Women are being wrongly warned during counseling sessions at allegedly “independent” clinics that an abortion could lead to serious health damage, including an increased risk of breast cancer and a propensity to sexually abuse children, The Telegraph can disclose.
The women are also being mistakenly informed by counselors that the procedure could leave them unable to carry future pregnancies to full term.
Counselors at two Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs)—clinics that provide advice to women considering a termination—were secretly recorded making the claims last month by Telegraph reporters.
The disclosure will add to growing calls for increased regulation of abortion services amid fears that both pro-life and anti-abortion clinics and services are not offering reliable advice.
Dr Kate Guthrie, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the UK’s medical authority on pregnancy and women’s reproductive health, said there was no scientific evidence to suggest an abortion put women at a greater risk of breast cancer or abusing a child.
She also said that the risk of being left sterile by an abortion in Britain is “very, very low” and it is “absolutely wrong” that women would be 25 percent less likely to carry pregnancy to full term following an abortion, as one of the counselors maintained.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is vital that any woman considering an abortion is offered impartial and non-judgmental counseling, accurately advising her of all her options, so that she can make an informed decision.”
There are more than 100 CPCs across the country, each offering “trained advisers” and claiming to provide independent advice to pregnant women on whether they should proceed with a termination.
They are privately run, operate independently of the NHS and are unregulated by any official body. As such, they are not legally obligated to give women medically accurate information.
Many are thought to be linked to religious groups and modeled on controversial American anti-abortion services.
Last month, after receiving information that specific centers were misleading their clients, Telegraph reporters approached the Central London Women’s Centre (CLWC) and Alma Pregnancy Advisory Service (APAS), pretending to be pregnant and claiming to be considering an abortion.
One of the undercover reporters was told at the CLWC in London that there is “an increased statistical likelihood of child abuse” because women had to break “natural barriers that are around the child that you don’t cross” in order to terminate a pregnancy.
The same adviser also said that women who had terminations were 25 percent less likely to be able to carry a pregnancy to full term.
At the APAS in Luton, a counselor warned a reporter about similar “risks”. The adviser, named Moira, told the reporter, “there’s also a link with breast cancer”. Many anti-abortion campaigners believe that women should visit an independent center before undergoing the procedure, arguing there is a potential conflict of interest in counseling from an organization that also carries out terminations.
Clare Murphy, director of policy at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) —the NHS-funded charity and the country’s largest abortion provider—said the organization had seen the “distress that some crisis pregnancy centers can cause women” and CPCs “need to be transparent about who they are and what they believe”.
However, David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield-Southgate, said, “There’s certainly a role for independent advice services.
“I think we need to get away from the stereotypes and recognize that we need more, not less, advice and support for women and it shouldn’t be the sole preserve of BPAS.”
Both CLWC and APAS did not respond to repeated phone calls to the centers and hand delivered letters requesting them to reply to The Telegraph’s queries about the veracity of their advice, their funding structure and links to Church groups.
A report due for release this month by Brook, a national sexual health charity, is expected to further document how some CPCs are giving women inaccurate medical information.
At the CLWC, a reporter was told by an adviser that an abortion carried various risks, including “sterility”. During the appointment last month, the counselor also told the reporter that infection was “quite common”.
As with any operation you know you are introducing something from outside the body into the inside of the body and there’s always a risk but with abortion there’s also a particular risk of, obviously the instruments that are used are sharp and they can cut the wall of the womb”, the counselor said.
“I mean one of the studies; the study that we tend to use is, it says that you’re 25 percent less likely to be able to carry a future pregnancy to term”, said the counselor, who gave her name as Annabel.
Dr Guthrie, said that the risk of being left infertile is “very, very low”. Furthermore, because women are “always” screened before an abortion and “every women also gets a routine course of antibiotics after the abortion” the risk of infection is also minimal.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP who is now the Conservative MP for Totnes and a member of the Health Select Committee, said: “Women who go to a center which purports to give impartial advice that is fundamentally anti-abortion in its stance, but doesn’t openly say so, is totally unacceptable.
“Now is the time for the Secretary of State [Jeremy Hunt] to order a review of the whole abortion counseling process.”
Jeremy Hunt refused to comment on calls for a review of abortion counseling.
By Emma Barnett, Claire Newell, Holly Watt and Ben Bryant for The Telegraph (UK)