Fact Sheet: Feminist Action Cambridge exposes Care Confidential’s Crisis Pregnancy Centres in Cambridgeshire

See also today’s Press Release

Last year, pro-choice group Education for Choice found that pregnancy counselling centres run by Care Confidential were giving false information to women seeking advice on abortion. (The Guardian, 2 August 2011). Care Confidential, who were one of the groups trying to get government contracts last year to run counselling for women seeking abortion, have around 150 of these pregnancy counselling centres around the country, including three in Cambridgeshire. While Care Confidential have said that they have revised their practises following last year’s revelations, Feminist Action Cambridge were concerned about the presence of ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ in Cambridge, Ely and Newmarket. We wanted to find out for ourselves whether they really were offering unbiased, impartial counselling.

‘Post-abortion syndrome’

Feminist Action Cambridge sent ‘mystery shoppers’ pretending to be in the early stages of an unplanned pregnancy into each of the three crisis pregnancy centres and audio recorded the counselling sessions. All three centres alerted the women to a made-up medical condition called ‘post abortion syndrome’. At Newmarket Pregnancy Support Centre the mystery shopper was told:

‘post-abortion syndrome […] you’ve got feelings of loss and anger […] A lot of people do get pregnant again very quickly, want to replace it. […] a feeling of distance from existing children, inability to maintain a normal routine, […] In severe cases it can lead to self-harm’.

Similarly at the Cambridge centre, The Haven on Sturton St, the mystery shopper was told that after an abortion ‘some women find it harder to attach themselves to babies and children. They might find their self esteem has gone down, they are depressive, guilt’. At Ely Pregnancy Crisis Centre, the mystery shopper was told ‘the after effects you know of abortion which of course can affect your work. Some people will have all sorts of traumas about it and dreams about it and sort of lots of awful stuff goes on.’

There has been extensive research done into purported links between abortion and mental health effects, and both the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians and the American Psychological Association, among others, have confirmed that ‘post abortion syndrome’ is not a medically recognised condition. While women may have a variety of emotional responses to having an abortion, a systematic review by The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health in 2011 showed that there is no difference in mental health outcomes between continuing or aborting an unplanned pregnancy.

The crisis pregnancy centres were also found to be emphasising the health risks of abortion while minimising the health risks of pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal depression. They played up the state benefits and housing that mothers are entitled to after giving birth, but without providing concrete details of these benefits or of recent government cuts which will mean that they are significantly reduced. They also encouraged the women to consider adoption, omitting to mention that it is rare and complicated, with only 77 babies adopted in the UK last year. One client who expressed an interest in adoption was referred to the film Juno for further information.

Staff were also recorded using emotionally manipulative techniques in order to increase the guilt women might feel at having an abortion. This included showing images of the stages of development of the foetus and appealing to one client about ‘the little foetus sitting in there’, telling another client that her mother may be upset ‘at losing a grandchild’, and a third that ‘the clock is ticking’ because of her age. The centres also used delaying tactics to pressure women to spend a few weeks considering their decision, thus making it less likely women would be able to seek an abortion. At the Ely and Newmarket centres, the mystery shoppers were given literature produced by US anti-abortion group Focus on the Family. This is disturbing as it shows that US anti-abortion materials are now being shared with the UK.

Accreditation and advertising.

Care Confidential state that they are certified by the Information Standard, a Department of Health accreditation which is supposed to show that health or medical organisations are providing reliable evidence-based information. Feminist Action Cambridge carried out a Freedom of Information request to find out how Care Confidential acquired their Information Standard accreditation, given our findings that they are not giving out reliable evidence-based information. However, we were told that as the Information Standard is administered by a private company, it is exempt from Freedom of Information requirements.

Care Confidential are also registered with the BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists). The transcripts of the interviews with our ‘mystery shoppers’ clearly demonstrate that all three crisis pregnancy centres are violating BACP ethical standards, in particular by being directive, and giving out personal information. For example, in Ely the mystery shopper was told ‘but inside of you there is a thought that you might like to be a mother’. The mystery shopper had in fact expressed ambivalence towards the idea of being a mother. Later in the same session, the counsellor said ‘And your heart seems to be saying to me kind of like you would like a baby at some point in life’, despite the mystery shopper expressing her concern about how she would cope with looking after a baby. The counsellor went on to say:

‘Your own children are completely different though to looking after somebody else’s […] Because I personally, when I was first expecting my first one, it was not at all what I was thinking about, will I love this baby, because I wasn’t, I used to love children but not kind of … and then I had the baby. And it’s like ‘ah’. Everything changed.’

This would perhaps be acceptable for a chat between friends; but for an organisation claiming to follow BACP guidelines, it is a clear example of malpractice. The BACP have so far not replied to our email asking for a statement.

Finally, Feminist Action Cambridge are particularly concerned that Care Confidential are advertising their services with posters and fliers in GP surgeries. So far we are aware of their advertisements in St Mary’s surgery in Ely as well as York St Medical Practice in Cambridge. This gives women the mistaken impression that the crisis pregnancy centres are endorsed by the NHS.

Julian Huppert’s support.

Julian Huppert has made a statement in support of Feminist Action Cambridge’s work, and we have given him full access to information about our investigation so that he can take it up with the relevant minister in Parliament. He said:

“It is crucial that all organisations offering information or advice in relation to unplanned pregnancy choices follow evidence-based guidance from a professional medical organisation. Women who seek help in this matter have a very serious decision to make and they cannot make that decision without medically accurate information. And organisations providing that information have a duty to make it crystal clear if they have a particular religious or anti-abortion stance.

That is why I put forward an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that would have required that any organisation giving advice to women considering termination must give medically accurate information.”

Feminist Action Cambridge are calling for Care Confidential to be open and transparent about their anti-abortion stance in all of their literature and in their counselling; or to cease from running crisis pregnancy centres.

We are holding a rally on Saturday 15th December at 12 noon at the corner of New Square and Jesus Terrace (right next to the Grafton Centre) to inform local women and protest against local anti-abortion centres.

For more information, email feministactioncambridge@gmail.com


One Comment on “Fact Sheet: Feminist Action Cambridge exposes Care Confidential’s Crisis Pregnancy Centres in Cambridgeshire”

  1. […] The FAC action in winter 2012, sending mystery shoppers into three Care Confidential ‘advice’ centres in Cambridgeshire […]

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