro-Life 'Counselling' centres.
The articles followed a substantial report, published in the Manchester
Big Issue magazine, about the findings of an 'under cover' investigation
into the approach taken by one such centre in Manchester.
The investigation concerned the Addam's Women's Centre, and was
carried out by reporters from the Big Issue, who booked an appointment,
and visited the centre for counselling. In their report, they
explain what they were told:
- abortion causes breast cancer. If a woman has an abortion, her
chances of getting breast cancer are 30 per cent. Two abortions
double the risk, and after three abortions, a woman may as well
consider herself dead.
- when a woman is pregnant, it may be her only chance to have
baby, since she could become infertile as a result of the abortion.
- women's psychological trauma after abortion was such that they
could not watch nappy adverts on television or listen to the noise
of a hoover.
- women who have been raped should keep the baby, because they
have been violated once already, and the abortion will only violate
- 50 per cent of women visiting the centre are persuaded to change
their minds and not have an abortion.
The centre also shows videos of American origin, which, according
to the Big Issue report, have a voice over by Charlton Heston,
and mix '..medical jargon with emotional blackmail'. One section
of the video, presented by gynaecologist Noreen Johnson, explains
that babies are aborted at the point of birth by crushing the
skull and spine, and sucking out the organs and brain. As the
Big Issue rightly points out, this kind of video is fundamentally
misleading to a woman considering abortion, since such a process
would only apply to a third trimester abortion, of which less
than 100 are carried out in Britain each year.
The information given to women was described as a distortion of
medical fact by John Parsons, consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
at King's College hospital. He dismissed much of the Addam's centre's
medical information as 'absolute garbage'. Parsons said: 'They
have been quite subtle. They've taken facts from abortion statistics,
maternal deaths and information about contraception, and have
just pinpointed complications and problems in extremely general
estimates and not given people a fair assessment of the dangers
they face'. Some information given was, he said 'severely wrong
The investigation was carried out after journalists at the Big
Issue were contacted by representatives of pregnancy advisory
services in Manchester, who support access to abortion services
for women. They have been visited by women upset after having
been in touch with the Addam's Centre. Amanda Callaghan of BPAS
says clients visiting their clinics have also been given misinformation
about the health consequences of abortion by such centres, and
have reached BPAS in a distressed state. She also pointed out
that the Addams' Centre is one of a group of centres, based in
London, Luton, Leeds and Liverpool, as well as Manchester. The
Head Office is listed as 15 Maple, Grove, London NW1.
All of the centres names begin with the letter 'A' - the Luton
centre for example is called Alma Pregnancy Advisory Service -
in order to appear near the start of listings for centres offering
'abortion advice' in the Yellow Pages.
Interestingly, other pro-life groups, which also advertise in
Yellow Pages, claimed that they did not endorse the Addam's Centre's
methods. Paul Tully, general secretary for SPUC was reported to
have said that the approach was not one that they would have been
involved with. Members of SPUC initiated the organisation British
Victims of Abortion (BVA) in 1987. The organisation exists to
publicise the alleged serious psychological effects of abortion
(termed by BVA post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a form of post-traumatic
stress disorder). It offer counselling to women after abortion
for PAS. A spokesperson for Life said they had not heard of the
Addam's Centre. Life also offers counselling to women, both who
are pregnant and after abortion. Life too uphold that abortion
can lead to serious health problems, in particular PAS, as well
as future infertility, and breast cancer. Their spokesperson said
that Life never led people to believe it was anything other than
pro-life in its advertising.
The Big Issue in the North, 8/11/99