The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has produced a new factsheet on abortion to support Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools. This ‘aims to ensure that professionals involved in educating young people on abortion do so ‘…with honest and medically accurate information…[which] distinguishes between fact and fiction.’
Since this new factsheet is likely to have very wide circulation and use within schools, I want to take a closer look at it, to see if it holds up to its claims for honest and accurate information.
‘Abortion is extremely safe in a UK setting’ (p6)
However there is no mention of studies that show significantly increased mortality rates among women in the ten years following abortion [see here, here, here, here, here and here]. Some of these studies involved over a million women over a 25-year time period.
‘There may be a slightly higher risk of future premature birth’ (p6)
However the risk of future premature birth is understated [see here]. The link is backed up by over 119 studies,. including a major British study involving more than half a million women over 26 years in Scotland. This short briefing notes several other robust studies that similarly demonstrate an increase in the risk of preterm delivery after abortion, a risk that increases with the number of abortions that a woman has.
‘Abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer’ (p6)
The evidence on this is controversial. The RCOG cites a large meta-analysis, but ignores conflicting meta analyses [see here and here]. Further research is needed to settle this issue but, in the meantime, women have a right to know that there is ongoing scientific debate about the risks.
‘She should be offered non-directive counselling’ (p6)
However the majority of pre-abortion counselling continues to be carried out by the abortion providers themselves, who only benefit if the woman chooses to proceed with her abortion [see here, here, here and this CMF blog].
‘Abortion does not cause mental illness’ (p7)
Philippa Taylor covers this in more detail here. The RCOG references a major review from 2011 but ignores independent evidence suggesting that women may be at increased risk of mental health disorders following abortion, even with no previous history of problems [see here, here and here]. As before, further research is needed, but in the meantime school children should not be taught such headlines as proven scientific truth.
‘The fetus is unable to feel pain under 24 weeks’ (p7)
As well as being contradicted by professional practice ‘at the sharp end’ (NHS surgery on babies at 20 weeks’ gestation uses fetal painkillers), the RCOG’s conclusion in their 2010 paper hinges on whether the cortex is necessary for pain perception; an assumption based upon three citations [see here, here and here], none of which support the claim. In fact, the third study actually contradicts the RCOG’s own conclusion and instead indicates that pain perception is rooted in the thalamus which, according to their own paper, begins to be connected ‘between 12 and 18 weeks’ [p8]. Some studies have found evidence for the possibility of fetal pain at 15 weeks gestation. See here too.
Despite claiming at the outset that their factual information is needed to address ‘myths and misinformation’, which is an admirable aim, I and others are concerned that this new factsheet presents some inaccurate and misleading information about abortion to secondary school pupils.
Does the Department of Health and Social Care exercise due diligence in oversight over the RCOG’s publications? Will the Department of Education check the facts presented? They would be welcome to check CMF’s own factsheet Abortion: Risks and Complications which can be found here.
For now, I might even go so far as to say this RCOG factsheet is a modern-day example of the well-worn propaganda principle: make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually people will believe it.
James Evans is a biology teacher with a background in genetics