Tuesday 27 March 2012

The cost of balance

After 20 years of advocating for evidence-based abortion education EFC was pleased to see the front page of this weekend’s Guardian exposing a SPUC school presentation which delivered many of the false claims about abortion we take to task on this very blog. The talk at Comberton Village College in Cambridge contained misinformation about abortion, including claims that it can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, infertility and so called ‘post-abortion trauma’.

The public were rightfully outraged but unfortunately this isn’t a one-off. It’s not just SPUC giving misinformation and it’s not just at this school. We know, from contact with teachers across the country, that anti-abortion groups are speaking to young people regularly in a range of schools. Whether it’s Lovewise presenting at an Academy in Northumberland, or Life talking to Sixth Formers about sexual health at a Catholic school in Solihull we have a real concern that not all the information will be based on evidence. SPUC, Life and Lovewise all put out literature which gives misinformation about pregnancy, contraception and abortion.

We’ve written before about the problem of schools inviting in groups like this. But we’re still surprised when educators like the Principal at Comberton defend their decision to allow a group to mislead young people about their reproductive health in the interests of ensuring ‘proper balance’. Our criticism remains the same; these groups are entitled to hold a particular viewpoint, but not to use misinformation about a medical procedure to promote this viewpoint to children. ‘Abortion is morally wrong’ is a viewpoint, ‘Abortion causes breast cancer’ is simply unscientific misinformation.

The photo below is an example of a pamphlet provided by Life to a comprehensive school in Wiltshire.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

40 Days for Lies? Audio files

Our latest blog exposed the crisis pregnancy centre (aka Central London Women's Centre/Albany Women's Centre/Good Counsel Network) that the 40 Days for Life protesters have been giving out literature for. Here are a few sound clips of a counselling session which took place at that centre.
Central London Women's Centre Audio

1. ...if you make this decision, this baby will have no life. And also it dies in terrible pain
2. ...the risk of getting cancer after abortion is 100%
3. ...many women have many miscarriages from abortion
4. ...we will harm the baby.  We will kill the baby.  We, we will do something horrible to the baby
5. ...abortion is something that comes from the powers of darkness because it’s about destroying

40 Days for Lies?

40 Days for Life UK claims to be ‘a peaceful, prayerful and legal vigil’ where volunteers sign a ‘"Statement of Peace" with a pledge that they will conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner’. Twitter has been awash with claims that volunteers associated with the group have been filming women entering a BPAS clinic in London, a claim which is being denied by 40 Days for Life.

Something we do know for sure is that 40 Days for Life volunteers are handing out literature which gives grossly inaccurate information about abortion and which signposts to a crisis pregnancy centre doing just the same. Of the mystery shopping EFC has carried out, this centre really is the lowest of the low in terms of bias and inaccuracy, so bad in fact, that it was featured in this Channel 5 news report a few years ago. As a result of EFC’s complaint the ASA issued a ruling against the centre’s misleading advertising but it simply changed its name and continues to offer services and provide misinformation to vulnerable women (offering special services for Irish and young women).

This centre appears to be run by anti-abortion organisation The Good Counsel Network. The phone number is displayed on the leaflets handed out by 40 Days volunteers and is linked to from the website under the heading ‘considering an abortion?’

The quotes below are from a mystery shopping visit EFC carried out at ‘Albany Women’s Centre’. They are just an example of the misinformation and bias given in a two hour session in which the ‘counsellor’ spoke incessantly about the purported mental, physical  and spiritual risks of abortion:

“So the post-abortion cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, is very, very common now.  And they say from the statistics that a hundred, the risk of getting cancer after abortion is one hundred percent...The problem with the post-abortive cancer is that it’s quite aggressive.  It’s very difficult to treat, and most women die.  From my friends who had abortion and who developed the cancer, none of them lived longer than a few years.”

“And abortion is something that goes very contrary to our maternal instinct, because we know that what we are doing is totally opposite our maternal instinct.  We will harm the baby.  We will kill the baby.  We, we will do something horrible to the baby.  That’s abortion.”

“Abortion is something that comes from the powers of darkness because it’s about destroying.  Anything that’s about destroying, harming, eh, doing evil, comes from the powers of darkness, and there are a lot of people on this planet who are under their influence."

“But there are many, many, many other physical side effects...thirty percent, couldn’t have children.  The first reason was many of them wouldn’t, they didn’t give the percentage, couldn’t get pregnant.  They were sterile, okay?  The other problem is miscarriages.  Miscarriages are very common after abortions.  Many women have many miscarriages from abortion.  From our clients here I can tell you that on average it will be like five, six miscarriages.  Some have more.”

Monday 5 March 2012

Abortion Law - time for change?

In our Myth Busting Monday on the legality of sex selection abortion we explored what the the Abortion Act actually says. In this second part of our Abortion Law Special we explore whether it's time for a change in the law.

The current situation
Most health professionals recognise that women know best when a pregnancy is right for them and implement current law sensibly, ensuring that women can access safe abortion as quickly as possible if that is what they choose.

However, the Abortion Act didn’t legalise abortion. It only provides exceptions to an archaic criminal law. It says that abortion is not illegal if certain criteria are met, but doesn't give women any actual rights. The current law leaves women vulnerable to a small proportion of doctors who are keen to obstruct their access to abortion; and, as the latest  press hoo hah demonstrates, leaves doctors vulnerable to criticism and at worst even prosecution, for the referral decisions they make.
Is it time for change?
We currently have an imperfect law which needs modernising according to all the leading sexual health organisations and the Science and Technology committee of Parliament.
There are improvements we could make to the Abortion Act many of which were proposed when abortion law was last discussed in Parliament in 2008. However, there is also a growing call for abortion to be taken out of the realm of criminal law and treated like any other health care procedure. Doctors would retain responsibility for checking that women have made a decision they are confident about and are able to give informed consent for the procedure. Women would finally have the right to make a decision that only they are really in a position to make.

This suggestion will no doubt be treated with shock. The doom-mongers will predict a gazillion extra abortions a year with women helpless to stop themselves demanding abortion after abortion - almost certainly for trivial reasons. However, Canada decriminalised abortion in 1988 and guess what? It hasn’t led to a huge boom in abortions. The abortion rate in Canada is 16 per 1,000 women just slightly lower than it is in England and Wales at 17.5 per 1,000. The same high proportion of abortions (around 90%) take place early – in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – in both Britain and Canada. In fact if we decriminalised abortion in the Britain* I don’t think anything in the statistics would really change, it would just cause a massive sigh of relief amongst most doctors and most women, as the remaining obstacles to abortion and the stigma associated with it were finally lifted.

*Abortion in Northern Ireland is still governed by a criminal act of 1861 which means that women from Northern Ireland still have to travel to the mainland and pay for an abortion 

Myth busting Monday - abortion for sex selection is illegal

Part 1 is abortion for sex selection illegal?

Two weeks ago the Daily Telegraph reported that doctors are prepared to refer women for abortion when their presenting reason was the sex of their fetus. 

Those who are shouting loudest with delight about the Telegraph’s sex-selection‘sting’ have said both that the referrals the Telegraph filmed were ‘illegal’ and also that this proves that the law needs to change because it does NOT preclude referral for sex selection. This position is contradictory. Either the law is too liberal because it does allow for women to request an abortion when their emotional distress is a result of finding out the sex of their fetus, in which case doctors have acted completely lawfully by providing an abortion referral, OR doctors have broken the law by allowing abortion referral in these circumstances. 

So what does the law actually say?
The current law (Abortion Act 1967, as amended 1990) does not provide a shopping list of specific circumstances for abortion, but asks doctors to weigh up the relative risks for the woman of ending or continuing a pregnancy. Most abortions in this country are allowed under ground C of the Abortion Act which means that two doctors must decide in good faith that the (mental and physical) health of the woman would be at greater risk if she continued the pregnancy than ended it. 

So, a woman who has been raped can be referred for abortion because the doctor believes that continuing the pregnancy and bringing up the child of her rapist will cause her considerable stress and anguish (i.e. be a risk to her mental health), but not specifically because she has been raped. Because rape is not mentioned in the Abortion Act, abortion on the grounds of rape in and of itself is neither legal nor illegal.

Sex selection is also not mentioned in the Abortion Act and is neither legal nor illegal. A doctor’s job is to consider whether – whatever her presenting reason, and indeed whatever the general public think about that reason – refusing this woman an abortion will cause a level of distress or illness that will put her mental or physical health at risk. This is why it is incorrect for anyone to claim that doctors have acted illegally in the Telegraph case.

See part 2 Abortion Law time for a change

Friday 2 March 2012

EFC Professional Training - Special Offer!

Education For Choice has been delivering well-evaluated training days for professionals working with young people for years. We are currently offering our most popular day, 'Abortion: Decisions and Dilemmas' at the discounted rate of just £850 per day (for up to 15 participants). And throwing in some free resources if you book now. A bargain!

For details on the training see the website and for further information, or to book, contact us efc@brook.org.uk

Here's what some of our participants have had to say about the day:

"My knowledge about abortion, language to use and exercises to use with young people have been enhanced. I enjoyed the training very much. I feel well informed and I think the facilitator was very knowledgeable and engaging" - Youth worker, London

"A full, interactive course which exceeded my expectations" - Sexual health service provider, Durham

“I would recommend the Abortion Dilemmas and Decisions training to support the development of key members of the workforce, in a range of settings. The training is engaging, lively and thought-provoking and offers strategies to enable workers to talk about some of the difficult aspects of pregnancy choices, as part of their day to day work with young people” - Teenage Pregnancy Co-ordinator, Devon