Perhaps in an attempt to be ‘balanced’ following their excellent exposes of breaches of the law carried out by abortion clinics in 2012, the Daily Telegraph have decided to set their sights on the other side of the coin, and targeted pro-life crisis pregnancy centres as being their latest target of ire.
The formidable investigative journalism carried out by the Telegraph last year, never sat particularly well with their attempt to hitch their wagon to the online feminism zeitgeist. There was always some dissonance between their condemnation of gender-selective abortion and wholesale abuses of the law such as clinics having batches of forms pre-signed by doctors who would never actually have any contact with the patient, let alone examine them, and the timbre of articles carried in their new Wonder Women section, launched last year, which has been populated by predominantly pro-choice feminists.
Emma Barnett, editor of Telegraph Wonder-Women, has written 5 articles in the past 24 hours, busting ‘abortion myths’, reporting unscientific things said in two crisis pregnancy centres, outraging women by reporting on how people could be scarred for life or be manipulated into taking a certain decision, by non regulated pregnancy centres. There’s another op ed by deputy women’s editor, Lousia Peacock, breathily mouthing “since when did Britain become pro-life America?
Perhaps having failed in their previous attempts to force discussion, the Telegraph are looking for an easy ‘win’ such as the crisis pregnancy centres, however despite their interactive map, showing the location of every single crisis pregnancy centre, they have only been able to find two, who gave out contentious information. How many other centres did they actually attend? Acres of bandwidth and ink will be spilt with post-abortive women justifying their decision, and saying how harmful it would have been if anyone told them it was wrong or how they felt guilty, however will anyone talk to those women who feel that they were bounced into abortion and not given comprehensive information by abortion clinics? And if a woman feels guilty following an abortion, blaming those who gave her an alternative point of view which pricked her conscience is dishonest. Autonomy means taking control and owning our decisions, no matter what someone else may think of them. So another woman may choose not to abort following a session at a CPC. What’s the biggie? Is it really such a worry if women decide not to abort because they are worried about the physical risks?
Before we go any further, let’s consider the accusations and their implications. Emma Barnett is concerned that women may be persuaded to keep their babies upon the basis of unsound scientific evidence. It’s not up there with aborting a baby because of their gender or not even bothering to examine a patient, or follow proper safeguards which could prevent a coerced or forced abortion. Only last week one organisation tweeted that they had spotted a woman being shouted at by a male and hustled to get inside the clinic, when she appeared to be hesitating.
While women facing crises have a right to access reliable and factual information, the decision as to whether or not to have an abortion will always be based upon her own subjective ideology and interpretation of her circumstances. She will put her own interpretative lens on the science, whether that be with regards to the humanity of the fetus, or the weighing up of risks.
The accusation that having an abortion will make women child sex abusers is sensational and not what was actually said, which was as follows:
“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.
There is a link between abortion and mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, violence, replacement pregnancies and difficulties in bonding with subsequent children. That is not to say that every single woman who has an abortion is going to experience such difficulties, but these are also factors which are linked to child abuse. Nowhere did the counsellor mention that the abuse would be of a sexual nature, emotional abuse can be every bit as damaging and neither did she say that this was a foregone conclusion or inevitability. There are individual clinical assessments linking post-abortion trauma with subsequent child abuse. (1)
While this might not be the wisest thing to say, neither is it as outrageous as the headlines would suggest. I would baulk at the suggestion that due to an abortion I am at risk of abusing my precious children, (the root of abuse is complex, abortion can be but one factor in the sequelae) but I would openly accept and acknowledge that the anti-natal depression I experienced in all of my pregnancies, especially the unplanned ones, have their root in the fact that I aborted my first baby. In any event, the counsellor in no way said that post-abortive women are likely to sexually abuse children.
In terms of the breast cancer link, an extremely recent meta-analysis of studies of Chinese women having induced abortions (as is common due to the one child policy) showed that just one abortion will increase the risk of breast cancer by 44%. Two abortion will increase the risk by 76% and the risk will almost double following three abortions or more. The meta-analysis covered 36 studies, covering 14 provinces in China, comparing the risk of breast cancer amongst post-abortive women and those who had never had an abortion. This came following a similar study in Bangladesh indicating that women who had an abortion were 20% more at risk of developing breast cancer. The Chinese study was published in a prestigious medical journal Cancer Causes Control, confirmed the pioneering work of Dr Joel Brind and challenged the consensus held by professional bodies such as the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. There are now over 50 studies showing a positive link between breast cancer and abortion – these cannot be ignored.
One can argue over the statistical analysis, as indeed a leading male pro-choicer frequently attempts to do, but the science is simple.
Induced abortion boosts breast cancer risk because it stops the normal physiological changes in the breast that occur during a full term pregnancy and that lower a mother’s breast cancer risk. A woman who has a full term pregnancy at 20 has a 90% lower risk of breast cancer than a woman who waits until age 30.
Breast tissue after puberty and before a term pregnancy is immature and cancer-vulnerable. Seventy five percent of this tissue is Type 1 lobules where ductal cancers start and 25 percent is Type 2 lobules where lobular cancers start. Ductal cancers account for 85% of all breast cancers while lobular cancers account for 12-15% of breast cancers.
As soon as a woman conceives, the embryo secretes human chorionic gonadotrophin or hCG, the hormone we check for in pregnancy tests.
HCG causes the mother’s ovaries to increase the levels of estrogen and progesterone in her body resulting in a doubling of the amount of breast tissue she has; in effect, she then has more Type 1 and 2 lobules where cancers start.
After mid pregnancy at 20 weeks, the fetus/placenta makes hPL, another hormone that starts maturing her breast tissue so that it can make milk. It is only after 32 weeks that she has made enough of the mature Type 4 lobules that are cancer resistant so that she lowers her risk of breast cancer.
Induced abortion before 32 weeks leaves the mother’s breast with more vulnerable tissue for cancer to start. It is also why any premature birth before 32 weeks, not just induced abortion, increases or doubles breast cancer risk.
By the end of her pregnancy, 85% of her breast tissue is cancer resistant. Each pregnancy thereafter decreases her risk a further 10%.
Spontaneous abortions in the first trimester on the other hand don’t increase breast cancer risk because there is something wrong with the embryo, so hCG levels are low. Another possibility is that something is wrong with the mother’s ovaries and the estrogen and progesterone levels are low. When those hormones are low, the mother’s breasts do not grow and change.
Pointing this out to women is not harmful or manipulative – if we are talking about making an informed decision, why should a woman not be made aware of the significant consensus of medical opinion that holds that abortion carries a breast cancer risk. Why should she be deemed incapable of interpreting the information for herself, even if she decides to ignore it, or comes to the conclusion that it is flawed?
The other ‘scandalous’ piece of advice is that abortion can increase the risk of infertility or carrying a future pregnancy to term. Clearly the stat of 25% is wrong, there is no need to make fallacious claims and to do so damages the pro-life cause, however it would be wrong to deny that abortion carries no medical risk, especially if it is surgical; there is always a risk of infection and scarring when introducing surgical instruments into bodily cavities. Anecdote is not the plural of data, but a friend of mine had difficult conceiving following the removal of a Fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy. The ectopic pregnancy was caused by scarring – she had previously had three abortions. Someone else I know of reported cervical scarring requiring emergency surgery post an abortion. When she reported excruciating pain and bleeding immediately following the surgery, the clinic were disinterested. I was warned of the risk of uterine rupture when offered a surgical procedure following the death of our unborn baby – why would abortion be any different?
Furthermore any injuries, complications or infections post abortion are not counted in official statistics if they present or are reported once the woman has left the abortion clinic premises. If you go to the doctor or A&E with a post operative infection following an abortion, it will not be included in the clinic’s official figures.
Pointing out associated risks to abortion is no different to an anaesthetist being filmed pointing out the risks of surgery or anaesthetic or a pharmacist reading out the manufacturer’s leaflet that accompanies medication. Pro-lifers should not undermine their authority with incorrect information, there is no need to do so, we should condemn this practice, but it is irresponsible reporting to over sensationalise what was actually said.
Naturally the Telegraph’s report has caused a massive media sensation, with calls for these centres to be shut down and monitored because they do not provide ‘medically accurate’ information. Abortion is rarely simply a medical decision, there has not been a case in the UK of a woman needing to have an abortion to save her life, for many many years, it is always a moral judgement, which takes into account various clinical factors.
It is impossible to take a neutral stance upon abortion from a counselling perspective, even if you are supporting a woman to come to her own decision, regardless of what that decision is, that is in itself an ideological stance, taking the view that whatever a woman decides is right. We don’t apply such reasoning in other circumstances, it is not deemed acceptable to terminate a full term pregnancy on the grounds of gender for example, simply because a woman decides that it is not right for her.
Every single organisation that provides abortion counselling has an agenda of some sort or another. One cannot shut down organisations who are aiming to counsel women with crisis pregnancies simply because they are not providing what is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ medical interpretation. Where clinics are providing erroneous information then obviously they need to sharpen up their practice, but it’s likely that organisations such as these will soon establish a bad reputation locally. Ultimately no-one forces women to attend them, no-one forces women to listen to their advice and no-one forces a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy, not even these allegedly reckless organisations.
It is also grossly unfair of the Telegraph to conflate independent local organisations with LIFE, who regardless of where one stands on their counselling provision, are accredited by BCAP and for good or ill provide non directive counselling.
If a woman wants an abortion, the Telegraph has demonstrated how easy it is for her to obtain one, no questions asked, paid for by the NHS up until 24 weeks.
Throwing in the old canards about being linked to religious organisations and throwing in the inevitable comparisons to the US (which allowed butchers such as Kermit Gosnell to operate) is an attempt to whip up fear, as is the mandatory reference to 40 days for life, who have successfully been conducting peaceful incident free vigils for the past four years in the UK. There has been no incidents of pro-life violence, nor are there any proposed bills limiting abortion in the offing, so the comparisons with the US are moot.
When I was pregnant with the baby I aborted, Marie Stopes gave me no medical information whatsoever, aside from what the procedure would entail, which they massively downplayed. I did not even know that I was receiving ‘counselling’. I told the counsellor why I wanted an abortion and she nodded grimly, adding that I had no choice and was not equipped to have a baby, it would be irresponsible. Impartial medical advice or ideological?
Why shouldn’t a religious organisation attempt to promote an alternative point of view which might persuade women that not only can they keep their babies but they are capable of being good mothers? Why can’t an organisation propose the point of view that a woman is at risk of harm from abortion?
This is an attempt to close down any point of view which might seek to persuade a pregnant woman that abortion is the wrong decision, using a contentious definition of ‘harm’. It is never harmful for a woman to decide not to kill her unborn baby, only a paternalism or totalitarianism would state otherwise. Who are we to decide that women shouldn’t be advised that abortion is not a good option, whether that be on ideological, moral or medical grounds?
The only real scandal here is that the failure to acknowledge compelling medical evidence linking breast cancer to abortion and the refusal to include post abortion complications presented after leaving the clinic in official statistics.
The scandal is trying to pretend that the decision to abort is solely a medical or clinical one and that arguments about the development or humanity of the foetus are irrelevant. The scandal is the attempt to deny that abortion can cause very real harm to women. The scandal is the attempt to close down debate on the harmful effects of abortion and deprive women of all the information they need. And if no organisation with any abortion activists should be allowed to give advice, as Nadine Dorries proposes, that would rule out abortion clinics too, who actively promote and market abortion. The head of BPAS is a frequent public abortion apologist.
The outrage being whipped up here is that a woman facing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy might be told that abortion is not alright, is not the solution, ends the life of an unborn child and could cause her long term harm. And that would never do.
(1) Benedict, et al., “Maternal Perinatal Risk Factors and Child Abuse,” Child Abuse and Neglect, 9:217-224 (1985); P.G. Ney, “Relationship between Abortion and Child Abuse,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 24:610-620, 1979; Reardon, Aborted Women – Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 129-30, describes a case of woman who beat her three year old son to death shortly after an abortion which triggered a “psychotic episode” of grief, guilt, and misplaced anger.