By Megan Stith
BBC’s Panorama (27 Feb 2023) investigated the dark world of crisis pregnancy advice centres outside of the NHS, as well as the wider implications of restricting reproductive care.
Journalist Divya Talwar documented her investigation into the medical misinformation and coercive tactics these centres use to manipulate pregnant people into forced pregnancies. The investigation found 57 crisis pregnancy centres in the UK, 21 of which shared unethical advice and misleading information, including:7 centres say that having a termination could lead to “post-abortion syndrome”, a fabricated mental health condition5 centres falsely linked abortion care to an increased risk of breast cancer8 centres claimed that abortion would lead to infertility and future pregnancy complications, none of which are substantiated.
Medical misinformation and fear mongering
The investigation follows three crisis centres: Crossroad Crisis Pregnancy Centre in London, Tyneside Pregnancy Advice Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, and Stanton International in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Each of these clinics operate under the false pretence of providing informed advice and support to pregnant people.These centres present false medical information in order to create a culture of fear around abortion care. In the undercover investigations, Divya Talwar presents three different scenarios: a young woman who discovers she is pregnant, a married mother of two, and in the case of Stanton International, an undercover volunteer who was actually 10 weeks into a planned pregnancy. In each of these scenarios, the crisis centre “advisors” – none of whom presented medical credentials – moralised against the evils of abortion:
“The baby is waiting for the pill to kill it and to get rid of it”.
“Would you be able to tell your daughters about having a termination? Or would it be something you’d always have to keep quiet about?”
“Within 48 hours your baby will die of hunger and thirst. It will be starved to death.”In every single interaction, the centre advisors manipulated and manifested distress in these women, sharing horrifying images, forcing them to participate in ultrasounds, and using language such as “killing” “starving” “pain” “death”.
The investigation highlights the lack of care, compassion, and informed medical information that is crucial to reproductive care in all its forms. The guest medical professionals, who viewed the undercover footage for Panorama, Dr Johnathan Lord (Royal College of Obstetrics) and Jo Holmes (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) highlighted the complete lack of medical knowledge and coercive manipulation of these centres:
“There is no increased risk of serious mental illness, infertility, or breast cancer after an abortion…these centres are set up to target women who are struggling with their decision, and then give them false advice to try to sway them away from an abortion”.
“Counselling is about being able to explore what you’re feeling in a safe place with no judgements, but any woman who went into a session like this would come out deeply traumatised”.
Fight for real access to Abortion
The power of this investigation is to pull back the curtain on this unregulated and dangerous system. As Claire, who was 10 weeks into a planned pregnancy, said about agreeing to go to Stanton Clinic: “this is a key issue that women face that they would not want to speak about openly”.One of the most nefarious tactics used by these clinics is the leveraging of basic needs- Stanton International claims to offer financial help and after-care to those who go through with their pregnancy. Far from being compassionate, these measures seek to exploit the cost of living crisis to push their anti-choice narrative. Fighting for real choice, means we should not be constrained through legality nor through economic necessity. To fight for abortion rights is to fight for access to housing, healthcare, education, a living wage, and control over our bodies.
Can’t rely on the legal system
The documentary included a section on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, thereby ending the federal right to an abortion in the United States. Following this ruling, states around the country immediately ended their abortion care laws. This shows that even rights that have previously been won can be taken away again. The information about rape crisis centres presented by the documentary also shows that our fight is not restricted to legal rights – we have to fight for easily and locally accessible abortion services for all who need them. Like with Repeal and other movements of the past, this necessitates building strong and active movements of working-class people.
The Socialist Party and ROSA marched today at Reclaim the Agenda’s International Women’s Day March. ROSA will also be hosting a meeting on International Women’s Day, March 8th, on viral misogyny, gender violence and transphobia at 7pm at the Accidental Theatre, Shaftsbury Square. For further details see @ROSANorthernIreland on social media.