Thursday 27 February 2014

It's time to slay the 'killer abortion' story

Today’s guest blogpost is from Lucy V Hay, a novelist, script editor and blogger who has just written a novel exploring one young woman’s pregnancy decision making process. She shares her insight on fictional accounts of abortion.

I’m grateful to live somewhere that allows for a woman’s right to choose, but abortion is frequently depicted in a negative light by movies and television. This Slate article sheds some light on the offenders, but does not, in my opinion, give a viable reason as to why this is so often the case.
As well as being the author of a pro-choice novel, The Decision: Lizzie's Story, I'm a script editor for movies, so hopefully I can offer an explanation – and though it may surprise some progressives, it’s not that the people creating those movies or television shows necessarily disagree with abortion!

When learning how to create fiction, the first thing any wannabe writer is taught is that, “drama is conflict”. In other words, a writer needs to create the worst problems for his/her characters that s/he can; it is overcoming those problems that make an audience relate to that character and invest in the character’s journey. So, if a story about abortion is to have the “most” conflict it can, obviously it will include death.

Simple, eh? But this is also where it gets complicated …

… 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion at some point in their lives. What’s more, the likelihood of dying from having a legal abortion is extremely low. In fact, the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times higher than for abortion. So for starters, a story has potentially up to a third of its female audience going, “Eh? That just wouldn't happen!” Not. Good.

Secondly, though an individual movie or TV show may feature a death from an unsafe abortion (for example, if it was set in a time or place where abortion was illegal or inaccessible, like in the film Vera Drake), the sheer lack of variety in the representation of abortion in the media becomes problematic. It’s worth remembering, lots of people get their information from fiction … That’s why soap operas carry the famous: “If you have been affected by any of the storylines …” bit at the end of the show, alongside helpline numbers.

So if writers and producers shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just a story!”, they are right. In isolation, their “killer abortion” story is just a story.

But all those “killer abortion” stories put together? A statement.

Working with writers, I am always at pains to point out we must be varied in our depictions of characters and situations and the “killer abortion” is no different. We are extremely lucky that safe abortion is a reality in Great Britain and that our friends, daughters, sisters and mothers have the right to bodily autonomy. But it’s also a sad reality that very few stories reflect this: instead, whether the writers and producers believe in the pro-choice message or not, they go for the lazy and stereotypical notion that “abortion kills” or is ‘dangerous’ in other ways (such as leading to infertility). It’s time to slay the “killer abortion” story and seek out representations that empower female characters – and the audience watching them.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Report released today – ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’ in the UK

CPCs are organisations independent of the NHS which provide pregnancy counselling – over half also provide sex and relationships education in schools. They are often run by charities which are outwardly anti-abortion or which have ties to anti-abortion organisations. The tactics of CPCs in the U.S have been documented by groups like NARAL, but this is the first full-scale investigation of CPCs operating in the UK.

EFC has identified 135 CPCs in the UK. Just under a quarter of these centres (33) were visited by volunteer mystery shoppers and background research into the remaining CPCs and their affiliations was also carried out.

Unfortunately the majority of CPCs visited were found to be giving misinformation about abortion and/or biased, unethical and unprofessional counselling methods. We are particularly concerned that many of these centres specifically market their services to young women. To give you an example, here are some quotes from the centres visited:

“The only other thing that has been reported with quite strong evidence is the increase in the possibility of breast cancer following termination of pregnancy” Oxford Care Centre (LIFE)

“There’s more risk of infertility from termination that there is from giving birth...some reports will say as low as 1% chance of infertility from termination and some will say as high as 25%” Central London Women’s Centre (Good Counsel Network)

“I do believe that God gives the gift of a baby” Reading Lifeline (Care Confidential)

“The other thing with abortion is the psychological effect of post abortion trauma.. of... the grieving that you lost, ‘cause you know at the moment for some girls it seems like a very quick option, you know and it’s a half day you go in, you’re out but you are left with the emotional turmoil of what you’ve done” Stillwaters Pregnancy Crisis Centre (Care Confidential)

Regular readers of our blog will know that abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility or mental health problems. These ‘risks’ have all been discounted by medical professionals and to propose them as serious factors to consider in the decision making process inhibits someone’s ability to make an informed choice about their pregnancy. It is part of the anti-abortion agenda that seeks to limit choice under the guise of offering women support. 

Centres run by Care Confidential and Life do so under the name of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which has a strict code of ethical guidelines for counsellors to follow. The directive, biased counselling offered in some CPCs cannot be considered good practice. Prominent psychotherapist Phillip Hodson states:

"Counselling is the opposite of conversion.  According to the ethical frameworks of our profession, no counsellor behaves properly by trying to sell to a client their personal religious or political outlook. Such an offence should trigger a formal complaint and - if this is proved - the offenders should be struck off by the regulating body. It goes without saying that supplying misleading medical information would be grounds for further sanction. It is my understanding that the regulator in such cases has always welcomed properly-founded complaints and their website explains how concerned individuals may proceed. I would hope for a swift response before it is suggested that counselling is not competent or motivated to regulate itself". 

EFC has sent an official complaint to the BACP and is awaiting a response.

More worrying still, Care Confidential is the primary service linked to on the front page of the NHS choices website about abortion. The organisation also claims to provide pregnancy counselling in five women's prisons. When the support Care Confidential offer is as sporadic and unreliable as our investigation has found it to be, it is far from acceptable for the NHS to offer their services to people looking for support.

Have a read of the report and watch this space for further developments.