Tuesday 1 March 2011

Myth Busting Monday (aka Tardy Tuesday) – ‘Pro-Life = Pro-Women’

Anti-abortion groups are increasingly employing discourse about women’s health to support their arguments against safe, legal abortion. This blog looks at how anti-choice orgs have moved from focusing on fetal rights to a supposed concern for women’s mental and physical health to bolster their campaigns.

Radio 4’s PM show (listen from 43.15) featured a discussion on leaflets being distributed by anti-abortion organisation The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) to GPs across the country. SPUC claim that over 1,000 GPs have requested their ‘Abortion: Your Right to Know’ leaflets and GP Dr Greg Gardner asserts his reasons for stocking the pamphlets. He claims they provide women with useful information on the ‘possible physical complications’ of abortion including an ‘increased risk of breast cancer’.

Before we move on let’s just have a little mini myth-bust on this claim that women need to know about the increased risks of breast cancer following abortion. The myth that abortion causes breast cancer has been debunked by Cancer Research UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Which brings us on to the RCOG. During the radio discussion Dr Gardner claims he requested SPUC leaflets because there is a ‘dearth of accurate information for women considering abortion’ and that they need ‘proper information about potential long-term harms’. He doesn’t seem satisfied by the medical guidance put forward by the RCOG – a body dedicated to women’s health, which, in order to produce guidance for medical professionals and patients assesses and evaluates existing research in each relevant field.

Gardner’s claim that he proffers SPUC leaflets to provide women in his surgery with clinical information is, as Ann Furedi of bpas (also on the show) claims, ‘staggering’. Furedi goes on to make a point we really wish didn’t have to keep being made – that there are two separate discussions to be had here. One about the rights and wrongs of abortion; moral issues such as when life begins which are open to debate, and clinical evidence and information on the physical and psychological risks of abortion. As she points out, this medical information would surely be better obtained from reputable health organisations such as the RCOG rather than a campaigning organisation such as SPUC with a politically motivated agenda.

Clearly SPUC wish to dissuade women from having abortions. They have a right to present the viewpoint that abortion is immoral, or discuss their belief that human life begins at conception. However, we object to any obstacle which stands in the way of women’s access to evidence-based information on their health. When anti-abortion organisations make misleading claims related to medical information, those who support evidence based education and healthcare should be alarmed. When SPUC tell young people in schools that abortion causes breast cancer or infertility, ‘facts’ which hold no weight in the scientific/medical community; or when they use family doctors to relay this message, our ability to make an informed choice is compromised. Why can’t SPUC accept that abortion isn’t going to give a woman breast cancer, or make her infertile without relinquishing the belief that it is wrong?

Transcript of EFC presentation on facts and ethics


  1. Does anyone have a copy of the SPUC leaflets being distributed by GPs? I'd like to complain to the Department of Health and the GMC about this issue but it's difficult without knowing specific details about what's in the leaflets.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. We don't have a copy of the leaflet but would also be interested in seeing one - let us know if you have any luck! SPUC's other leaflets and documents can be seen here: http://www.spuc.org.uk/ethics/abortion/documents-leaflets

  3. Great article - much better than my feeble summary on Mumsnet. I was just so cross that it rendered me inarticulate. And yes, absolutely agree that scaremongering is unnecessary.

    I will keep an eye out for the leaflets and, if I find one, will forward it on.

  4. Many women who have abortions feel they have no other choice. Some women can be in awful situations, and they need help. 99% of women in these situations who find out they are pregnant would say that if these problems were removed, then they would have their baby. More support should be available to these women, for example the charity 'Crisis pregnancy' provides lots of support for pregnant mothers, and women undergoing post abortion trauma. However these women are often left without this kind of support. Abortion does not empower women, it is not 'pro-choice', it makes mothers feel pressured. Women have a right to be given all the information about what an abortion does to them and to their baby.

  5. Lucy, I agree that more support should be offered to pregnant women - however that includes the right to an abortion, and medical facts about said abortions. As a pro-choice activist, I have campaigned for the right to abortion and set up an e-petition to keep it legal.

    I have also arranged a free stall where people could swap baby equipment - a single dad took away a barely worn set of about 10 outfits for his baby girl.

    I also regularly babysit for a friend who is a single parent, enabling them to work and keep their skills sharp - as well as support their child without resort to benefits.