Last week Panorama ran an ‘investigation’ into pregnancy advice centres which they claimed give misleading information to pregnant women.
They found 57 centres listed online, could find no fault with the advice given by 34 of them and sent an undercover journalist in to investigate three.
The programme was, as is typical, biased and unbalanced. The journalist presenting it spoke only to women who were unhappy with the advice they had been given or the way they had been treated. It did make some fair points, and there were some areas of concern, though for the sake of balance, speaking to some of the women who have been grateful for the help of such centres would have been better. They did use a quote from one of the centres investigated that noted it had served over 2,000 women to date and received only two complaints. However, the emotional force of the story was designed to make these centres look duplicitous and manipulative.
One quote early on, from a supposedly independent viewer, Jo Holmes, of the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP), was particularly revealing about just where abortion providers are coming from. After a clip of a counsellor repeatedly talking about the client’s baby, Holmes protested, ‘It’s not a baby when you’ve got a choice – it’s a pregnancy, it’s an unplanned pregnancy, an unexpected pregnancy or an unwanted pregnancy’.
She and her fellow viewer, Jonathan Lord, the medical director of MSI Reproductive Choices UK (formerly Marie Stopes – one of the UK’s biggest abortion providers), were horrified by this kind of ‘misinformation’. Imagine calling the contents of a pregnant woman’s womb a baby! How very dare they?
I’m aware of this smoke-and-mirrors game, of course. When a woman is seeking a termination, her abortion providers will carefully avoid using the word ‘baby’, and it is sometimes argued that at the earliest stages of pregnancy, the entity being carried is nothing more than a ‘clump of cells’. But this is the first time I’ve heard it stated so blatantly: ‘It’s not a baby when you’ve got a choice.’
And, of course, in this country, women generally do have a choice. The 1967 Abortion Act was supposed to ensure that abortion was available safely, but only in a limited number of circumstances, for the small number of pregnancies where there was felt to be a pressing need.
In 1968, when the law came into effect, there were nearly 3,000 abortions each month. Just three years later, in 1971, that number had risen to 10,500 per month. It has never dropped below that rate since, reaching nearly 18,000 (17,906/month) in 2021 (the last year for which data is available).
That is a lot of women choosing to terminate their pregnancies – a lot of babies being killed. For context, there were just over 52,000 live births per month in 2021. In pregnancies where the mother had a choice, one in four chose to end it by abortion. Of course, many women and their partners suffer the tragedy of the miscarriage or stillbirth of their much-wanted babies. And there are, equally tragically, too many examples of women being forced or coerced into having an abortion against their will.
Most of the time, however, women do have a choice about whether to give their baby life or not.
What they don’t have is a choice about whether it is a baby or not in the first place.
We hear a lot these days about people objecting to being ‘assigned’ a certain gender at birth, as though it were inappropriate for midwives, nurses, doctors and parents to view a child’s physical characteristics and assert that those had some bearing on identity.
Surely it must be worse to deliberately look away from the physical evidence of ultrasounds, a growing belly and the like and decide whether the child is a member of the human race or not based on your own circumstances, needs and desires?
What was abundantly clear in the Panorama programme was that while Holmes and Lord wanted women to be able to have a choice, they strongly objected to that being an informed choice. They didn’t want women to be told that having a medical abortion at home meant that the pills would kill their baby and then cause them to pass it, usually into the toilet. They didn’t want them to be offered ultrasounds in order to see the baby they were making choices about. They didn’t want them to be told that many women experience deep feelings of regret, guilt and sadness, often for many years after an abortion.
Yes, these things are likely to be distressing for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. Yes, they should be communicated sensitively and gently. No, they shouldn’t be exaggerated or shared in a pushy way, trying to scare women into keeping their babies. But as for any other medical procedure, the woman should be given sufficient evidence about the procedure, its outcome and its possible side effects in order to enable her to make an informed choice.
Coercion and manipulation work both ways, and both should be stopped.
A baby is a baby is a baby. Our choice has nothing to do with it.