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Pro-Life 'Counselling' centres
By Ellie Lee

This week, both the Guardian and Independent newspapers have carried articles about an investigation into Pro-Life 'Counselling' centres. The articles followed a substantial report, published in the Manchester Big Issue magazine, about the findings of an 'under cover' investigation into the approach taken by one such centre in Manchester.

The investigation concerned the Addam's Women's Centre, and was carried out by reporters from the Big Issue, who booked an appointment, and visited the centre for counselling. In their report, they explain what they were told:

- abortion causes breast cancer. If a woman has an abortion, her chances of getting breast cancer are 30 per cent. Two abortions double the risk, and after three abortions, a woman may as well consider herself dead.

- when a woman is pregnant, it may be her only chance to have baby, since she could become infertile as a result of the abortion.

- women's psychological trauma after abortion was such that they could not watch nappy adverts on television or listen to the noise of a hoover.

- women who have been raped should keep the baby, because they have been violated once already, and the abortion will only violate them again.

- 50 per cent of women visiting the centre are persuaded to change their minds and not have an abortion.

The centre also shows videos of American origin, which, according to the Big Issue report, have a voice over by Charlton Heston, and mix '..medical jargon with emotional blackmail'. One section of the video, presented by gynaecologist Noreen Johnson, explains that babies are aborted at the point of birth by crushing the skull and spine, and sucking out the organs and brain. As the Big Issue rightly points out, this kind of video is fundamentally misleading to a woman considering abortion, since such a process would only apply to a third trimester abortion, of which less than 100 are carried out in Britain each year.

The information given to women was described as a distortion of medical fact by John Parsons, consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King's College hospital. He dismissed much of the Addam's centre's medical information as 'absolute garbage'. Parsons said: 'They have been quite subtle. They've taken facts from abortion statistics, maternal deaths and information about contraception, and have just pinpointed complications and problems in extremely general estimates and not given people a fair assessment of the dangers they face'. Some information given was, he said 'severely wrong estimates'.

The investigation was carried out after journalists at the Big Issue were contacted by representatives of pregnancy advisory services in Manchester, who support access to abortion services for women. They have been visited by women upset after having been in touch with the Addam's Centre. Amanda Callaghan of BPAS says clients visiting their clinics have also been given misinformation about the health consequences of abortion by such centres, and have reached BPAS in a distressed state. She also pointed out that the Addams' Centre is one of a group of centres, based in London, Luton, Leeds and Liverpool, as well as Manchester. The Head Office is listed as 15 Maple, Grove, London NW1.

All of the centres names begin with the letter 'A' - the Luton centre for example is called Alma Pregnancy Advisory Service - in order to appear near the start of listings for centres offering 'abortion advice' in the Yellow Pages.

Interestingly, other pro-life groups, which also advertise in Yellow Pages, claimed that they did not endorse the Addam's Centre's methods. Paul Tully, general secretary for SPUC was reported to have said that the approach was not one that they would have been involved with. Members of SPUC initiated the organisation British Victims of Abortion (BVA) in 1987. The organisation exists to publicise the alleged serious psychological effects of abortion (termed by BVA post-abortion syndrome (PAS), a form of post-traumatic stress disorder). It offer counselling to women after abortion for PAS. A spokesperson for Life said they had not heard of the Addam's Centre. Life also offers counselling to women, both who are pregnant and after abortion. Life too uphold that abortion can lead to serious health problems, in particular PAS, as well as future infertility, and breast cancer. Their spokesperson said that Life never led people to believe it was anything other than pro-life in its advertising.

The Big Issue in the North, 8/11/99
Independent, 10/11/99
Guardian, 11/11/99

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